In the autumn of 2019, President of Kazakhstan Kassym-Jomart Tokayev was busy with foreign visits. Following the visits to China and the United States in September, he participated in the Supreme Eurasian Economic Council in Yerevan on October 1, in the plenary session of the Valdai International Discussion Club in Sochi on October 3, and in the meeting of the Council of CIS Heads of States in Ashgabat on October 11. Those meetings brought together the Eurasian leaders for discussions on important directions of our common future.
In particular, the Supreme Eurasian Economic Council gathered, along with the host, Armenian Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan, and Chairman of the Board of the Eurasian Economic Commission (EEC) Tigran Sargsyan, the presidents of the EAEU member states – Alexander Lukashenko of Belarus, Vladimir Putin of Russia, Kassym-Zhomart Tokayev of Kazakhstan and Sooronbai Jeenbekov of Kyrgyzstan. In the expanded format, Moldovan President Igor Dodon attended the session as the head of the EAEU observer state, while Iranian President Hassan Rouhani and Prime Minister of Singapore Lee Hsien Loong joined as honorable guests. The key event of the summit was the signing of the free trade agreement (FTA) between the EAEU and Singapore, which opens large ASEAN markets to the EAEU members. Notably, after Vietnam, Singapore is the second country that agreed on the FTA with the EAEU, whereas non-preferential trade agreements signed with China and Iran came into force in October 2019. Serbia, Egypt, India, and Israel are also negotiating on signing the FTA with the EAEU [OC Media, 2019].
During his speech at the event, President Tokayev, while noting the progress of trade cooperation within the EAEU, called to work on the removal of trade barriers. Besides, he emphasized the achievements of transport and logistics cooperation and proposed to accelerate the development of a single transit system within the EAEU and to create conditions for the development of advanced technologies. At the end of the meeting, Tokayev awarded EEC Board Chairman Tigran Sargsyan with the Order of Dostyk (Friendship) of the II class. On the sidelines of the meeting, President Tokayev held talks with Nikol Pashinyan, Alexander Lukashenko and Hassan Rouhani. Prior to the council’s meeting, he also participated in the International Forum on “Transit Potential of the Eurasian Continent”, which will from now on be regularly held by the presiding side within the Supreme Eurasian Economic Council meetings on themes representing interest to the member states [Akorda, 2019a].
At the Valdai International Discussion Club devoted this time to the role of the East in global geopolitics, President Tokayev called to find effective formulas against the fragmentation of security in Asia. He pointed out the acute shortage of trust and dialogue between the main regional players, which he compared with the Chinese saying “sleeping in one bed, but seeing different dreams”. Consequently, according to Tokayev, as the chair of the CICA in 2020-2022, Kazakhstan will intensify contacts with other multilateral institutions and work to prevent conflict situations. Moreover, he warned that without collective efforts the “Asian Century of Prosperity” could turn into the “Asian Time of Troubles” with gloomy consequences for the entire globe. Besides, he focused attention on climate change issues and ongoing conflicts, which could potentially impact other states [Akorda, 2019b]. At the discussion club’s plenary session, along with President Tokayev, Russian President Vladimir Putin, King of Jordan Abdullah II, President of Azerbaijan Ilham Aliyev and President of the Philippines Rodrigo Duterte also presented their visions for the Asian century.
The meeting of the Council of CIS Heads of State with leaders of Armenia, Azerbaijan, Belarus, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Moldova, Russia, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan and Uzbekistan in Ashgabat was devoted to multifaceted cooperation within the CIS. During the meeting, President Tokayev confirmed his intention to continue Nursultan Nazarbayev’s initiative on structural modernization of the CIS, while presenting his comprehensive vision for the further development of the organization. He highlighted digital technologies, e-commerce, free trade in services, and tourism as promising areas for joint work and proposed to hold special CIS forums on modern technologies on a regular basis. Tokayev also mentioned that the creation of the CIS free trade zone in 2011 increased the trade turnover between the CIS states, yet it requires a deepening of cooperation to eliminate existing barriers. Following the meeting, the CIS member countries signed a number of documents, including the declaration on strategic economic cooperation [Akorda, 2019c].
Overall, President Tokayev’s speeches at the aforementioned events centered around three major issues. He paid special attention to the importance of the development of the Asian century and opportunities and threats stemming from that. At all the three platforms, he emphasized that the world entered the era of uncertainty due to the changing architecture of international relations [Akorda, 2019c], while “the intensity of confrontational rhetoric, the intensity of proxy hybrid wars, the arms race, including nuclear, have reached a critical point” [Astana Times, 2019]. Therefore, the participating states have to develop common effective mechanisms for using the potential of the Asian growth together, including through international institutions. In addition, due to the turbulent state of the world economy and the struggle for leverage over the future economic order through the promotion of trade interests, Asian states have to develop common stable conditions for trade. Hence, he repeatedly called for the removal of trade barriers within the EAEU and the CIS to boost multilateral economic cooperation, while accelerating the development of conditions conducive to innovation. In this regard, President Tokayev also urged to create a common transportation system within the EAEU by highlighting the progress achieved on transport and logistics cooperation [Akorda, 2019a]. Another common ground for both EAEU and CIS is the celebration of the 75th anniversary of the victory in the Second World War in 2020. As a son of the war veteran, Tokayev emphasized that people in Kazakhstan honor the memory of the soldiers who gave their lives for the victory. He confirmed his intention to visit Moscow for the celebration in May 2020 [Akorda, 2019d]. Thus, given all the observed nuances, President Tokayev’s recent foreign tours confirmed Kazakhstan’s multivector policy and its commitment to developing a multilateral agenda through promoting opportunities of trade and transportation jointly with all the Eurasian players.
Akorda (2019a). Kassym-Jomart Tokayev took part in the session of the Supreme Eurasian Economic Council. Retrieved from http://www.akorda.kz/en/special/events/international_community/foreign_visits/kassym-jomart-tokayev-took-part-in-the-session-of-the-supreme-eurasian-economic-council. Accessed on 09.10.2019.
Akorda (2019b). Kassym-Zhomart Tokayev took part in a meeting of the Valdai Discussion Club. Retrieved from http://www.akorda.kz/ru/events/international_community/foreign_visits/kasym-zhomart-tokaev-prinyal-uchastie-v-zasedanii-diskussionnogo-kluba-valdai. Accessed on 09.10.2019.
Akorda (2019c). Kassym-Jomart Tokayev took part in the meeting of the Council of CIS Heads of State. Retrieved from http://www.akorda.kz/en/events/international_community/foreign_visits/kassym-jomart-tokayev-took-part-in-the-meeting-of-the-council-of-cis-heads-of-state. Accessed on 14.10.2019.
Akorda (2019d). President of Kazakhstan met with Vladimir Putin. Retrieved from http://www.akorda.kz/ru/events/international_community/foreign_visits/prezident-kazahstana-provel-vstrechu-s-vladimirom-putinym. Accessed on 14.10.2019.
Astana Times (2019). Tokayev outlines Asia strategy, promises multilateral approach to global issues at Valdai Meeting. Retrieved from https://astanatimes.com/2019/10/tokayev-outlines-asia-strategy-promises-multilateral-approach-to-global-issues-at-valdai-meeting/. Accessed on 14.10.2019.
OC Media (2019). Pashinyan joined by Rouhani and Putin at Eurasian Economic Union summit in Yerevan. Retrieved from https://oc-media.org/pashinyan-joined-by-rouhani-and-putin-at-eurasian-economic-union-summit-in-yerevan/. Accessed on 09.10.2019.
Dr. Albina Muratbekova is a research fellow at the Eurasian Research Institute of Akhmet Yassawi Kazakh Turkish International University. Albina holds a PhD degree in Oriental Studies from Al Farabi Kazakh National University. During her studies, Albina received fellowships from institutions in China, India, the USA, the UK, Germany, and Switzerland. Her primary research interests cover Central, East, and South Asian affairs; intraregional and interregional cooperation of Central Asian states; China-India relations; and Central Asian politics.