Comments on UN General Assembly Central Asia Resolution (part 4)
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For the first time in recent history, the standing of Central Asian nations has been consolidated as actors of world politics. According to experts, this owes largely to the open and constructive foreign policy of Uzbekistan, whose most critical priority today is to boost regional cooperation.
Director of the Central Asia – Caucasus Institute (CACI) in Washington Svante Cornell:
— The resolution of the UN General Assembly on Central Asia is important because the document not only demonstrates the positive dynamics of consolidating cooperation in the region, but also contributes to the international recognition of Central Asia as a unified space. Why do I stress this? Because in 1992, all the leaders of the states of the region gathered and announced that they are no longer “Middle Asia and Kazakhstan”, but instead “Central Asia”. Ever since, these countries have tried in every possible way to convince themselves and the world community that they represent a single region. For a long time, foreign nations, especially those in the West, as well as Japan and even Russia and China viewed Central Asia as a single region.
Unfortunately, then came the time of disagreements and misunderstandings. Russia viewed Central Asia as part of a large Eurasia. China, though sometimes, but it seems that perceives Central Asia as a separate space, nevertheless, the former is more inclined to see the latter as an integral element of an ambitious project called “One Belt, One Road”, which is distinct with huge geography. The problems with the West are even greater: for a time they have ceased to perceive Central Asia as a single area, preferring to see a number of individual states with their own policies. And for Washington, it was the road to a “gas station”.
It is extremely important for these countries not only to do something, but also persuade others to understand and acknowledge what they are doing. This is what the 22 June 2018 resolution of the General Assembly of the United Nations is about.
Several years ago, the idea of a Greater Central Asia linking five countries of the region and Afghanistan was under active discussion in expert circles. In my opinion, this strategic vision will somehow become a reality for the simple reason that it refutes the outdated approach to Central Asia as a community of five states – Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan and Uzbekistan.
Even while a college student, I found a periodical titled the Central Asiatic Journal in the library and was glad that I would finally read academic articles on the countries of Central Asia. But in fact, most of the journal material talked about Chinese Xinjiang. That was an eloquent testimony to a wider coverage of the Central Asian region. Geographically and historically, Central Asia is a much larger region than the territory of the five states mentioned above.
Historically, the Central Asian countries traded not with the northern states, but with India, Pakistan and China. The Russo-British geopolitical rivalry in the 19th century for the heart of Asia broke up these trade bonds by ‘tying’ Pakistan economically to India and Afghanistan, and the countries of Central Asia to Russia. Today, everything returns to normal. For example, the ‘connection’ of Uzbekistan to trade and economic relations in South Asia is very encouraging.
Thus, only the political definition of Central Asia is limited to five states, while all the main characteristics – trade, cultural, civilizational – have a much greater spatial coverage. Therefore, the emergence of Greater Central Asia is inevitable. And this is not necessarily a political project: there is no need for this. But “the reunification of old Central Asia with a new one” is an inevitable process, and it is already on its way.