Director of the Institute for Strategic and Interregional
Studies under the President of the Republic of Uzbekistan
On April 25–27, 2019, the Second International Forum ‘One Belt, One Road’ took place in Beijing. Over the past five years, China's initiative has become an integral part of the agenda of global development. Today, it brings together over 60 countries in Asia, Europe and Africa with a population of 4.4 billion people. The main topics of the ‘One Belt, One Road’ initiative have been included in documents of the UN, G20 and APEC summits, and other organizations.
The Republic of Uzbekistan supported the Belt and Road initiative from the very beginning. Our engagement in the project was an important step in terms of achieving priority goals of sustainable economic development and the implementation of important transport and infrastructure projects that might have a positive impact on the whole of Central Asia.
The official Tashkent’s position on the Chinese Belt and Road initiative goes in hand with priorities on the further strengthening the all-round strategic cooperation between Uzbekistan and China. China ranks among Uzbekistan’s leading trade, economic and investment partners. In 2018, gross trade turnover between the two countries grew by 35% and reached 6.42 billion USD. Today, 1,121 China-invested enterprises operate in Uzbekistan. 344 enterprises were established in 2018, showing the double increase against 2017. The total amount of Chinese investments in the economy of Uzbekistan exceeds eight billion USD.
In the framework of the second session of the ‘One Belt, One Road’ forum, President of the Republic of Uzbekistan held meetings and negotiations with the President of China Xi Jinping and the Chairman of the Standing Committee of the National People’s Congress Li Zhanshu.
At the meeting, Xi Jinping emphasized that China sees Uzbekistan as its important strategic partner and is willing to work together to ensure peace and stability in Central Asia, to achieve overall growth and well-being of the two nations.
According to the leader of the PRC, President Shavkat Mirziyoyev ranks among the founders of the Belt and Road Initiative. The attention paid to the participation of Uzbekistan in the forum suggests the high level of relations between the two states.
In his speech at the international forum, the President of the Republic of Uzbekistan put forward several important initiatives aimed at strengthening the connectivity in Central Asia, addressing food security problems, meeting social needs of the population, and developing cultural, humanitarian and tourist ties.
What were those initiatives?
First, the official Tashkent is interested in maximizing transport opportunities in Central Asia and in establishing the economic corridor ‘China - Central Asia - West Asia’.
In this context, the construction of the Uzbekistan-Kyrgyzstan-China railway will bring benefit to all project participants, as it will intensify trade, create new jobs, attract tourists and generate transit income. The prospects for this project are suggested by the Kashgar-Irkeshtam-Osh-Andijan-Tashkent automobile corridor, which for the first time allowed motor carriers from Central Asia to directly reach China.
The construction of the Mazar-e-Sharif-Kabul-Peshawar railway is also important for facilitating access to the southern seaports. Uzbekistan is working on this project jointly with Afghanistan, Kazakhstan, Pakistan and Russia. In December 2018 and March 2019, Tashkent hosted pentalateral meetings of the heads of railway administrations, which highlighted the main details of this transport corridor.
In this direction, there is a main road between Mazar-e-Sharif and Kabul. Uzbekistan and Tajikistan extended a power line to the capital of Afghanistan. In the future, this direction can be extended to India.
To ensure financing of the above transport and infrastructure projects, the President of the Republic of Uzbekistan initiated a ‘Financial Dialogue for Central Asia’. The main purpose of the dialogue is to implement ambitious infrastructure projects in cooperation with financial institutions of the PRC - the Asian Bank for Infrastructure Investments, the Great Silk Road Fund, other major international development institutions, as well as with the private sector.
In the current conditions, it is important to start such a dialogue and make it inclusive and transparent. Moreover, along with the technical and economic aspects, it is vital to pay special attention to social and political issues.
Transport communications not just address problems of connectivity, but also create new jobs, develop trade and stimulate growth.
In addition, transport corridors passing through Afghanistan might be a powerful incentive for the soonest termination of many-year confrontation in the country. New communications, firstly, would connect the neighbors of Afghanistan. Common economic interests would arise between them. That would create the enabling environment for peace and harmony in the region. Secondly, all opposing groups would quickly realize that, in contrast to war, peace and trade, while benefiting well, are the vital conditions for development.
The point of view of the Uzbek side is consistent with the ideas put forward by the PRC leadership. In his speech at the Second International Forum ‘One Belt, One Road’, Xi Jinping emphasized that China will continue building connectivity ties with other states with new railways, international intercontinental sea routes and economic corridors enriched with high-speed roads playing the major role.
Second, Uzbekistan has set a goal to develop smart agriculture and create a joint center for agricultural innovation. Ensuring food security in a changing climate is one of the most pressing problems in the world. The United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization lists soil degradation, water scarcity, and outdated farming approaches as main threats to food security in the Central Asian region.
In these conditions, it is especially important to ensure the introduction of the latest technologies that sustain the conservation of water resources, increase the fertility of plants and their resistance to diseases. In this field, it would be advisable to cooperate with China and other partners who have achieved considerable results in this area. The expertise of provinces of China is interesting from the practical point of view with their boosting high-tech agricultural zones. In the future, such regions of China might become partners of Uzbekistan in creating an agricultural innovation center.
Third, the human resources development assumes a better use of research and humanitarian potential. The soonest implementation of the latest achievements of science and technology in all areas of life is the most important condition for ensuring sustainable economic growth, improving the living standards of the population and high competitiveness of the country.
In this context, the President of the Republic of Uzbekistan proposes building a whole system of cooperation in priority areas of research and innovations, within the framework of the One Belt, One Road initiative. This work cannot be done alone, because research in leading areas of scientific and innovative activity requires significant financial and other resources. Their scope is often huge even for developed countries.
Cooperation within the framework of the Belt and Road initiative creates unique prerequisites for accelerating scientific and technological progress, follow-up establishment of joint technology parks, science and innovation clusters and venture companies, for pooling funds and opportunities of different countries.
Currently, as part of the Belt and Road initiative, China is implementing an action plan of cooperation in technology and innovation. There are four major joint initiatives with partners relating to scientific, technical and humanitarian exchange, to the creation of joint laboratories, establishment of technology parks and promotion of cooperation in the field of technology transit.
Meanwhile, the implementation of the focal points requires expanding opportunities for ensuring the growth of human resources, for the youth to get education. There is a need in applying advanced methods of training qualified staff through the exchange of experience, the organization of professional development in up-to-date high-tech industries.
These and other issues can be addressed through the establishment of training and production centers, and with the involvement of the headmost universities of the Great Silk Road states. The new Alliance of Universities of the Great Silk Road, which covers 151 universities from 38 countries of the world, might play a key role in this process.
Fourth, the development of tourist exchange. To achieve tangible results in the field of tourism, President Shavkat Mirziyoyev proposed creating the Great Silk Road International Tourism Association in Samarkand and hold annual One Belt, One Road tourism forums.
Uzbekistan possesses ample potential for tourism development. There are over 7,400 cultural heritage objects in Uzbekistan, 209 of which are included in the UNESCO World Heritage List. Along with that, there are 11 national natural parks and state reserves, 12 reserves, 106 museums and other objects capable of attracting the attention of tourists.
Active cooperation with the member states of the One Belt, One Road initiative opens up many opportunities for Uzbekistan. 60 countries of the initiative rank among the largest ‘suppliers’ of tourists. According to the World Tourism Organization, over 20% of all funds spent by tourists around the world account for China, Chinese tourists. In 2017, they spent on travel 250.6 billion USD. Experts estimate that by 2021, the number of Chinese tourists worldwide will reach 200 million, and their expenses - 429 billion USD.
Summing up, it is worth reiterating that the cooperation of Uzbekistan with the Belt and Road states is multifaceted and has not yet been fully implemented. The targeted initiatives put forward by the President of the Republic of Uzbekistan in the field of transport, innovation and education can raise Uzbek-Chinese relations to a new level, and foster the follow-up cooperation to address the most pressing problems that impede sustainable economic growth and development within the framework of the One Belt, One Road.