The decision of principle to launch a new dialogue format between the U.S. and Central Asian countries was made during the UN General Assembly in New York on September 26, 2015. After On the sidelines of the UN General Assembly the U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry met with Ministers of Foreign Affairs of Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan, and Uzbekistan. As a result of the meeting, the parties decided to set up new multilateral dialogue platform, namely, C5+1 Initiative, which would be focused on improving the U.S.-Central Asian relations and address joint projects that required interregional cooperation. It is quite understandable that five Central Asian states want to expand economic and investment engagement of the U.S. within regional frameworks. On the other hand, the U.S. wanted to develop new consultation mechanism, which would be able to oppose to some extent Russian-led and Chinese-led integrational initiatives in the region.
In order to put initiated C5+1 format into practical operation, the U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry made a Central Asian tour in early November 2015. Actually, John Kerry’s visit to the region was the most extensive by the U.S. Secretary of State since James Baker’s post-Soviet diplomatic tour to Central Asia in January 1992. (Weitz, 2015) In fact, the U.S. high-ranking official combined the first C5+1 meeting that took place on November 1, 2015, in Samarkand, Uzbekistan, with series of bilateral consultations with governments of each of Central Asian republics that allowed the Washington U.S. to deliver the specific political messages to each country in the region. Most of them highlighted the importance of the commitment to democracy and human rights. However, the key goal of John Kerry’s visit was to demonstrate the White House’s strong intention to sustain a major supporting presence in Central Asia even despite the U.S. military withdrawal from the region and declining the U.S. economic and security assistance programs.
Actually, we should admit that the U.S. Secretary of State’s tour to Central Asia was not accompanied with billions of dollars’ worth deals between the United States and Central Asian countries. From this point of view, John Kerry had to compete with other higher-status foreign officials, namely, Chinese President Xi Jinping, Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, who visited the region in recent months. Moreover, John Kerry had to provide cautious remarks on the issue of implementation of the New Silk Road Strategy declared by the U.S. Government towards the Central Asian region, especially in the context of demonstrable successes of Russia supported strategy for the Eurasian integration and China proposed the Silk Road Economic Belt project. However, the C5+1 meeting in Samarkand clearly showed that Washington wants to increase the importance of Central Asia’s profile in the U.S. global policy.
The Joint Declaration of Partnership and Cooperation, known as Samarkand Declaration, adopted at the first C5+1 meeting indicated following fields for deepening six-party economic and political collaboration: (a) beneficial cooperation in regional trade, transport and communication, energy linkages, and transit opportunities; (b) favorable business climate in the region; (c) environmental sustainability challenges; (d) energy and green technology; (e) security threats and challenges and Afghanistan’s development; (f) global and regional nonproliferation efforts; (g) human rights and democratic institutions development. (U.S. Department of State, 2015)
In order to further enhance the cooperation across the region in accordance with the priorities outlined in the Samarkand Declaration the C5+1 Initiative member states have set up working groups on regional economy and trade, environmental protection and renewable energy, and regional security threats. The first meeting of the C5+1 Economic and Regional Connectivity Working Group was held in Bishkek, Kyrgyzstan, on April 4, 2016. Representatives of the five Central Asian countries and the U.S. gathered in the Kyrgyz capital to discuss measures that could increase the value of trade between Central Asia and the rest of the world. As a result of the meeting, the parties consider the possibilities to boost the number of business-to-business event in the framework of the region. For instance, it was highlighted that participants of the 5th Central Asian Trade Forum, which was held in Almaty on October 28-29, 2015 and organized by USAID, signed Memorandum of Cooperation and letters of intent totaling more than $45 million to supply goods, render transport and logistics services, consulting services, organize trainings, exhibitions and fairs. (USAID, 2015) This particular example shows that interregional cooperation among the Central Asian states has relatively high potential. Therefore, among the recommendations emerging from the working group meeting were the consideration of the possibility to create the Regional Business Association, to establish visa-free regime with non-regional states following the examples of Kazakhstan and Kyrgyzstan and to launch the border crossing transport corridor along all Central Asian states.
Forthcoming meetings of the rest of working groups will also develop a set of practical suggestions for the U.S.-Central Asian high-ranking officials. As a result, all developed recommendations will be summarized and submitted to the next C5+1 ministerial meeting, which will be held this summer in the United States. (Asia Plus, 2016) Under these circumstances, it becomes clear that C5+1 Initiative is in the process of determining its future activities and drafting a work plan for the next few years. From this perspective, the first meetings within the frameworks of the C5+1 format hardly constituted a breakthrough in the U.S.-Central Asia relationship. (Tolipov, 2015) One potential explanation for the absence of the United States’ ambitious initiatives like China’s Silk Road Economic Belt is that the U.S. Congress would prefer to form the public budget in accordance with the guidance of the new president’s administration, which would be formed only after the U.S. presidential election, which is to be held on November 8, 2016. Therefore, for the next few months, the key priority of the C5+1 initiative would be preparing practical proposals on the issue of joint economic interaction.
It is quite obvious that the Central Asian countries have a strong desire for partnership and diversification in international relations, but they cannot succeed in this without reconciling their own regional problems and economic hardships. (Mutlu, 2015) During his opening speech of the C5+1 ministerial meeting, the U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry stated that the United States and the countries of Central Asia are partners both in the economic and security spheres now. Therefore, Washington will look forward to developing stronger trade and investment ties among the Initiative member states and to improve border procedures and infrastructure, to remove unnecessary burdens on businesses, and to fight corruption in Central Asia. (U.S. Department of State, 2015) Under these circumstances, the emerged dialogue platform could contribute to strengthening region-oriented vision of the economic and political policies of Central Asian states, which definitely should be regarded as the main advantage of the C5+1 format.
However, since the C5+1 Initiative has not been underpinned by concrete proposals for action yet it is hard to evaluate its effectiveness. According to the optimistic scenario, only after the second C5+1 ministerial meeting, there would be an opportunity to determine will the Initiative have actual outcomes or largely symbolic and declarative outputs.
Asia Plus. (2016). Representatives of CA Nations and the United States Meet to Promote Jobs, Prosperity and Stability. Retrieved from http://news.tj/en/news/representatives-ca-nations-and-united-states-meet…
Mutlu, G. (2015, November 30). Is The C5+1 A Long-Awaited Initiative For Central Asia? the Journal of Turkish Weekly. Retrieved from http://www.eurasiareview.com/30112015-is-the-c51-a-long-awaited-initiati…
Tolipov, F. (2015). Pluses and Minuses of the C5+1 Format. Central Asia-Caucasus Analyst. Retrieved from http://www.cacianalyst.org/publications/analytical-articles/item/13300-p…
U.S. Department of State. (2015, November 1). Joint Declaration of Partnership and Cooperation by the Five Countries of Central Asia and The United States of America, Samarkand, Uzbekistan. Retrieved from http://www.state.gov/r/pa/prs/ps/2015/11/249050.htm
U.S. Department of State. (2015). Remarks at the Opening of the C5+1 Ministerial Meeting. Retrieved from http://www.state.gov/secretary/remarks/2015/11/249046.htm
USAID. (2015). Central Asian Trade Forum . Retrieved from http://eng.catradeforum.org/
Weitz, R. (2015, December 22). Building on Kerry’s Central Asian Tour. Central Asia-Caucasus Analyst. Retrieved from http://www.cacianalyst.org/publications/analytical-articles/item/13315-b…
Lydiya Parkhomchik (nee Timofeyenko) was born on February 9, 1984 in Zelenodolsk city, located at the territory of the Republic of Tatarstan (Russia). Since 1986 she became resident of the Republic of Kazakhstan. She graduated the high school in 2001 and at the same year she admitted to Abylai khan Kazakh University of International Relations and World Languages. She graduated from International Relations Department with specialization of analyst with knowledge of a foreign language in 2006 and after that started to work as a lecturer at the Chair of International Relations of KazUIR & WL.