Recent Developments in Uzbekistan and Kyrgyzstan Relations
Author: Samantha Fanger
Feb 7, 2023
At the Bishkek airport on January 26, Kyrgyzstani President Sadyr Japarov warmly welcomed his Uzbekistani counterpart, President Shavkat Mirziyoyev who was arriving for an official visit. Over the course of the two-day discussions, the leaders developed a border delimitation resolution—a feat both leaders described as a “historic” stride towards more peaceful and cooperative relations. Following border resolutions, the countries also made several strategic bilateral business deals. At the conclusion of the visit, the leaders “which gave a powerful impetus to the deepening and expansion of Kyrgyz-Uzbek relations.”
For over three decades, the countries’ relations have been tainted by ongoing disputes over a 1,400km-long stretch of border land. Over the years, meetings between leaders attempted to address the issue were non-decisive and were sometimes set back by conflicts between local communities along the border and domestic unrest. In one of earlier attempts to settle border disputes in October of 2022, Kyrgyzstani and Uzbekistani officials made agreements regarding the border stretch that included the Kempir-Abad (Andijan) Reservoir. The decisions were met with vocal opposition amongst some Kyrgyzstani politicians and activists who were arrested. The respective foreign ministers signed off on the agreements in November the individuals who were detained remain in jail pending prosecution.
This final resolution “will play a key role in the further development of our fraternal relations and the strengthening of border contracts. And it will contribute to strengthening stability and security in the Central Asian region,” according to President Japarov. Similarly, President Mirziyoyev stated that the new resolution will enable “peace and tranquility,” in Kyrgyzstan-Uzbekistan relations. Strategic plans for economic and developmental ties have already taken hold, but the border resolution may be a strong indicator of greater economic ties are coinciding with stronger political relations between the two countries as well.
Despite the border issue, in recent years both nations have opted for more diplomatic relations rooted in opportunities to cooperate on areas of mutual national interests. In March of 2021, President Japarov visited Uzbekistan and the leaders made bilateral agreements in the transportation and energy sectors. The meeting established the Uzbek-Kyrgyz Development Fund has been another means of generating greater inter-nation cooperation in recent years. The Fund was developed to “implement joint ventures” in agriculture, transport, and logistics industries. The initial authorized capital for the Fund was $50 million, which has since increased to $200 million.
At the same time, the two countries have committed to not neglecting continued development of mutual business ventures. A business forum was also included in the visit’s agenda—resulting in over 50 documents signed between the two nations which are worth more than $1.6 billion. These documents included $300 million in investment agreements and $1.3 billion in trade contracts. Contributors and those in attendance included government officials, regional administrators and more than 350 business representatives.
In 2020, Kyrgyzstan exported $155 million in goods such as cement, scrap iron, and coal to Uzbekistan. The annualized increase of exported goods to Uzbekistan from 1995 to 2020 is 3.23 percent. In return, Uzbekistan exported $757 million in goods like produce and knit shirts with an annualized increase of 9.34 percent in exported goods to Kyrgyzstan over the last 25 years. Speeches in the recent business forum highlighted that “trade turnover between the two countries has grown 7 times over five years to $1.2 billion in 2022.” According to a statement released by the Embassy of Kyrgyzstan to Uzbekistan after the official visit, “the list of priority areas in trade and economic cooperation includes bringing the volume of mutual trade to $2 billion, ensuring a significant expansion of exports of Kyrgyz products to Uzbekistan, attracting investments, industrial cooperation and the creation of joint ventures.” Other notable joint projects are the construction of a China-Kyrgyzstan-Uzbekistan railway and the Kambar-Ata-1 hydroelectric power station—an initiative that was signed off on by the energy ministers of Uzbekistan, and Kazakhstan earlier this month.
Some of the agreements from the past week will build upon existing trade agreements and norms. While these developments are, in themselves, significant for relations between the two nations specifically, this one example contributes to a larger trend of cooperation and unity amongst Central Asian states.
In a July 21 Summit, leaders of the Central Asian countries continued to emphasize regional cooperation, particularly with regards to connectivity, tourism, security, trade, and green energy and hydropower. President Japarov who attended the Summit, then acknowledged that border resolutions with Uzbekistan and Tajikistan would be a necessary step to create “transnational bridges of peace, friendship, and trust,” and confirmed that Kyrgyzstan has “a strong will to complete these negotiations on mutual agreements.” Six months later, Kyrgyzstan and Uzbekistan have made good on these sentiments with substantive resolutions and plans for future cooperation.