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the western pursuit: 2023 in review

The Western Pursuit: 2023 in Review

Author: Samantha Fanger

Dec 22, 2023

Image source: U.S. Embassy in Bishkek

On the sidelines of the 78th United Nations General Assembly (UNGA) in New York City, the C5+1 leaders, Kazakhstan’s President Kassym-Jomart Tokayev, Kyrgyzstan’s President Sadyr Japarov, Tajikistan’s President Emomali Rahmon, Turkmenistan's President Serdar Berdimuhamedow, and Uzbekistan’s President Shavkat Mirziyoyev, met with President Biden for the first time. The meeting covered the development of the U.S.-Central Asia strategic partnership, cooperation in trade, economic opportunities, expansion of their political dialog, U.S. investment, green development, the Middle Corridor, regional security, cross-border crime, and humanitarian topics. “This is a historic moment,” U.S. President Joe Biden told the leaders of Central Asia during their first-ever C5+1 presidential gathering on September 19.

Since the C5+1 was established in Samarkand in 2015, a U.S. President had never met with the group, but the Biden administration changed this. As the world is engaged in “a battle between democracy and autocracy,” President Biden is boldly standing behind Central Asia, presenting the region with an alternative partnership distinct from its historical ties to neighboring nations in the North and East. “We’re building on years of close cooperation between Central Asia and the United States — a cooperation that is grounded in our shared commitment to sovereignty, independence, territorial integrity,” President Biden stated.

In addition to the unprecedented C5+1 meeting in New York, for the first time since 2020, a U.S. Secretary of State visited Central Asia. On March 1, after two days of traveling between Kazakhstan and Uzbekistan, U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken finished his trip to Central Asia. Between February 28 and March 1, Secretary Blinken met with senior Central Asian officials and participated in the C5+1 Ministerial Meeting. Secretary Blinken traveled to Astana, Kazakhstan, intending to provide an alternative partnership to Central Asia’s existing relations with China and Russia. To discuss the strengthening of bilateral relations, Blinken met with the representatives of each of the five Central Asian countries – Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan, and Uzbekistan. This visit came after a series of increased high-level visits from the U.S. government to the region.

On February 28, Blinken met with President of Kazakhstan Kassym-Jomart Tokayev and Foreign Minister Mukhtar Tileuberdi. During both meetings, the Secretary underscored the United States’ firm commitment to the sovereignty, territorial integrity, and independence of Kazakhstan, as well as the other countries in the region. Blinken specifically emphasized that the United States “reaffirms its unwavering support for Kazakhstan to determine its future freely,” and “strongly endorses the reform agenda announced by President Tokayev last March.” During the press conference with Tileuberdi, Secretary Blinken also acknowledged that sanctions on Russia, Kazakhstan’s largest trading partner, have had an “economic spillover effect” on the whole region. He noted that the U.S. government was issuing “licenses that make sense” for companies engaged in legitimate business with Russian entities while “watching compliance with sanctions very closely.” 

In Astana, Secretary Blinken participated in his fourth C5+1 meeting with the five Central Asian Foreign Ministers, working groups, and other high-ranking officials from regional governments. Following the C5+1 meetings, Blinken announced the Biden Administration’s commitment to provide an additional $25 million in funding to expand upon the preexisting Economic Resilience Initiative in Central Asia (ERICEN). “That brings our total investment in the region since our meeting on the margins of the UN General Assembly last September to more than $66 million - We’re focused on diversifying trade routes, fostering greater private investment, [and] providing job training” he added

On the sidelines of the C5+1 summit, Blinken also held meetings with the foreign ministers of Tajikistan, Turkmenistan, and Kyrgyzstan. With Tajikistani Foreign Minister Sirojiddin Muhriddin, Secretary Blinken discussed how the two countries can improve their collaboration on economic opportunities and security cooperation, especially on security and human-rights issues related to Afghanistan.

Coinciding with Secretary Blinken’s visits to the region, the U. S. Department of State announced an additional $25 million in funding for the ‘Economic Resilience in Central Asia Initiative’ to enhance President Biden’s approach towards the former Cold War space. First implemented in September 2022, its primary goal is to give the region the assets needed to prosper in the global economy, specifically through regional connectivity. It calls for a reassessment of the United States' role in the region, and it attempts to encourage private interest through U.S.-funded initiatives, such as enhancing the infrastructure along Trans-Caspian trade routes, facilitating “the movement of Western multinational companies to Central Asia,” and expanding “English-language education for young professionals across Central Asia to build a skilled English-speaking workforce.

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