In an extensive interview, Jerzhan Kazhan, Special Representative for International Cooperation of the President of Kazakhstan, discussed the relationship between Central Asian countries and the EU, their international initiatives and new projects, such as joining the EU Battery Union. .
Yerzhan Kazhan is a professional diplomat, former Minister of Foreign Affairs and Assistant to the President, former Ambassador of Kazakhstan to the United Kingdom, Ambassador to Austria, Permanent Representative of Kazakhstan to International Organizations in Vienna and Permanent Representative to the United Nations. in New York.
He spoke with Georgi Gotev, EURACTIV senior editor.
Can you introduce yourself and tell us what brought you to the European capital?
I am the President’s Special Representative for International Cooperation. This is a new position. This is my first visit abroad in a new capacity. I am a professional diplomat and I have been engaged in diplomatic work for the past 30 years. President Kassym-Jomart Tokayev decided to send me to Brussels to meet the leaders of the European Union and its institutions. He asked me to send a message to the chairman of the committee, Charles Michel.
One of the reasons why I am here is that we are preparing for the President’s visit to Brussels. If conditions permit, we hope that by the end of this year, as usual, we need to do some homework before this high-level visit.
As far as foreign exchanges are concerned, the EU was and is still our top priority. The European Union is Kazakhstan’s largest trading partner, accounting for approximately 50% of our trade volume, and the largest foreign direct investor in our economy. Thousands of European companies operate in Kazakhstan. One of the purposes of my trip is to convey a simple message to EU leaders that in a post-pandemic world with a new supply chain configuration, Kazakhstan has many competitive advantages and we can open up new ways of cooperation.
Kazakhstan is the largest economy in the region and a strong country in Central Asia. Our GDP is twice the total GDP of all countries in Central Asia and the Caucasus. This year we will celebrate the 30th anniversary of our independence. Of course, we can cooperate in several specific areas. First of all, this is the recovery after the pandemic. you know, Kazakhstan has produced its own vaccine QazVaqWe are planning to increase production and provide supplies to people in need, small countries, and least developed countries in our region. Given the EU’s commitment to supporting developing countries, we can find good cooperation with the EU.
Since February this year, we have started vaccination activities in our country. By the end of this year, we hope to be able to vaccinate 55% of the population. But not all countries in our region are lucky enough to have this possibility. So we think this is something we can do with our European partners.
Another area is climate change, which is a hot topic. Kazakhstan has taken a very tough stance, hoping to achieve carbon neutrality by the middle of this century. To this end, we have prepared a low-carbon development strategy that will soon be ready. We are preparing the President’s trip to Glasgow for Cop-26. We understand that we need to bring tangible things to this summit. We firmly believe that the EU Green Agreement initiative is an excellent opportunity for us to work together and cooperate in the field of renewable energy, because Kazakhstan plans to achieve 15% of renewable energy by 2030. The EU has a wealth of expertise and great potential to help Kazakhstan achieve these goals.
The third area is transit transportation cooperation. Kazakhstan is a land bridge. The historically famous Silk Road crosses our land. We continue to serve as a land bridge. We have invested billions of dollars in infrastructure. It is worth studying this potential, especially the Trans-Caspian Corridor.
I will point out another interesting area separately, which is European Battery Union, European Raw Material Alliance. We have some discussions here. We believe that Kazakhstan can integrate into the battery supply chain in terms of material extraction and processing. You know, Kazakhstan is the ninth largest country in the world and rich in resources. We are aware that Europeans have completed or built such factories on their territory. I think we can find good synergy in this regard.
Of course, another area is food safety. Now Kazakhstan positions itself as the granary of the region. We are certainly interested in developing our agricultural sector and becoming a reliable and strong supplier of processed foods in the region. Food security, especially during the pandemic, has become an increasingly urgent issue in other parts of the world.
I think another area that may also be interesting is the empowerment of women in women’s entrepreneurship. There is a McKinsey report that if women in the world get equal opportunities in business, similar to men, the world GDP will increase to 30 trillion US dollars. I think this is self-evident, so we need to support women and women stop entrepreneurship. Women’s empowerment, we are the leading country in all of these areas in the region.
Your country has always played an active international role. It is the idea of the leaders of your country to hold a summit of leaders of Russia, China, the United States and the European Union. After the epidemic, is this still on the table?
The epidemic has changed many things in the world. But the most important thing is that we live in a closely connected world where people’s hearts and minds are very dependent on each other. And rich countries must pay attention to and support developing countries, because the planet is very small. We are encouraged by the convening of the US-Russia Geneva Conference. We first talked about strategic stability. For Kazakhstan, this is a very close topic, because we have made great contributions to nuclear non-proliferation and nuclear disarmament by dismantling warheads and missiles on our territory, and closing nuclear test sites.
Of course, Kazakhstan has long ago positioned itself as a country that provides mediation support for any type of resolutions and dialogues in order to reduce differences and bridge the positions between countries. The proposal you mentioned about meeting leaders of major powers, including the EU, is becoming more and more important, especially in the context of our approach. An important milestone is the 50th anniversary of the final Helsinki Act, which outlines a very important set of principles and is accepted by many countries. We firmly believe that perhaps it is time for the great powers to reconfirm all these important principles. We also welcome similar suggestions from other countries. However, if leaders decide to meet them in my country, they will be warmly welcomed.
The Chinese New Year is coming in 2025, and there is still a long way to go…
For a long time, yes. But in any case, we firmly believe that now is the time for world leaders to understand and reaffirm all the promises made by our predecessors.
We remember the immense importance of the Helsinki final document in 1975 and the great changes that followed, when the Soviet Union agreed to discuss human rights issues. But now, we are seeing different trends. Countries such as Russia or China say: “Don’t interfere in our internal affairs.” Is it not easy to reconfirm Helsinki today?
Yes. The world is constantly evolving, and new dynamics are happening everywhere. Speaking of Kazakhstan, we believe that if the country does not have a meaningful political modernization, there will be no further economic development. This is our firm commitment. We believe that the freer the society, the stronger the dialogue between the government and civil society, and the more freedom to protect and protect, the stronger our society will be. In this context, the president put forward the concept of listening state. In the past two years, we have passed some laws that I call very progressive. They involve peaceful assemblies, parliamentary opposition, electoral legislation, non-governmental organizations and civil society. But we understand that no matter how beautiful the law, the devil in the details, the double devil in the implementation, the president awarded the degree seven points a week ago, outlining the specific steps we will take to further strengthen our democratic principles. We are not doing this to please anyone in the West. We do this to fully understand that this is the right way to strengthen our position.
This is also a good example in other countries.
Yes, I agree with you. Of course, every country has its own way of development. But as I mentioned before, we understand that the world is interconnected, and problems know no borders. For example, this is why Kazakhstan strongly supports the five Central Asian countries to strengthen connectivity. You know, our first president initiated a high-level informal summit.
Two more summits have been held, and we are preparing for the next summit. President Tokayev proposed to establish a mechanism within the five Central Asian countries to prevent any border conflicts in our region…
…As we have seen recently, in Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan.
Yes, unfortunately. We propose to hold the next summit in Kazakhstan. We have a beautiful city in southern Kazakhstan called Turkistan. It is the cultural and historical capital of Central Asia. So we invite leaders to come, if there are ideas and suggestions to hold meetings in other places, of course we will respect them. But as I said, we made our proposal. I mentioned to our EU friends that we really appreciate the model we call CA5+EU, which aims to help and promote closer interconnection and cooperation between countries in the region. Many important projects have been implemented for many years. I’m talking about Cadap, Traseca and other companies, but we need to do more. The new realities of the world and the region demand this. This is why I think we regard the EU as our neighbor, and we want to deepen our close cooperation regardless of distance.