The first consultative meeting of the leaders of the Central Asian states on regional issues without the influence of superpowers Russia and China was held in Astana, Kazakhstan on March 15.
Kazakh President Nursultan Nazarbayev, Uzbek President Shavkat Mirziyoyev, Kyrgyz President Sooronbay Jeenbekov, Tajik President Emomali Rahmon and Turkmenistan's Parliament Chairman Akja Nurberdyeva attended the meeting.
"It is a very important step for Central Asia. Currently, it is one of the least integrated regions in the world, with intra-regional trade at around 5 percent. While leaders from the Central Asian states often meet informally at the sidelines of the Shanghai Cooperation Organization [SCO] and Commonwealth of Independent States [CIS] conferences, they have only officially met five times to discuss regional issues without Russia, China and other powers since 1991. All of those meetings were in the 1990s," Edward James Lemon, a postdoctoral fellow at Columbia University's Harriman Institute, said.
Since former Uzbek President Islam Karimov died, Uzbek President Mirziyoyev has sought warm ties with neighboring Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, Kazakhstan and Turkmenistan as the main priority of Uzbekistan's foreign policy.
"The death of Karimov was key to this new development. Uzbekistan, the most populous and powerful state following the collapse of the USSR, did not become regional leader. Under Karimov, who died in 2016, the country was isolationist and had difficult relations with its neighbors. Kazakhstan, although economically successful, looked beyond Central Asia for partners, in Europe, Russia and China. Now under Mirziyoyev, Uzbekistan is once against becoming the regional pivot state. In his visits to all the Central Asian republics, including his visit to Tajikistan earlier this month, Mirziyoyev has stressed that the region's problems need to be solved collectively. He has reopened border crossings, established visa-free regimes, announced new cross-border infrastructure projects and settled disputes with his neighbors. Mirziyoyev is the driving force behind this new emphasis on regional cooperation," Lemon said.
Tarık Mete, the Turkish Cooperation and Coordination Agency (TİKA) coordinator in the Tajik capital, Dushanbe, said, "There is a warm atmosphere in the Turkestan region with the initiatives of Uzbek leader Mirziyoyev. It is important to note that a large part of Mirziyoyev's initiatives are related to the improvement of the Uzbek economy. Central Asian states are seeking a solution to the deadlocked economies to activate their economic potential."
Mete described the Russian and Chinese influence on the region as "indisputable."
"Russian and Chinese influence on the region is indisputable. Russian influence on the security issues and Chinese influence on the financial issues in Tajikistan are remarkable," Mete told Daily Sabah.
Uzbek President Mirziyoyev suggested holding consultative meetings between the heads of states on the eve of Nowruz celebrations each year and organizing the next meeting in the Uzbek capital, Tashkent, in 2019.
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