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EBRD to finance new solar power plant construction in Kazakhstan

  • Written by TCA

ASTANA (TCA) — The European Bank for Reconstruction and Development (EBRD) is supporting a new solar plant with up to 28 MW capacity in southern Kazakhstan, a country which leads in the field of solar power generation in Central Asia. The respective loan and project support agreements were signed on October 18, the Bank said.

Read more: EBRD to finance new solar power plant construction in Kazakhstan

First EIB loans to Uzbekistan support water infrastructure, energy efficiency

  • Written by TCA

TASHKENT (TCA) — The Republic of Uzbekistan and the European Investment Bank (EIB) have opened a new chapter in their relationship by signing two landmark loans that will be beneficial to both the country and the environment, the Delegation of the European Union to Uzbekistan said on October 17.

Read more: First EIB loans to Uzbekistan support water infrastructure, energy efficiency

Finland to invest in Kazakhstan

  • Written by TCA

ASTANA (TCA) — President of Kazakhstan Nursultan Nazarbayev, during his visit to Finland on October 16, met with representatives of leading Finnish companies, such as Nokia, Wartsila, Vaisala, Metso, Koja, and Nurminen Logistics. Following the visit, more than 20 commercial and non-commercial documents were signed for a total amount of $545 million, Kazakh Invest national investment support and promotion company reported.

Read more: Finland to invest in Kazakhstan

Uzbekistan and Russia: Chilly weather, warm relations

  • Written by EurasiaNet

TASHKENT (TCA) — Tashkent is now changing its attitude to Russia, which was rather cold and distant under late President Islam Karimov. The question is how far Uzbekistan will go in its improving relationship with Moscow. We are republishing this article on the issue, originally published by Eurasianet:

The capital of Uzbekistan has gone Russian for the week – even the weather has turned cold and snowy.

Tashkent is decked out in red-blue-and-white flags. Roads in the center are lined with billboards carrying the words: “Welcome Russian friends!” Even buses have been emblazoned with the flags of Russia and Uzbekistan – an unprecedented sight.

This outpouring of Russophilia is in anticipation of President Vladimir Putin’s two-day visit, which begins on October 18. The expected headline takeaway from his stay will be the signing of $20 billion worth of commercial contracts.

The late Uzbek leader, Islam Karimov, who died in September 2016, was never an enthusiastic comrade for Moscow, so the bonhomie is being interpreted by some observers as a historic turn by Tashkent. A more sanguine reading is that President Shavkat Mirziyoyev is cultivating equally warm ties with all and sundry in his ongoing mission to pull his nation out of its long-standing isolation.

One area of notable cooperation is defense. Ahead of Putin’s visit, his defense minister, Sergei Shoigu, was accompanied to Tashkent last week by a large military delegation. He came away with an agreement on the mutual access to one another’s airspace by military aircraft. Shoigu said this was needed “to jointly confront challenges and threats, especially the spread of international terrorism in the region.”

This fits an established pattern.

Last April, an agreement was signed between Russia and Uzbekistan on expanding military-technical cooperation, which envisions the mutual supply of military wares, the maintenance and repair of weapons and military equipment, and assistance in research and development.

Uzbekistan has also recently resumed sending military personnel to be trained at army colleges in Russia – an arrangement that was ended in 2012. This year, 340 Uzbek officers enrolled at the colleges.

And Russia has been supplying weapons to Uzbekistan at reduced prices since 2016. Uzbekistan is the only non-member of the Moscow-led Collective Security Treaty Organization, or CSTO, to enjoy that privilege.

This has some suspecting that Uzbekistan may break from form and begin to show interest in Moscow-led bodies.

“I would not rule out the possibility of efforts being made to draw Uzbekistan into the CSTO and the Eurasian Economic Union. It seems that Mirziyoyev is shifting from the position occupied by Karimov, who distanced his country from these organizations,” political analyst Alisher Ilkhamov told Eurasianet.

Perhaps the most significant development to occur this week will be the start of a project to build an $11 billion atomic power plant. Putin and Mirziyoyev will travel to the construction site near Tudakul lake, just east of Bukhara, on October 19.

The deal underpinning the project, which is being jointly executed with Russian state-run nuclear power company Rosatom, was signed in Moscow in September. The 2.4-gigawatt power station is slated to come online in 2028.

That is a colossal amount of electricity, but not everybody is happy.

“Does Uzbekistan even need an atomic power plant? I can still remember the Chernobyl accident. Maybe it is better to invest in alternative power, [the resources for] which we have enough of. Karimov would not have allowed this,” 63-year-old retiree Nuriddin Khamrayev told Eurasianet.

Shukhrat Ganiyev, a political analyst from Bukhara, likewise said that his fellow Bukharans are concerned and unhappy about the prospect of living so close to a nuclear power plant. An unscientific poll conducted by Ganiyev among local residents revealed widespread anxiety.

“Our city gets freshwater from Tudakul, so what is the sense of building an atomic plant so close to this ancient city? This issue needs to be discussed in society, in the media and on social media. Why are Uzbekistan’s environmental activists silent?” Ganiyev said.

Another large Russian project will entail resuming the construction of an astronomical observatory on the Suffa plateau, a high-altitude spot around four hours’ drive south of Tashkent. It is believed the observatory, begun in late-Soviet times and then discontinued, will house the world’s largest radio telescope. The signing of a roadmap on this undertaking is on the agenda during Putin’s visit.

Even though Karimov adopted a cool stance toward Russia, it was not the same for many of his countrymen, millions of whom were forced by necessity to travel there for work. With bureaucracy complicated for those migrant laborers, large numbers risked legal trouble by working without the proper authorization. Under Karimov, authorities turned a blind eye to all this.

Mirziyoyev has taken a radically different tack and focused much of his diplomacy with Russia on easing work-registration requirements for Uzbeks. His government is coordinating more closely with Russia’s Federal Migration Service and has opened several new consulates to better assist expatriates.

The payoff has been impressive. In 2017, labor migrants from Uzbekistan transferred $3.9 billion from Russia to their homeland. That was 42 percent more than the year before.

Mirziyoyev wants to see other areas of the economy benefit from this cordiality too. The goal is for trade turnover to hit $5 billion this year. Already in the first seven months of 2018, trade turnover increased by 32 percent compared with the same period in 2017. Russia's share of foreign trade with Uzbekistan stands at 18 percent.

That is a lot, but Russia is nonetheless second to China, and that’s an important distinction.

Indeed, analyst Rafael Sattarov believes it is unlikely Uzbekistan will join the Eurasian Economic Union, not least as the government has made no changes to its foreign policy concept since August 2012.

“[The document] clearly states that the country will not join military blocs and integration associations that hinder sovereignty, or integration projects in the post-Soviet space that hinder relations with third countries,” Sattarov explained.

So even if Russia is courting Uzbekistan eagerly, the likelihood for the time being is that Tashkent will avoid forging any exclusive relationships. Mirziyoyev earlier this month traveled to Paris, his first official trip to a member of the European Union, and he was in India a few days before that. In May, he met with Donald Trump at the White House. His first state visit outside the former Soviet space was to China, in May 2017.

Nigara Khidoyatova, an independent politician who has lived for several years in the United States, said that despite the positive dynamic in Russian-Uzbek ties, the broader trend is toward maintaining relations among all the country’s major partners on an equal footing.

“For now, Shavkat Mirziyoyev is […] trying to keep a balance between the three strong players – China, the United States and Russia. That much was demonstrated by the president’s visits to the West,” Khidoyatova said.

Turkmenistan launches major gas chemical plant in Kiyanly

  • Written by TCA

ASHGABAT (TCA) — President Gurbanguly Berdymuhamedov on October 17 attended the opening ceremony of the Kiyanly Gas Chemical Complex for production of polyethylene and polypropylene. He pressed the button that launched the production process at the facility, the State News Agency of Turkmenistan reported.

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Kazakhstan to increase rail cargo transit between China and Finland

  • Written by TCA

ASTANA (TCA) — On October 16, during the visit of Kazakhstan President Nursultan Nazarbayev to Finland, Kazakhstan Temir Zholy (KTZ) national railways company and Finland’s Koulova Innovation Oy (Kouvola city) and Nurminen Logistics Services signed an agreement on the development of container traffic, the press office of KTZ said.

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Kazakhstan holds Kostanay Invest-2018 Regional Investment Forum

  • Written by TCA

ASTANA (TCA) — Kostanay Invest-2018 Regional Investment Forum was held on October 12 in Kostanay in northern Kazakhstan. The forum was attended by Saparbek Tuyakbayev, Chairman of the Board of Kazakh Invest national investment support and promotion agency, who informed the participants on measures taken to attract investment and state support, Kazakh Invest reported on its website.

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OSCE office in Tajikistan supports economic connectivity in Central Asia

  • Written by TCA

DUSHANBE (TCA) — The OSCE Programme Office in Dushanbe contributed to the development of regional economic connectivity by supporting the annual International Economic Forum “Sughd-2018” which took place on 11 October 2018 in Khujand, northern Tajikistan. This year, the forum was dedicated to the achievements and tenth anniversary of the Free Economic Zones (FEZs) in Tajikistan.

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Kazakhstan laborers head to South Korea for a better life

  • Written by Almaz Kumenov

ASTANA (TCA) — Despite the government’s reports on economic growth in Kazakhstan, many Kazakh citizens that failed to find good job opportunities at home have moved abroad to earn their living. We are republishing this article on the issue, written by Almaz Kumenov, originally published by Eurasianet:

Labor migration in Central Asia is most typically associated with the region’s economically weaker nations — Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan and Uzbekistan.

But as Kazakhstan has struggled in recent years amid a slump in global oil prices, its nationals too have looked overseas for employment prospects in low-skilled sectors. South Korea has been a particularly strong draw.

Edil Soranbayev, 34, is one of thousands breaking the stereotype of the Kazakh abroad as big-spending property-buyer or a leisure tourist. Last year he left Almaty, Kazakhstan’s business capital, to settle in Boryeong, a city of around 100,000 people on Korea’s Yellow Sea. He lives and works illegally on a building site, ever-vigilant for the migration officials in search of foreigners without papers.

When Soranbayev was back in Almaty, he worked as a cook in a restaurant. A decade ago, he took out a large loan to buy a plot of land outside Almaty on which to build a home.

Since then, the Kazakh tenge has taken several deep tumbles against the dollar, heavily exposing those who took out foreign currency-denominated credit.

On his salary, Soranbayev found himself unable to pay back the loan. In Korea, he makes no less than $100 a day.

“When oil cost more than $100 [a barrel], Kazakhstan’s economy was growing stably and we had good salaries, which made it possible to make big purchases and travel often. Now we have tightened our belts,” Soranbayev told Eurasianet in a telephone interview.

Kazakhstan’s good times dried up in 2015, when global oil prices fell. But a slim lifeline had appeared around the same time for those willing to work abroad. In the summer of 2014, Kazakhstan and South Korea reached an agreement to mutually scrap visa requirements for short-term visitors.

As Rashida Shaikenova, head of the Kazakhstan Tourism Association, explained to Eurasianet, South Koreans had hoped to tap into demand for medical tourism. Korea is among the most favored destinations for people in Kazakhstan seeking good-quality health treatment overseas.

Seoul received another kind of visitor, however. Many Kazakhs would travel to Korea pretending to be visitors, and then look for work and overstay the 30-day limit.

Over the past couple of years, the number of Kazakh citizens caught violating Korean migration laws increased 15-fold, according to officials in Seoul. The Foreign Ministry in Astana estimates that almost 12,000 Kazakhs are working in South Korea illegally.

The Koreans have in response tightened rules for visiting Kazakhs. It is now obligatory for tourists from Kazakhstan to clearly document their reason for traveling and to provide additional paperwork, such as return tickets and invitations from medical clinics or tourist agencies. And even then, privately owned visa-assistance services warn that migration officials in Seoul still reserve the right to deny entry.

Shaikenova, who visited South Korea in December, says working-age men making the trip draw suspicion on arrival.

“Around me on the plane I saw many smartly dressed men, and there were Uzbeks among them too,” she said. “This was a result of the widely circulating rumor that you need to impress with your external appearance if you stand a chance of being allowed in.”

The Foreign Ministry in Astana has said that more than 5,000 Kazakh nationals were denied entry into South Korea last year alone.

For those that get in, life is hard. Without proper documentation, laborers are forced to live in crude accommodation — in basements and on building sites.

And then there is constant fear of being caught. Soranbayev said that migration inspectors usually execute raids at job centers, in train stations and on building sites in large cities. Boryeong is relatively less stressful as police there are not in the habit of checking documents, he said.

“I send money home every month to my two daughters and I pay my bank loans. For that, it is worth enduring this hardship,” he said.

The most recent indicators coming out of Kazakhstan suggest a corner has been turned on the economic front, but a series of slumps has established a trend that may be hard to halt or reverse. Official data show how, since 2012, more people are leaving Kazakhstan than entering. Those figures document permanent migration and likely do not capture the phenomenon of labor migration, but the underlying causes are related.

Authorities insist there is enough work to go around, pointing out that unemployment in 2017 was no more than 5 percent. But independent observers are unconvinced by this rosy picture.

Economist Denis Krivosheyev told Eurasianet that the effectiveness and competitiveness of Kazakh companies is “so low that only top managers are getting decent salaries.” Average monthly salaries in Kazakhstan are around $500.

Most jobs only exist because of direct or indirect support from the government, Krivosheyev said.

“Two-thirds of jobs are somehow or other affiliated with the government. This means private companies are either servicing government structures or in turn servicing those that service the state system,” said Krivosheyev, citing research from the Talap Center for Applied Research, itself affiliated with the government.

The socio-economic situation is perhaps best illustrated by the level of indebtedness among the population. According to National Bank figures from August, Kazakhs owed banks a total of 3.1 trillion tenge ($8.4 billion) – a startling figure for a nation of 18 million people. Moreover, according to research from 2017, every tenth person was unable to make repayments on their loans.

Kazakh laborers in South Korea bemoan their inability to get good jobs closer to home. This plaintive message was explicitly voiced in a much-watched video created earlier this year by a worker in a factory in the city of Ansan, just outside Seoul.

In the footage, which was uploaded to YouTube by the Life KZ blogging platform, the young man is seen walking around his place of employment at nighttime as colleagues busily work around him. The man explains that while Korean nationals sit in offices, Central Asians and laborers from other countries, like Nepal, Thailand and Myanmar, are doing all the hard work.

“I want to show you this factory so that even in Kazakhstan they might also create similar workplaces. If we had work in our country, do you think we would leave behind our wives, children and parents?” asks the man.

Kazakhstan’s economic diplomacy to attract investment, FM says

  • Written by TCA

ASTANA (TCA) — Kazakhstan’s Foreign Minister Kairat Abdrakhmanov has announced that the tools of economic diplomacy will be used to attract investment, develop the non-primary sector of the economy, ensure export-oriented industrialization and implement the transport, logistics, tourism and agro-industrial potential of the country. This was stated on October 16 at the meeting on the implementation of the President's State of the Nation Address “Growing Welfare of Kazakh Citizens: Increase in Income and Quality of Life” at the Kazakh Foreign Ministry, the ministry reported.

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EBRD commits €333 million to support infrastructure upgrades in Uzbekistan

  • Written by TCA

TASHKENT (TCA) — Following the adoption of a new country strategy for Uzbekistan, the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development (EBRD) is providing funds for the development of sustainable solutions for the municipal and power infrastructure sectors in the country, the Bank said on October 16.

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EBRD appoints the Bank’s new managing director for Central Asia

  • Written by TCA

ASTANA (TCA) — Bruno Balvanera has been appointed new European Bank for Reconstruction and Development (EBRD) Managing Director, Central Asia. In this position he will be responsible for one of the most geographically diverse regions of the Bank’s operations, with current commitments close to US$ 13.5 billion (€11.6 billion), the Bank said on October 16.

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US musical group Humming House tours Turkmenistan

  • Written by TCA

ASHGABAT (TCA) — The U.S. Embassy in Ashgabat has announced that the American musical group Humming House will be visiting Turkmenistan between October 24 and 31 for a series of workshops and concerts throughout the Central Asian country.

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Japan’s Mitsubishi Corporation interested in Kazakhstan infrastructure projects

  • Written by TCA

ASTANA (TCA) — A project to create a multimodal hub on the basis of the International Airport in Astana was presented to Mitsubishi Corporation during a meeting in Astana last week between Toru Yasuda, director of Mitsubishi Corporation branch in Kazakhstan, and Alzhan Braliyev, director of Kazakh Invest office in Astana. The meeting was also attended by representatives of Astana Invest city center for development of investment and Astana Technopolis special economic zone management company, Kazakh Invest national investment support and promotion company reported on its website.

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Tajikistan starts construction of new Parliament and Government buildings with China funding

  • Written by TCA

DUSHANBE (TCA) — President of Tajikistan Emomali Rahmon and Premier of the State Council of the People's Republic of China Li Keqiang took part in ceremonies to lay the foundation stone to the new buildings of Parliament and Government of Tajikistan on October 13 in Dushanbe, the Tajik presidential press service reported.

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Afghanistan: Kabul expo to engage private companies in TAPI gas pipeline project

  • Written by TCA

KABUL (TCA) — The Turkmenistan-Afghanistan-Pakistan-India (TAPI) natural gas pipeline project’s exhibition committee on October 15 launched a three-day exhibition in Kabul to encourage the private sector to engage in the TAPI project, Afghan broadcaster TOLOnews reported.

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US to host annual Central Asia Trade Forum in Uzbekistan

  • Written by TCA

TASHKENT (TCA) — On October 17-18, more than 35 businesses and government officials from Kyrgyzstan will participate in the Eighth Annual Central Asia Trade Forum in Tashkent. USAID is sponsoring several businesses to exhibit their products at the Forum, which is co-hosted by USAID and the Government of Uzbekistan, the US Embassy in Kyrgyzstan reported.

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Kazakhstan: Pavlodar SEZ recognized as one of the best in the world

  • Written by TCA

ASTANA (TCA) — The Pavlodar special economic zone (SEZ) in northern Kazakhstan has become the winner in the nomination "The best resources & raw materials base of 2018” according to fDi Magazine, the authoritative British magazine, Kazakh Invest national investment support and promotion company reported on its website.

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Tajikistan: US donates 140,000 children’s books for Tajik school students

  • Written by TCA

HISSOR, Tajikistan (TCA) — Chargé d’Affaires of the U.S. Embassy to Tajikistan Kevin Covert on October 12 joined Tajik Deputy Minister of Education and Sciences Fatkhiddin Usmonzoda, local authorities, education officials, teachers and students to continue a large-scale book donation campaign as part of the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) primary grade literacy program in Tajikistan.

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Afghanistan: US agrees to discuss troop pullout, Taliban officials say

  • Written by TCA

KABUL (TCA) — Reports coming after an October 12 meeting in Doha, Qatar between US diplomats and top Afghan Taliban officials suggest that Washington has agreed to discuss bringing its troops home and end America’s 17-year war in Afghanistan, Russia’s Sputnik news agency reported.

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Weekly Digest of Central Asia

  • Written by TCA

BISHKEK (TCA) — The Publisher’s note: Throughout the 19th and 20th centuries, Central Asia was the scene of intense geopolitical struggle and the Great Game between the British and Russian Empires, and later between the Soviet Union and the West, over Afghanistan and neighboring territories. Into the 21st century, Central Asia has become the area of a renewed geopolitical interest, dubbed the New Great Game, largely based on the region’s hydrocarbon and mineral wealth. On top of that, the region now is perhaps the most important node in the implementation of China’s One Belt, One Road initiative through which Beijing aims to get direct access to Western markets. Every week thousands of news appears in the world’s printed and online media and many of them may escape the attention of busy readers. At The Times of Central Asia, we strongly believe that more information can better contribute to peaceful development and better knowledge of this unique region. So we are presenting this Weekly Digest which compiles what other media have reported on Central Asia over the past week.

KAZAKHSTAN

Under Threat Of Chinese 'Reeducation,' Ethnic Kazakh Forced To Abort Baby

After the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991, ethnic Kazakhs were able to travel freely between China and Kazakhstan, but that all began changing in 2017 with reports of harassment, arrests, and imprisonment by Chinese authorities in Xinjiang

Oct 8 — “While being forced to study communist ideology and sing fanciful songs about Chairman Mao and Xi Jinping can be trying for the hundreds of thousands of members of ethnic minorities thought to be held in China's archipelago of "reeducation" camps, Gulzira Mogdin says she and other minority women suffer far worse at the hands of Chinese officials.” READ MORE: https://www.rferl.org/a/under-threat-of-chinese-reeducation-ethnic-kazakh-forced-to-abort-baby/29532546.html

Shell said to drop plan to buy stake in Kazakh state oil company

An investigation conducted on Shell’s behalf discussed the informal control one of Kazakh President Nursultan Nazarbayev’s sons-in-law exercises over the state oil and gas company

Oct 9 — “Royal Dutch Shell Plc dropped plans to purchase a stake in KazMunayGas National Co. after a due diligence process that included discussions about the risk of corruption at the Kazakh state oil company, people with knowledge of the matter said.” READ MORE: https://www.bnnbloomberg.ca/shell-said-to-drop-plan-to-buy-stake-in-kazakh-state-oil-company-1.1149348

Kazakhstan earns more, people get poorer

Booming state revenues caused by growing oil and gas prices have not yet translated into better living conditions for the majority of Kazakhstan citizens

Oct 9 — “This has been a good year for Kazakhstan’s National Fund, in large part due to the resurgence in the price of oil. Over the first nine months of 2018, payments to the government’s rainy-day piggy bank rose by 52 percent year-on-year in local currency terms, the Kazakhstan Finance Association reported on October 4, citing Finance Ministry data. Without accounting for returns on investments, more than 2 trillion tenge ($5.8 billion) had been deposited on the National Fund.” READ MORE: https://timesca.com/index.php/news/20350-kazakhstan-earns-more-people-get-poorer

Western sanctions against Russia leave Kazakhstan exposed

It is now becoming more difficult for Kazakhstan to balance its multi-vector foreign policy when it comes to Astana’s relations with Moscow and Washington

Oct 11 — “Relations between the United States and Russia have continued to deteriorate in 2017 and 2018. In August 2017, US President Donald Trump signed into law a new bill called Countering America’s Adversaries Through Sanctions Act (CAATSA), which extended the post-2014 Ukraine sanctions and enlarged their extraterritoriality. Among other points found in the law, it enables the administration to sanction foreign buyers of Russian military equipment.” READ MORE: https://timesca.com/index.php/news/20359-western-sanctions-against-russia-leave-kazakhstan-exposed

KYRGYZSTAN

Kyrgyzstan: The airline industry badly needs change

In terms of air transport, Kyrgyzstan remains the worst connected country with the world among its Central Asian neighbors

Oct 7 — “Kyrgyz MPs offered to sell the national airline Air Kyrgyzstan to Chinese investors. Earlier, Chinese companies expressed interest in purchasing Air Kyrgyzstan. If purchased, the investor promised to bring 12 aircraft to the company within five years, the MPs said. Minister of Transport and Roads of Kyrgyzstan Jamshitbek Kalilov confirmed the interest of Chinese investors in the purchase of Air Kyrgyzstan, although there were no official applications to the State Property Management Fund.” READ MORE: https://timesca.com/index.php/news/20341-kyrgyzstan-the-airline-industry-badly-needs-change

Can Kyrgyzstan’s president take a joke?

A Facebook post with a meme featuring the Kyrgyz president sparked a public conversation about inter-ethnic relations and the limits of free speech in the country

Oct 10 — “The president of Kyrgyzstan has a sense of humor. For now. When the presidential administration press service published a series of photos on Facebook showing Sooronbai Jeenbekov ambling alone around a government-run summer resort on the shores of Lake Issyk-Kul, Bishkek graphic designer Nikita Tarasenko sensed a meme in the making.” READ MORE: https://eurasianet.org/can-kyrgyzstans-president-take-a-joke

Kyrgyzstan: Talk of visa waiver for Chinese tourists sparks ire

Many in Kyrgyzstan are afraid of China’s growing influence over the country in various spheres, especially in the economy

Oct 13 — “Talk in Kyrgyzstan of allowing tourists from China to visit without obtaining a visa has ignited heated public debate. On one side are those eager to capitalize on the fast-growing Chinese appetite for seeing the world. On the other are those afraid of Beijing’s creeping influence over the country. The proposal under discussion was made by member of parliament Makhabat Mavlyanova, who suggested that Chinese tourist who book tours through travel agencies should be allowed to enter Kyrgyzstan without a visa.” READ MORE: https://timesca.com/index.php/news/20366-kyrgyzstan-talk-of-visa-waiver-for-chinese-tourists-sparks-ire

Final phase of massive CSTO military drills held in Kyrgyzstan

CSTO member states military prepare for possible attacks of terrorists from neighboring Afghanistan

Oct 13 — “The final phase of "Cooperation 2018" military drills among CSTO (Collective Security Treaty Organization) member states has started at the Edelweiss training range in Kyrgyzstan, the press service of Russia's Central Military District reported on Saturday.” READ MORE: http://tass.com/defense/1025827

TAJIKISTAN

Tajikistan's Unconquerable Gorno-Badakhshan Region

Since the Tajik civil war of the 1990s, the government in Dushanbe has never had complete control over Tajikistan’s remote Gorno-Badakhshan autonomous province

Oct 9 — “Yodgor Fayzov has just been named head of Tajikistan's eastern Gorno-Badakhshan autonomous region in what appears to be the government's latest attempt to increase control over an area that arguably has little in common with the rest of the country.” READ MORE: https://www.rferl.org/a/tajikistan-unconquerable-gorno-badakhshan-region/29534057.html

India renews interest in running its first foreign military base in Tajikistan

India is making inroads to Central Asia, and Tajikistan, in different spheres, including the military sphere, to increase its leverage over rival Pakistan

Oct 11 — “India has signalled a renewed interest in developing and sustaining a military base in Ayni in Tajikistan. President Ram Nath Kovind met an Indian Air Force contingent during his visit to the country this week (7-9 October), before returning to India Tuesday evening. Prime Minister Narendra Modi had visited Ayni in 2015, but it was not publicised. A.K. Antony, the former defence minister, had also visited the base. India has so far sought to keep its military presence discreet.” READ MORE: https://theprint.in/security/india-renews-interest-in-running-its-first-foreign-military-base-in-tajikistan/132454/

Feature: Chinese language craze catches on in Tajikistan

China, the largest creditor of Tajikistan, is also increasing its cultural and humanitarian influence over the poor Central Asian country

Oct 12 — “"I have always wanted to learn Chinese. I plan to study in China after graduation," said Qodirova Sayora, a senior university student.
Two years after learning the Chinese language at the Confucius Institute of the Tajik National University for Nationalities, Sayora is now a die-hard Chinese culture fan. She is currently learning to play the Chinese zither, a 2,500-year-old plucked string instrument.” READ MORE: http://www.xinhuanet.com/english/2018-10/12/c_137528152.htm

TURKMENISTAN

Turkmenistan calling: Is anybody out there? Anybody?

In its ‘Akhal-Teke: A Turkmenistan Bulletin’, Eurasianet reviews the main news and events in the Central Asian country for the previous week

Oct 9 — “President Gurbanguly Berdymukhamedov wrapped up his stay in New York last week with a pitch to U.S. companies to invest in the ambitious-but-fraught Turkmenistan-Afghanistan-Pakistan-India, or TAPI, natural gas pipeline. Turkmenistan is touting the project as an era-defining undertaking that will help maintain vigor in the economies of fuel-hungry nations like India and Pakistan.” READ MORE: https://eurasianet.org/turkmenistan-calling-is-anybody-out-there-anybody

Turkmenistan: Russia Plans to Resume Its Imports of Turkmen Natural Gas

Russia would increase its involvement in the Central Asia region and a Russian deal to resume natural gas imports from Turkmenistan fits within this trend, Stratfor believes

Oct 10 — “Russia will resume importing natural gas from Turkmenistan when the new year begins, Gazprom CEO Alexei Miller said during an Oct. 9 visit to Ashgabat, the Turkmen capital. "We are talking about the resumption of purchases of Turkmen gas by Gazprom in the very near future — from Jan. 1, 2019," Miller said, adding that details over volumes and pricing were still being worked out.” READ MORE: https://worldview.stratfor.com/article/turkmenistan-russia-plans-resume-its-imports-turkmen-natural-gas

The struggle of Turkmenistan’s agriculture

In the past two years Turkmenistan has been experiencing a shortfall in wheat crops volume which caused the deficit of flour and bread

Oct 12 — “Since Turkmenistan obtained independence, the situation in Turkmenistan’s agricultural sector has been gradually deteriorating. Media outlets triumphantly announce the launch of the wheat harvesting campaign but keep silent whether the crop harvesting plan set forth by PresidentGurbanguly Berdymukhammedov has been fulfilled.” READ MORE: https://en.hronikatm.com/2018/10/the-struggle-of-turkmenistans-agriculture/

UZBEKISTAN

Under New Uzbek Leadership, Even Predecessor's Widow, Family Are In The Crosshairs

The purge of business leaders and government officials, including from late President Karimov's family, under new President Mirziyoev demonstrates how fragile and undeveloped political institutions are in Uzbekistan

Oct 8 — “Uzbek President Shavkhat Mirziyoev has pulled no punches going after those who served under his autocratic predecessor, Islam Karimov. The list of those who have fallen is long -- including hundreds of old guard "rats" in the Finance Ministry, top government officials, and law enforcement agents. But while some immediate relatives of Karimov -- who ruled the country for 27 years until his death in 2016 -- were caught up in the purge, his widow had escaped being targeted.” READ MORE: https://www.rferl.org/a/brides-of-ferghana-under-new-uzbek-leadership-even-predecessor-s-widow-family-are-in-the-crosshairs/29531301.html

How Worried Is Uzbekistan About Afghan Instability?

For Uzbekistan, Afghanistan is a next-door neighbor and important economic partner

Oct 9 — “When Uzbek President Shavkat Mirziyoyev came to power, his posture toward Afghanistan was significantly different than that of his predecessor. Instead of shielding Uzbekistan from Afghanistan and viewing the country primarily as a center of instability, Mirziyoyev enthusiastically embraced Afghanistan as an economic and security partner.” READ MORE: https://thediplomat.com/2018/10/how-worried-is-uzbekistan-about-afghan-instability/

The democratic future of Uzbekistan doesn’t depend on the politicians, but whether workers can mobilise

Uzbekistan’s workers now have a new chance to create trade unions and collectively make changes, not only in their working conditions but in a reassessment of the entire system of labour relations

Oct 9 — “Uzbekistan’s sharp swing towards democratic values in the post-Karimov era is unprecedented. After the death of Uzbekistan’s president Islam Karimov, who had ruled the country since 1989, the prison system’s doors have been flung open. International human rights organisations and monitoring missions are now visiting the country. The openness and diplomatic vigour of new president Shavkat Mirziyoyev’s administration has led to many people to believe that the changes are genuine and long term.” READ MORE: https://www.opendemocracy.net/od-russia/kirill-buketov/the-democratic-future-of-uzbekistan

Uzbekistan, France ink over $5.7B worth of agreements

France is the first EU country Uzbek President Mirziyoyev has visited after his election

Oct 9 — “Uzbekistan and France signed investment agreements on projects totaling about 5 billion euros ($5.75 billion), the press service of the president of Uzbekistan announced, referring to the results of the meeting of Shavkat Mirziyoyev with management of the largest French companies during an official visit to France.” READ MORE: https://en.trend.az/business/economy/2962407.html

AFGHANISTAN

How Afghanistan became our continuing war

Looking at American foreign policy can help explain the US failure in Afghanistan

Oct 8 — “Seventeen years, 2,351 Americans dead, 20,094 wounded. These grim numbers scarcely begin tell the story of the Afghanistan war, which marked its 17th anniversary on Sunday. It’s been a tragic failure, but for reasons few people understand. A lot went wrong, but the common explanations fall short. Was the Afghanistan war a failure of the military? That’s false and unjust.” READ MORE: https://thehill.com/opinion/international/410011-how-afghanistan-became-our-continuing-war

America’s Disastrous Occupation of Afghanistan Turns 17

Despite the many-year US-led military efforts, the Taliban are in their strongest position in that many years

Oct 11 — “America has now passed the 17-year mark in Afghanistan. U.S. troops have been fighting there for longer than the Revolutionary War, Civil War, World War I, and World War II combined. Yet Washington is further away than ever from anything that might pass for victory.” READ MORE: https://www.theamericanconservative.com/articles/americas-disastrous-occupation-of-afghanistan-turns-17/

International arbitration 'can help grow the Afghan economy'

International arbitration is an attractive alternative to Afghan court proceedings for resolving disputes, particularly between foreign and Afghan companies

Oct 11 — “As the Afghan economy grows and there is greater domestic and foreign investment in the country, the need for an effective dispute resolution mechanism becomes increasingly important. International arbitration can offer a more acceptable method for the resolution of disputes for stakeholders. Although the World Bank forecasts that the Afghan economy would grow modestly in 2018 and beyond, it is clear that the country has far greater potential and may offer ample opportunities for foreign and domestic investors in a broad range of nascent and undeveloped sectors: particularly mining, energy, infrastructure, telecommunications and agriculture.” READ MORE: https://www.out-law.com/en/articles/2018/october/international-arbitration-can-help-grow-the-afghan-economy/

The Kremlin’s comeback

For Russia, Afghanistan remains an important geo-political spot in the Central Asia region, as Afghan instability threatens Moscow’s allies and positions in the region

Oct 12 — “Russia has been cultivating ties with the Taliban to increase its influence in Afghanistan three decades after Moscow’s humiliating defeat there helped hasten the Soviet Union’s collapse. Russian engagement with the militants drew attention, and some flak, when the Kremlin invited Taliban representatives to Moscow for a meeting in September. That invitation was rescinded — at least temporarily — after the Afghan government objected, saying it must take the lead in any talks.” READ MORE: https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/world/wp/2018/10/12/feature/behind-the-scenes-russia-regains-a-complicated-status-afghanistan-power-broker/?noredirect=on&utm_term=.2c60275ab3ac

WORLD

Is the Islamic State group seeking a new stronghold in central Asia?

The Islamic State group is currently recruiting, training and reactivating armed cells in Europe, Central Asia, Southeast Asia and Russia

Oct 12 — “Experts are divided over claims that the Islamic State group is trying to create a new stronghold in central Asia and activate sleeper cells in the region.
Andrey Novikov, the head of the Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS) Anti-Terrorism Center, maintains IS is establishing a new foothold in the region to form a new "caliphate" while planting new sleeper cells and invigorating existing ones.” READ MORE: https://www.alaraby.co.uk/english/indepth/2018/10/12/islamic-state-seeking-new-stronghold-in-central-asia

INDIA AND RUSSIA MAY BE PARTNERS, BUT CAN THEY FIND COMMON GROUND ON CHINA?

China has traditionally viewed India-Russia engagement positively, since it would theoretically slow India’s drift towards the US

Oct 12 — “The summit meeting last week between Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Russian President Vladimir Putin was an effort by New Delhi to allay Moscow’s growing apprehension that its long-standing strategic partner and largest arms buyer has been lost forever to the United States.” READ MORE: https://www.scmp.com/week-asia/geopolitics/article/2168298/india-and-russia-may-be-allies-can-they-find-common-ground

Kyrgyzstan: Talk of visa waiver for Chinese tourists sparks ire

  • Written by Bermet Talant

BISHKEK (TCA) — Many in Kyrgyzstan are afraid of China’s growing influence over the country in various spheres, especially in the economy. We are republishing this article on the issue, written by Bermet Talant, originally published by Eurasianet:

Talk in Kyrgyzstan of allowing tourists from China to visit without obtaining a visa has ignited heated public debate.

On one side are those eager to capitalize on the fast-growing Chinese appetite for seeing the world. On the other are those afraid of Beijing’s creeping influence over the country.

The proposal under discussion was made by member of parliament Makhabat Mavlyanova, who suggested that Chinese tourist who book tours through travel agencies should be allowed to enter Kyrgyzstan without a visa.

“Tour companies assume responsibility for [Chinese tourists] leaving the country,” she said. “Why can’t we use this potential in tourism?”

Several other post-Soviet countries have beaten Kyrgyzstan to the punch. A 30-day visa-free regime between Belarus and China came into force in August. Kazakhstan simplified visa-processing for tour groups from China and allowed Chinese citizens to stay in the country for 72 hours without visas. And Russia is in talks with China over a mutual abolition of visas for tour groups.

Kaktus news website has cited Mavlyanova as saying that her idea has met resistance from the State Migration Service and the State Committee for National Security, or GKNB, which are wary of an influx of unregistered workers entering under the guise of being tourists.

Azamat Jamankulov, the head of the State Tourism Department, argued that changing the rules unilaterally would be redundant.

“There is no need because the government is working on [including them into the] e-visa system,” he was cited as saying by RFE/RL’s Kyrgyz service.

And yet, mutuality was not a requirement a few years ago, when Kyrgyzstan granted visa-free entry to nationals of 45 countries with advanced economies. None of those countries afford the same treatment to Kyrgyz citizens.

It is unlikely that China would waive visas to Kyrgyz citizens. In fact, it toughened its visa policy after a terrorist attack on the Chinese embassy in Bishkek in August 2016.

Many in Kyrgyzstan maintain an ambivalent attitude toward their large and powerful eastern neighbor. China is a major creditor and investor into the mining industry, as well as an important trading partner. And Kyrgyzstan hopes to reap benefits from being part of the Belt and Road Initiative. But there is also wariness about the extent of Bishkek’s debt to Beijing and fear that the repayment might be claimed in the form of land or natural resources.

Writing on Facebook, political commentator Daniel Kadybekov described opposition to the relaxed visa regime as Sinophobic and narrow-minded. He said that Kyrgyzstan needs Chinese tourists and called fears of a Chinese “invasion” overblown.

The Chinese have become the world’s biggest spenders on traveling. In 2017, a record 130 million Chinese traveled abroad, spending $258 billion dollars — more than any developed Western country.

“Imagine what economic development Kyrgyzstan could attain if we hosted even 1 percent of all Chinese tourists. We could generate about $5 billion in revenues without selling our natural resources deposits and taking loans,” Kadybekov wrote.

“Chinese tourists will not rush into Kyrgyzstan. There are plenty of beautiful and cheap travel destinations around the world. Instead of unleashing groundless Sinophobia, we have to think of products and segments that Kyrgyzstan can offer Chinese tourists. And visa-free entry is a small advantage that will give a slight competitive edge.”

Tajikistan hosts a meeting of SCO heads of government

  • Written by TCA

DUSHANBE (TCA) — On October 12 Tajikistan’s capital Dushanbe hosted a meeting of the heads of governments of the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO) member countries.

The meeting was attended by the Premier of the State Council of the People’s Republic of China Li Keqiang, Prime Ministers of the Russian Federation Dmitry Medvedev, the Kyrgyz Republic — Mukhammedkaliy Abylgaziyev, Tajikistan — Kokhir Rasulzoda, Uzbekistan — Abdulla Aripov, and Foreign Ministers of India Sushma Swaraj and the Islamic Republic of Pakistan — Hina Khar.

The Shanghai Cooperation Organization was established in 2001. The main objectives of the organization are to strengthen stability and security in a wide area uniting the member states, combating terrorism, separatism, extremism, drug trafficking, developing economic cooperation, energy partnership, and scientific and cultural interaction. Initially, the organization included Kazakhstan, Russia, China, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan and Uzbekistan. In 2017, India and Pakistan became the SCO full members.

In a narrow format at the Dushanbe meeting, a thorough exchange of views took place on topical issues of the modern development of the world economy and further expansion of trade, economic and humanitarian cooperation within the framework of the SCO, the official website of the Prime Minister of Kazakhstan reported.

Attention was paid to the development prospects of small and medium-sized businesses of the member countries, enhancing investment cooperation, stimulating regional trade and promoting cultural and humanitarian projects through the SCO. All participants in the meeting noted the growing role and authority of the Shanghai Cooperation Organization. It was also indicated that with the expansion of the membership and the accession of India and Pakistan, the potential of multilateral cooperation within the Organization increased significantly.

Heads of government delegations of the SCO observer states: Prime Ministers of Afghanistan Abdullah Abdullah and Belarus — Sergei Rumas, Deputy Prime Minister of Mongolia Ulziisaikhan Enkhtuvshin and Deputy Minister of Foreign Affairs of Iran Hussein Ansori also participated in the meeting in an extended format.

The participants reviewed the implementation of the Program of multilateral trade and economic cooperation of the SCO member states, as well as heard reports on the work of the Business Council and the Interbank Association of the SCO. Special attention was paid to the development of trade, including electronic, and deepening cooperation in the field of investment, infrastructure, transport, energy, agriculture, and digitalization. In addition, the meeting raised issues of ensuring cybersecurity and strengthening the region in the fight against terrorism, extremism and drug trafficking.

The government of Kazakhstan has proposed a number of initiatives to enhance trade, economic and investment cooperation within the framework of the SCO.

Proposals were made to create a platform for the exchange of experience in the field of digitalization and new technologies, development of cooperation in the field of investment, electronic commerce, modern information and telecommunication technologies. In addition, the need for the joint organization of multimodal transportation and the creation of an extensive network of transport infrastructure was indicated, which will stimulate the development of regional trade and expand access of the national products of the SCO countries to world markets.

In addition, the Prime Minister of Kazakhstan Bakytzhan Sagintayev invited financial institutions of the SCO member states to take an active part in the work of the Astana International Financial Center.

The next meeting of the SCO Head of Government Council will be held in Uzbekistan next year.

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