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Central Asia Geopolitical Watch – from September 10 to September 16, 2022

Central Asia Watch Team: Sara Brouwers, Paul Dza, Sophie Marc, Aliya Yechshanova

09/14/2022: The Kazakh capital becomes Astana again -Sara Brouwers-

Three years after renaming the capital of Kazakhstan after its former leader, Kazakh President Kassym-Jomart Tokayev has decided to restore the country’s former name.

Following the initiative of a group of Kazakh legislators and a referendum in June, Kassym-Jomart Tokayev decided to rename the city by its former name in order to mark the definitive break with the presidency of the previous president Nursultan Nazarbayev. The president’s spokesman, Aidos Ukibay, announced that the objective of the name change was to “weaken the personality cult built around (the former president), who ruled Kazakhstan for nearly three decades“. This decision was taken in the aftermath of the January demonstrations, which were bloodily repressed and destabilised the entire country.

09/14/2022 : During an official visit to Uzbekistan, the Iranian president announces his willingness to establish a road transport corridor via Turkmenistan. -Paul Dza-

Talks between Uzbek President Shavkat Mirziyoyev and his Iranian counterpart Ebrahim Raisi included the establishment of road transport on the Uzbekistan-Turkmenistan-Iran route and the use of the port of Chabahar (Iran) for the transit of cargo.

Iranian President Ebrahim Raisi began his official visit to Uzbekistan on 14 September, before attending the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation (SCO) summit in Samarkand on 15-16 September. According to a statement from the Uzbek presidency, a preferential trade agreement is to be signed between the two countries.

09/14/2022: Border clashes between Tajikistan and Kyrgyzstan leave at least two dead – Sophie Marc-

A clash between Tajik and Kyrgyz border guards occurred on Wednesday 14 September, the day before the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation summit in Uzbekistan where the Kyrgyz and Tajik presidents were expected. Shots were fired from both sides, killing at least two people, according to the authorities of both countries. 

According to Tajikistan, Kyrgyz border guards opened fire without provocation on a Tajik outpost, killing two of its border guards and wounding 11 people, including five civilians; Kyrgyzstan said that at least two of its soldiers and two civilians had been injured. Gunfire was also reported in the Batken region of south-eastern Kyrgyzstan. 

Clashes between border guards between the two countries remain frequent, particularly because of the 970-kilometre border that remains highly contested by both sides. A record number of clashes occurred in 2021, raising fears that the conflict could escalate. The Russian Foreign Ministry – an ally – has called on both countries to “bring the situation back to the political and diplomatic arena and jointly prevent any form of provocation”.

09/14/2022: China’s president Xi Jinping pays his first international visit since the COVID-19 pandemic – Aliya Yechshanova –

On 14 September, Chinese President Xi Jinping arrived in Kazakhstan on a state visit. This is the Chinese leader’s first overseas trip since the beginning of the coronavirus pandemic in 2020. It is also the first time the two heads of state have met in Kazakhstan since the bloody protests in January, in the midst of which Tokayev sought (and received) military assistance from the Collective Security Treaty Organisation (CSTO) based in Moscow, and the start of full-scale Russian aggression in Ukraine. Xi chose his first trip to Central Asia so wants to expand his influence in the region. As history shows China only pursues economic gains, it needs resources. Kazakhstan is not only China’s neighbor but also a major supplier of oil and gas. Beijing wants to ensure that despite recent changes and reforms, Kazakhstan remains a strong and stable partner. Given the fact that in the last 15 years, according to official data, China has invested nearly $29bn into Kazakhstan’s economy, mostly into the oil and gas sector, and also 18 Kazakh-Chinese projects worth $4.3bn have been launched, it is obvious that for Beijing the political stability in Kazakhstan has a direct link to investment risks. 

Kassym-Jomart Tokayev stressed that the eternal all-round strategic partnership announced during his state visit to Beijing in September 2019 has reached the set trajectory. The Joint Statement being adopted today launches a new “golden 30th anniversary” of bilateral relations, the Kazakh President believes. It is for this reason that he called the visit of the President of the People’s Republic of China extremely important. The President of the People’s Republic of China praised the level of Kazakh-Chinese relations and expressed confidence that the visit would give a new impetus to further strengthening them. He stressed that China supports Kazakhstan’s position on regional and international issues. 

The previous visit between the two heads of state took place in Beijing at the time of the opening of the Winter Olympics, after the January events in Kazakhstan, and allowed Kassim Jomart Tokaev to share his version of the unrest that took place in his country. As a reminder, a referendum was held in June validating his proposal for constitutional change, as well as a speech in September proposing early parliamentary and presidential elections and the introduction of a seven-year presidential term. 

The two presidents are expected to attend the September 15-16 summit of the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation (SCO) in Samarkand, Uzbekistan.

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