to the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland, H.E. Mr. Erzhan Kazykhanov

Formerly Assistant to the President of the Republic of Khazakstan in 2008 and 2012-2014, His Excellency Mr Erzhan Kazykhanov has been privy to many of the recent developments in Kazakhstan’s political and economic arenas. Amongst a number of roles in the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and as Permanent Representative of Kazakhstan to the United Nations, he is a very experienced diplomat currently assigned to the United Kingdom as Ambassador. Open Central Asia went to find out more…

OCA: Your Excellency, what are the recent successes and current priorities that you have for developing UK-Kazakh relations?
EK: Since their establishment, diplomatic relations between Kazakhstan and the United Kingdom have been developing dynamically and today have reached the level of a strategic partnership. The relationship of the two countries is based on the numerous bilateral documents and has always been supported by the heads of the two countries. For example, David Cameron was the first serving UK Prime Minister to visit Kazakhstan in 2013.
President of Kazakhstan, Nursultan Nazarbayev’s visit to London in November 2015 opened a new page in the history of our partnership, giving a powerful impetus to the broadening of Kazakh-British ties. The leader of Kazakhstan had a meeting and official lunch with Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II and met with the then Prime Minister David Cameron at 10 Downing Street. The visit was also marked with the signing of a number of key documents, such as the Mutual Legal Assistance Treaty, an MoU on co-operation between civil services, and an agreement on the UK’s participation in Astana EXPO-2017. In addition to this, a huge package of commercial contracts worth 13 billion US dollars were also signed.
It should also be noted that Nursultan Nazarbayev was one of the first world leaders to congratulate Mrs. Theresa May on her appointment as UK’s new Prime Minister.
There is no doubt that trade and economic co-operation is the main priority in Kazakh-British bilateral relations. The UK became one of the 6 biggest investors to the economy of Kazakhstan, and has invested more than 10 billion US dollars over the last ten years. Kazakhstan has been chosen as one of 14 priority countries for the UK to develop trade relations. Moreover, last year, the UK Government appointed Lord Astor of Hever as a Special Trade Envoy to Kazakhstan, who has already paid his first visit to our country.
In turn, Kazakhstan included Britain in the list of 6 priority countries for attracting investment, and opened up a visa-free travel scheme to its citizens.
Institutional ties are also being strengthened. The Intergovernmental commission on trade-economic and investment co-operation started working last year and the Kazakh-British Business Council has been operating successfully. Existing structures such as the Kazakh-British Trade and Industry Council, the British-Kazakh Society and the British-Kazakh Bar Association also play a significant role in strengthening bilateral relations.
OCA: It is approaching 25 years of independence for Kazakhstan. How would you assess the progress of the country in that time and what evidence would you point to that shows it is a stronger country now than under the Soviet Union?
EK: First of all, over that short period of time, Kazakhstan has proved its political and economic self-sufficiency and self-sustainability. The country has gone through the big way, having overcome the political and economic difficulties followed by the collapse of the Soviet Union. Despite the global challenges, Kazakhstan, thanks to the wise and far-sighted policy of its leader, President Nursultan Nazarbayev, has actually provided sustainable economic growth and preserved political and social stability and peace.
It is with huge pride that Kazakhstan is the home to over 130 different ethnic groups and the followers of all the great faiths who live together in tolerance and harmony. One can say that our country’s model of inter-ethnic and inter-religious peace and concord became an example for the whole world.
Another key achievement of Kazakhstan is its contribution to nuclear non-proliferation and strengthening global nuclear safety. Since the beginning of independence, our country has become an active proponent of disarmament and non-proliferation of weapons of mass destruction. Closing the Semipalatinsk nuclear test site, the withdrawal of nuclear weapons from its territory, and creation of the ATOM project and Zone free from nuclear weapons in Central Asia under the initiative of President of Kazakhstan Nursultan Nazarbayev serve as a clear evidence of the successful policy run by Kazakhstan over the years of independence.
Very successful reforms have been conducted in the economy. Kazakhstan has made a huge jump from a middle income country to a modern and fast developing state with a diverse and dynamic economy. Over the past 25 years, its economy has increased 21 fold, the incomes of the population – 19 fold. The GDP has increased 16 fold. Over 200 billion US dollars of FDI have been attracted to the country’s economy during this period.
25 years of independence is also marked with meaningful international processes, initiated by the President. The Conference on Interaction and Confidence-Building Measures in Asia (CICA) and the Congress of Leaders of World and Traditional Religions are the major international initiatives of Kazakhstan aimed at enhancing security and peace both regionally and globally. Positive results were achieved during Kazakhstan’s chairmanship at the Organisation for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) in 2010. No less successful was Kazakhstan’s chairmanship at the Organisation of Islamic Cooperation (OIC) in 2011-2012. During its chairmanship, the financial ties of the member states of the organisation were strengthened, efforts on rehabilitation of the grounds of the Semey nuclear test site and Aral Sea were undertaken. The organisation itself was renamed from the Organisation of Islamic Conference to the Organisation of Islamic Cooperation.
One of the key international economic initiatives that had been implemented was the establishment of the Eurasian Economic Union in May 2014 and Kazakhstan’s joining the World Trade Organisation in 2015. The Astana Economic Forum, which is held annually, became a dialogue platform aiming to find effective solutions to major economic and social challenges of the contemporary world.
These are only a few of the main successes that Kazakhstan reached during the years of independence. The country has set ambitious plans to become one of the most advanced states in the world. In particular, Kazakhstan aims to enter the top 30 most developed countries by 2050 and go through the modernisation process as was done by the OECD member states. The large-scale structural economic reforms under the “Nurly Zhol” programme, offered by President Nazarbayev and the National Plan with 100 concrete measures to realise these strategic reforms have the goal of being implemented according to OECD standards. One of these key reforms being undertaken is the privatisation of national companies.
OCA: As EXPO 2017 nears, can you update us on what preparations you have been making from the UK side to support this significant event for Kazakhstan?
EK: The Astana EXPO 2017 is one of the key national projects of Kazakhstan. The idea of holding such a large-scale event belongs to President Nazarbayev. The preparatory works are under way and the country will try to hold it at the very high level.
One should note that Kazakhstan is the first country among the post-Soviet states to hold the international specialised exhibition in its territory. It will take place from 10th June to 10th September 2017. It is expected that 100 countries and 10 international organisations, as well as over 2 million people will attend it.
The exhibition, which has the theme “Future energy”, aims to research strategies, programmes and technologies to develop sustainable sources of energy. It should give a powerful impulse to help diversify the national economy. Preparing such a large-scale event will involve small and medium size businesses, including the construction of exhibition facilities and infrastructure.
The United Kingdom has already confirmed its participation in EXPO 2017. The British pavilion, which is being constructed, promises to be one of the most visited facilities during the exhibition. The UK’s Royal Dutch Shell became the global partner to Astana EXPO 2017.
OCA: In June, Kazakhstan was elected as a non-member at UN Security Council for the years 2017-2018. What do you expect to see resulting from this Kazakhstan’s membership?
EK: Since the first days of its independence, Kazakhstan has been playing one of the key roles in supporting international safety and global peace. This is not only about Kazakhstan’s contribution to the international nuclear disarmament and non-proliferation, but also its ability to enhance global multicultural and inter-religious dialogue.
Over recent years, Kazakhstan has proved to be a platform for solving a range of international problems. In 2010, our country chaired the Organisation for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE), becoming the first country among the post-Soviet states. Under the motto of Four Ts – Trust, Tolerance, Transparency and Tradition – Kazakhstan gave a new impetus to the organisation and to hold its first summit in 11 years in Astana.
Kazakhstan was the main initiator of the proclamation by the United Nations of the International Decade for the Rapprochement of Cultures (2013-2022), aimed at promoting solidarity among all the peoples of the world, through equality, inclusiveness, as well as cultural diversity.
One should note that Kazakhstan made a significant contribution to the solution of Iran’s nuclear programme and the Syrian problem, having provided its territory as a platform for dialogue between representatives of the Syrian opposition.
Since 2003, Kazakhstan has hosted the Congresses of Leaders of World and Traditional Religions. The country abandoned the world’s fourth biggest nuclear arsenal and closed one of the hugest nuclear test sites in its territory. President Nazarbayev’s recent Manifesto “The World. The 21st Century” which gained the status of the official document of the UN General Assembly and Security Council, also calls for the preservation of global security and peace.
The global community knows Kazakhstan as an honest and peace loving country. Its membership at the UNSC may play a positive role in regulating tensions between the conflicting countries. Our country’s global initiatives may contribute to the establishment of inter-ethnic, inter-cultural, and inter-religious dialogue.
Therefore I believe that Kazakhstan will start its mission as a non-permanent member of the UN Security Council with a bulk of proposals to the international agenda.
OCA: Your Excellency, Kazakhstan has launched another ambitious project – the Astana International Financial Centre. Could you provide more information about this centre?
EK: The Astana International Financial Centre has been created in accordance with the Plan of the Nation – the 100 concrete steps to implement the five institutional reforms of the President of Kazakhstan, Nursultan Nazarbayev, in order to establish a favourable financial environment to attract foreign investment into the economy of Kazakhstan.
In addition to this, the AIFC is designed to focus on ensuring development and an effective management of capital market, equity and welfare of individuals, and is set to develop Islamic finance. The centre will base its development on the experience of the world’s top financial centres, such as Dubai, New York, London, Hong Kong and Singapore. It aims to turn Astana into one of the top 20 financial centres in the world.
One of the major advantages of the AIFC is that it will have an absolutely independent international court based on English Law and arbitrage centre. AIFC will also have a new regulator and administrative authority. The courts will be independent in their activities and separate from the judicial system of Kazakhstan. The official language of the AIFC will be English.
One should note that Kazakhstan possesses all necessary internal and external competitive advantages to achieve this ambitious goal. The country’s geographical location, economic and political stability, favourable tax climate, significant public funds available for management – all these factors can be used to establish a world-class financial centre.
Implementation of this project will give a fresh impetus to diversification of the economy of Kazakhstan. The formation of a fully-fledged financial system in addition to the banking sector, further integration of Kazakhstan into the global economy as well as strengthening the position of Astana as the financial hub of Central Asia.
The most important social effects will be the creation of highly skilled jobs, improved transparency of the business environment and observance of the ethical business standards, as well as the attraction of highly skilled workforce from abroad, and improvements to living standards in Astana.