In this interview, Yerzan Kazykhan, Special Envoy of the President of Kazakhstan for International Cooperation, spoke about the state of relations with the European Union, his initiatives at the international level and his new projects, such as joining the European Battery Alliance.
Yerzan Kazykhan has served as Minister of Foreign Affairs, Adviser to the President, 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.
Can you introduce yourself and tell us what brought you to the capital of Europe?
I am the President’s Special Envoy for International Cooperation. This is a new position. This is my first visit abroad as part of my new duties. I’m a professional diplomat, and I’ve been in diplomacy for 30 years. President Kassym-Jomart Tokayev decided to send me to Brussels to meet with the leaders and institutions of the European Union. He ordered me to convey a letter to the President of the European Council, Charles Michel.
One of the reasons I am here is that we are preparing for the President’s visit to Brussels, if possible, towards the end of this year. As usual, before these high-level rounds, we have some homework to complete.
The European Union has been and remains our top priority when it comes to our interactions abroad. It is the largest trading partner of Kazakhstan, accounting for about 50% of our turnover. It is the largest foreign direct investor in our economy, thousands of European companies operate in Kazakhstan. One of the reasons for my visit is to send a simple message to EU leaders: In the post-pandemic world, with the new configuration of the supply chain, Kazakhstan has many competitive advantages and we can open up new avenues of cooperation.
Kazakhstan is the largest economy in the region, a powerful engine in Central Asia, and our GDP is twice the GDP of all the countries of Central Asia and the Caucasus combined. This year we will celebrate the thirtieth anniversary of our independence. And there are certainly many specific areas in which we can work together. First of all, regarding recovery after the pandemic. As you know, Kazakhstan has produced its own vaccine, QazVaq. We plan to increase production and supply to those who need it, in our region, in small countries, and in less developed countries. And we can establish good cooperation with the European Union, given the bloc’s commitments to support developing countries.
We launched a vaccination campaign in our country in February of this year. By the end of the year, we hope to be able to vaccinate 55% of our population. But not all countries in our region enjoy this privilege. So we think we should involve the European partners.
Another area is climate change, which is a hot topic. Kazakhstan has taken a very strong position to achieve carbon neutrality by 2050. For this, we are preparing a low carbon development strategy that will be ready fairly quickly. We are preparing for the President’s trip to Glasgow for COP26. And we understand that we have to go to this summit with something concrete on our hands. We are convinced that the Green Deal for Europe is a great opportunity to join our efforts and work together in the field of renewable energies, as Kazakhstan plans to achieve 15% renewable energies by 2030. The European Union has great experience and great potential to help Kazakhstan achieve these goals.
The third area I would like to highlight is transit transport cooperation. Kazakhstan is a land bridge, the famous Silk Road crossed our land and we continue to serve as a land bridge. We have invested billions and billions of dollars in our infrastructure. It is worth considering this potential, especially the Trans-Caspian Transport Corridor.
I would also like to shed some light on the European Battery Alliance. We have started discussions about this and we believe that Kazakhstan can be integrated into the battery supply chain, in terms of material extraction and processing.
In addition, I attach special importance to food security. Kazakhstan is currently positioning itself as a true wheat depository in the region. We are certainly interested in developing our agricultural sector to become a reliable supplier of processed foods. Food security, especially during a pandemic, is becoming an increasingly pressing issue for the rest of the world.
Finally, I see women’s empowerment and women’s entrepreneurship as a priority in today’s world. According to a McKinsey report, if women were given the same opportunities as men in the business world, global GDP would rise by $30 trillion. So we must support women and strengthen their independence.
Your country has traditionally played an active international role. Your leaders had the idea of hosting a summit between the leaders of Russia, China, the United States and the European Union. Is this idea still valid after the pandemic?
The pandemic has changed many things in the world. But most of all, it made people realize that we live in a highly interconnected world, and that we depend on each other. Rich countries need the attention and support of developing countries because the planet is small. We were encouraged by the holding of the US-Russia meeting in Geneva. We are talking above all about strategic stability. For Kazakhstan, this is a very close topic, because we have made a significant contribution to nuclear non-proliferation and disarmament by withdrawing warheads, dismantling missiles on our territory and closing nuclear test sites.
And, of course, Kazakhstan has long presented itself as a country that provides good support for any form of resolution and dialogue, to reduce differences, and to bring positions closer together. The proposal you mentioned regarding the meeting of leaders of the great powers, including the European Union, is becoming increasingly important, especially in the context in which we are approaching: the fiftieth anniversary of the Helsinki Final Act, which outlined a very important set of principles accepted by a large number of nations. We firmly believe that it is time for the great powers to reaffirm all of these principles. We would welcome similar proposals from other countries. But if the leaders decide to come to my country, they will be welcome.
The anniversary will take place in 2025, and there is still a long way to go…
It’s a long time, yes. But in any case, we firmly believe that it is time for world leaders to understand and reaffirm all these commitments made by our ancestors.
We remember the enormous importance of the Helsinki Final Act of 1975 and the major changes that followed when the Soviet Union agreed to discuss human rights. But today we are witnessing a different trend. Countries like Russia or China are calling on others not to interfere in their internal affairs. Wouldn’t it be so difficult to reassert the law today?
Yeah. The world is constantly changing, new dynamics are happening everywhere. With regard to Kazakhstan, we believe that there will be no further economic development without a significant political modernization of the country. This is our firm commitment. We believe that the more liberated the society, the stronger the dialogue between government and civil society, the more freedoms are preserved and protected, the stronger our society will be. In this context, the Chair launched the concept of the state of hearing. Over the past two years, we’ve passed a number of laws that I would describe as very progressive. They relate to peaceful assembly, parliamentary opposition, electoral legislation, NGOs, civil society, etc. But we understand that no matter how beautiful the laws are, the devil is in the details and implementation. So a week ago, the President released a seven-point document outlining the concrete steps we will take to further strengthen democratic principles in our country. We don’t do it to please anyone in the West, we do it with full knowledge that this is the right way to enhance our standing.
It is also a good example for other countries.
Yes I agree with you. Of course, each country has its own style of development. But as I mentioned before, we understand that the world is interconnected, and that problems know no boundaries. It is for this reason that Kazakhstan, for example, is a strong supporter of greater interdependence among the five Central Asian countries, as you know, our first president started high-level informal summits.
I was present during the first, in March 2018, in Astana.
Two more summits were held and we are preparing for the next one. President Tokayev proposed the creation of a mechanism within the five countries of Central Asia to prevent any border dispute in our region….
…as we have seen recently, between Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan.
Unfortunately yes. We propose to host the next summit in Kazakhstan. We have a beautiful city in southern Kazakhstan called Turkestan. It is the cultural and historical capital of Central Asia. So we invited the leaders to come, and if there are any ideas and suggestions for holding the meetings elsewhere, we will certainly respect them. But like I said, we made our proposal. I mentioned to our friends in the European Union that we very much appreciate the coordination, which we call the CA5 + EU, which is designed to help and promote stronger communication and cooperation between countries in the region. There are already a number of significant projects that have been implemented for many years. I’m referring to Cadap, Traseca, and others here, but we need to do more. The new realities of the world and the region require it. That is why I believe that we consider the European Union as our neighbor, no matter how far it is, and that we want to deepen our close cooperation.