President Tokayev Promotes an Active Kazakhstan in First Presidential Trip Abroad
Kazakh President Kasym-Jomart Tokayev made his first foreign trip as President to Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan during the week of June 10. The veteran diplomat attended the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO) summit in the Kyrgyz capital of Bishkek and the Conference on Interaction and Confidence-Building Measures in Asia (CICA) summit in the Tajik capital of Dushanbe. Emphasizing the importance of the multilateral SCO and CICA organizations, President Tokayev also affirmed his country’s commitment to establish a multilateral global order, based on good-neighborliness, mutual confidence and respect, as well as Kazakhstan’s own importance in realizing these objectives.
Kazakhstan’s Path to Regional Prominence
Kazakhstan’s long-standing foreign policy, as developed by its first president Nursultan Nazarbayev, has been to pursue a balancing act between major powers. Observing the global scene, Kazakhstan focused on developing, which it did rapidly. The instability in Afghanistan, with its far-reaching consequences of drug-trafficking and extremists spreading throughout the Central Asian region, pressed Kazakhstan to take a more active role.
This has all been part of Nazarbayev’s drive to put Kazakhstan in the top 50 developed countries and join the Organization of Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD). But in order to join this organization, one must have a mechanism for Official Development Assistance (ODA). Thus in 2014, the Kazakhs created KazAID, which is their own ODA. Through KazAid, Kazakhstan has been providing aid to the rest of Central Asia, especially Afghanistan and Tajikistan.
Kazakhstan as Central Asia’s ‘Brotherly State’
Following this momentum, Kazakhstan has begun positioning itself, if informally, as big brother to its fellow Central Asian states. And as part of this, it has started to voice its own opinions on how the world should work in this multipolar world order.
President Nazarbayev’s ‘Triple D’ that he spoke of at the Second Belt and Road Forum is the perfect example of this. The Ds represent ‘dialogues’ that need to be established:
- A dialogue at a global level, between the United States, Russia, China, and the European Union;
- A dialogue focusing on Eurasia, that would synergize CICA and the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE); and
- The creation of a systematic economic dialogue between the Eurasian Economic Union (EEU), the EU, the SCO, and the Association of Southeast Asian Nations.
In President Tokayev’s speech on June 13 at the SCO summit in Bishkek, he stressed the need to affirm President Nazarbayev’s Triple D principle. President Tokayev spoke of the need to build an environment of mutual confidence, “constructive dialogue and interaction to ensure security and cooperation in the SCO space.” He thus proposed the creation of an eight-sided Eurasian financial consulting mechanism in order for the SCO to affect its maximum economic potential, with the Astana International Financial Center (AIFC) being the ideal location to support the SCO member countries’ financial systems. To this end, a memorandum has already been signed between the AIFC and the SCO Secretariat.
President Tokayev also emphasized the need to combat terrorism, citing the horrific April attack in Sri Lanka and repeating Kazakhstan’s proposal to form a Global Anti-Terrorist Coalition, under United Nations supervision. Following his speech, in which he stressed the need to create an SCO Information Security Center, the SCO council instructed the SCO Regional Anti-Terror Structure (RATS SCO) to begin organizing this center. President Tokayev has displayed his commitment to make Kazakhstan a front-line force against terrorism; signing into law a bill transferring equipment, ammunition, air weapons, artillery, and protective gear against radiation and biological weapons to Tajikistan in April.
Kazakhstan’s Future Policy
Kazakhstan has continued along the multi-vectored, balancing approach to foreign policy that allowed it to use the world’s great powers to build itself up. Over the past decade, it has begun to play a more assertive role in Central Asian affairs while continuing to rely on powers like China, Russia, the EU, and the United States to continue its development. Kazakhstan continues to be a large draw for Central Asian laborers and students and will act as a local source of aid for its neighboring countries. President Tokayev’s speech at the SCO summit in Bishkek told the world that Kazakhstan is ready and willing to be an active player. Given President Tokayev’s diplomatic history, it looks like Kazakhstan will be well suited for such a role.