Mike Pompeo’s Visit to Kazakhstan and Uzbekistan: What to Expect?
Dr Pravesh Kumar Gupta, Research Associate , VIF

US Secretary of State, Mike Pompeo, will pay an official visit to Kazakhstan and Uzbekistan from February 1-4, 2020. He will be chairing a meeting of the ‘C5+1 forum’ at Tashkent, Uzbekistan. Earlier, the visit was scheduled to take place in early January this year. Due to the rising tensions in the Middle East, the visit had to be rescheduled.1 The visit comes at a time when Uzbekistan is exploring avenues to cooperate with the Eurasian Economic Union (EAEU) and the Chinese economic influence in Central Asia is also materializing into military and strategic engagements. 2

The U.S interest in the Central Asian region is increasing because of the rising contest between Russian and Chinese influence in the region; the U.S wants to have more cooperation with Central Asian Republics since the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991. In the early 2000s, the launch of ‘ war on terror’ against the Taliban and other affiliated militant groups in Afghanistan paved the way for increased U.S involvement with the republics, as mentioned above. Three out of five Central Asian republics share a border with Afghanistan; Tajikistan, Turkmenistan and Uzbekistan. They also share security concerns along with other stakeholders in the region. Therefore, they provided routes to NATO backed International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) in Afghanistan. Tajikistan and Uzbekistan at the time had given consent to stationing of U.S military bases in their territory while Turkmenistan offered logistical support and search and rescue provisions. 3

In 2015, US Secretary of State John Kerry visited all the Central Asian republics. It was a significant event as this was the first ever visit of a U.S Secretary of State to the region.4 During this visit, the C5+1 forum was formed in Samarkand, Uzbekistan. Foreign Ministers of the five Central Asian states along with U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry launched this format for cooperation. The forum is designed to address collective security and environmental concerns and challenges respectively along with improving regional trade flows. It also aims to enhance prospects for U.S. trade and investment with the region. 5

Pompeo’s visit to Uzbekistan and Kazakhstan is crucial, but why?

Uzbek president Shawkat Mirziyoyev’s initiative to bring all the Central Asian states closer in their security, economic and strategic affairs has produced some assurances for Russia led EAEU in the recent past. In October last year, Valentina Matviyenko, chairwoman of the Russian Parliament’s Federation Council, met with the Uzbek President. Following the meeting, she announced that Uzbekistan is working on the issue of joining the EAEU under President Mirziyoyev’s direction. Although, later, it was clarified that Uzbekistan is only exploring the options of joining the EAEU.6 However, in his ‘State of the Nation’ address to the Uzbek lawmakers on 24 January 2020, Uzbek President further hinted that they are exploring the ways to cooperate with EAEU.

U.S apprehension in regards to Uzbekistan’s joining of EAEU comes at a time when US trade with Uzbekistan reflected a substantial growth in 2018. US-Uzbekistan bilateral trade rose to 314.7 million USD in 2018 from 150.4 million USD in 2017.7 If Uzbekistan becomes a member of EAEU, it will undermine the prospects for further US economic engagement with Uzbekistan. Further, it will also boost Russia’s geopolitical leverage in Central Asia vis-a-vis USA. Uzbekistan holds an observer status in the World Trade Organization (WTO) and is also eyeing full membership. Joining EAEU might create problems in the process of Uzbekistan’s accession to WTO.8 This was stated by US Secretary of Commerce Wilbur Ross at the business forum of the American-Uzbek Chamber of Commerce in Washington on October 22, 2019. He said, that “the desire to join the Eurasian Economic Union can now complicate and extend the process of joining the WTO beyond the time frame established by the leadership of Uzbekistan.”9 Mike Pompeo’s visit and C5+1 meeting in the coming weeks will be addressing some of these issues from the U.S perspectives.

Kazakhstan is the most significant economic partner of the U.S in Central Asia. Kazakhstan joined WTO in 2015. Total trade between the U.S and Kazakhstan amounts to around 2.1 billion USD in 2018. Several American companies have invested large sums in Kazakhstan, mainly in the oil and gas sector.10However, Chinese trade and economic engagement with Kazakhstan has outdone both Russia and the U.S. Kazakhstan is the critical Chinese partner for the Belt and Road projects to connect East with West. It has also increased Beijing’s strategic value in the Central Asian region. Consequently, the US is keen to boost its position in Central Asia, and US Secretary of States’ visit to Nur Sultan can bear some positive results in this regard.

Both Uzbekistan and Kazakhstan are important for U.S Central Asia policy. In recent past, diplomatic and economic relations between the two regions have witnessed sober growth. With this visit, the U.S intends to develop the required geopolitical mileage to maintain its relations with Central Asian republics. Central Asian countries may find the U.S alternated between balancing both Russia and China at this point.

US considers India as a factor to balance both Russia and China in Central Asia. With the latest push from America to increase its geopolitical presence in Central Asia, India also needs to be playing more active role through Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO). The forthcoming Second India-Central Asia Dialogue, which will be hosted by New Delhi will reenergize the India’s relations with the Central Asian countries.

References
  1. ‘Pompeo Postpones Trip To Ukraine, Belarus, Central Asia Amid Iran Tensions’, RFE/RL, and 1 January 2020.
    https://www.rferl.org/a/pompeo-postpones-trip-to-ukraine-belarus-central-asia-amid-iran-tensions/30355315.html
  2. ‘Text of President Shavkat Mirziyoyev’s Address to the Oliy Majlis, Offical website of Preseint of Uzbekistan, 24 January 2020. https://president.uz/en/lists/view/3324
  3. Hill F. (2001), ‘Contributions of Central Asian Nations to the Campaign Against Terrorism’, Brookings, 13 December 2001. https://www.brookings.edu/testimonies/contributions-of-central-asian-nations-to-the-campaign-against-terrorism/
  4. Catherine Putz (2015), ‘US Secretary of State to Visit All Five Central Asian States, You could call it the “grand Stan slam’”, The Diplomat, October 28, 2015. https://thediplomat.com/2015/10/us-secretary-of-state-to-visit-all-five-central-asian-states/
  5. ‘C5+1 FACT SHEET: Central Asian-U.S. Forum to Enhance Regional Economic, Environmental, and Security Cooperation’, US Embassy in Uzbekistan, 24 July 2018. https://uz.usembassy.gov/c51-fact-sheet-central-asian-u-s-forum-to-enhance-regional-economic-environmental-and-security-cooperation/
  6. Hashimova U. (2019), ‘Not So Fast: Will Uzbekistan Join the Eurasian Economic Union?’, The Diplomat, 7 October 2019. https://thediplomat.com/2019/10/not-so-fast-will-uzbekistan-join-the-eurasian-economic-union/
  7. ‘US-Uzbekistan Trade Facts’, Office of the United States Trade Representative, https://ustr.gov/Uzbekistan
  8. Marianna Mkrtchyan (2019), ‘The US warned Uzbekistan: Striving for EAEU could complicate WTO accession’, Arms Info, 23 October 2019. https://arminfo.info/full_news.php?id=46404&lang=3
  9. Ibid.
  10. ‘U.S. Relations with Kazakhstan’, US department of State, 21 June 2019. https://www.state.gov/u-s-relations-with-kazakhstan/

(The paper is the author’s individual scholastic articulation. The author certifies that the article/paper is original in content, unpublished and it has not been submitted for publication/web upload elsewhere, and that the facts and figures quoted are duly referenced, as needed, and are believed to be correct). (The paper does not necessarily represent the organisational stance... More >>


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