Can Kazakhstan revive the CICA?

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The Conference on Interaction and Confidence Building Measures in Asia (CICA) held a major summit on October 12-13 in Astana (now Nur-Sultan), Kazakhstan. “I want to emphasize that we are not creating a new organization but moving to a new stage of institutional development,” Kazakh President Kassym-Jomart Tokayev said at the event. He was referring to the ambitious plans for the future of the CICA, advanced by the bureaucratic reforms recently launched in the Kazakh capital; however, it remains to be seen whether the next three decades of the CICA’s existence will be more eventful than the previous three.

The top

One way to understand CICA, which celebrates its 30th anniversary in 2022, is to look at its member states: Afghanistan, Azerbaijan, Bahrain, Bangladesh, Cambodia, China, Egypt, India, Iran, Iraq, Israel, Jordan, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Mongolia, Pakistan, Palestine, Qatar, Republic of Korea, Russia, Sri Lanka, Tajikistan, Thailand, Turkey, United Arab Emirates, Uzbekistan, Vietnam and Kuwait. A quick glance at this list shows ICCA’s great potential for development, integration and win-win initiatives. After all, a unified economic or political bloc stretching from the Barents and Red Seas to the South China Sea would be a global force to be reckoned with.

For the VI CICA Summit, 11 heads of state as well as high-level delegations traveled to Astana, which is home to the organization’s headquarters. With an eclectic list of member states, it makes sense for Astana to become the headquarters of CICA, given Kazakhstan’s historic foreign policy based on multi-vectorism. Among the VIP guests were the President of Uzbekistan, Shavkat Mirziyoyev, the Vice President Võ Thị Ánh XuânDeputy Secretary General Talgat Aduov of the Turkish States Parliamentary Assembly, Chinese Vice President Wang Qishan, Bangladeshi Foreign Minister Abul Kalam Abdul MomenSecretary General of the Organization of Turkish States, Baghdad Amreyev, a delegation from the bucketamong others.

A particularly notable presence was that of Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan. During the event, Presidents Tokayev and Erdogan played table tennis, taking Nixon’s famous ping-pong diplomacy to a new, more literal level. (It is not known who won). The two countries enjoy historically strong bilateral relations, including joining the Trans-Caspian International Transportation Route, commonly referred to as the Middle Corridor. High-level meetings are common, with President Tokayev visiting Ankara in May. The two governments aim to increase bilateral trade to “5 billion dollars in the short term and up to 10 billion dollars in the medium term”.

In addition, there was a parallel meeting between Presidents Sadyr Japarov (Kyrgyzstan), Emomali Rahmon (Tajikistan) and Vladimir Putin (Russia). Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan have been embroiled in border clashes throughout 2021 and 2022 – the latest round of fighting took place in September. While the violence seems to have stopped, tensions persist. It is unclear whether the trilateral meeting, with President Putin acting as some kind of mediator, did much. However, discussions and negotiations are always preferable to violence.

A CICA for the 21st century

The overall objective of the VI CICA Summit was to decide how to transform the organization into a dynamic and more effective regional bloc in order to promote greater integration and development. “The future of Asia itself depends on our collective will to strengthen the dialogue between cultures, traditions and worldviews,” Tokayev stressed. The Kazakh hosts made several proposals at the summit, including the creation of a permanent CICA financial summit and a CICA council on sustainable interconnectivity.

This last proposition deserves more explanation. In his address, President Tokayev noted that “disruptions in global supply chains require us to take a fresh look at the formation of efficient transit transport corridors” and that “convenient and affordable means of transporting goods are an important factor in sustainable growth. of our savings. While the Kazakh president did not mention the Middle Corridor by name in his speech, a project spearheaded by Kazakhstan, the initiative was no doubt discussed in side meetings with visiting delegations.

CICA Secretary General Kairat Sarybay, a Kazakh diplomat, also noted that a “structured, inclusive and open negotiation process” is underway to modernize the CICA. A statement by the CICA Heads of State at the end of the summit notes that negotiations will now begin for the “gradual, progressive and consensual transformation of the CICA into a fully-fledged regional international organization”. The first changes are bureaucratic. For example, the Meeting of Heads of State or Government (Summit) and the Meeting of Foreign Ministers (Ministerial Meeting) will now be called the Council of Heads of State or Government (Summit) and the Council of Ministers of Foreign Affairs (Ministerial Council). In addition, “the status of the executive director, who heads the secretariat”, has been changed to “general secretary”, thus Kairat Sarybay from Kazakhstan is the very first general secretary of CICA.

It seems clear that Kazakh leaders seek to transform the CICA into a more dynamic and effective entity that promotes regional integration, cooperation and development, while strengthening Kazakhstan’s international image by making CICA the main support of ‘Astana.

Challenges

While the VI CICA Summit was an overall success (at the very least, there were no incidents or diplomatic missteps), the long list of tensions and interstate disputes between members of the bloc will continue to make the pursuit of integration and harmony a challenge.

A cursory glance at CICA member states shows obvious trouble spots: Israel’s disputes with its neighbors and Indo-Pakistani tensions are well known, the Tajik-Kyrgyz border conflict continues, Iran is in disagreement with Azerbaijan over the Azerbaijani-Armenian border dispute, while Asian states worry about China’s growing influence and aggressive foreign policy. Finally, Afghanistan has again become a black hole and a source of concern since the Taliban returned to power. Therefore, diplomatic finesse and effective negotiation skills will be required for the CICA to pass more meaningful resolutions and projects in the years to come.

Asian blocks galore

Another important issue facing CICA is how to stand out in a sea of ​​regional blocs, when its member states have overlapping memberships with several other organizations. A brief list includes the Eurasian Economic Union, the Arab League (which will hold a summit in Algeria in November), the Organization of Turkish States, the Association of Southeast Asian Nations, the Commonwealth of Independent States and the South Asian Association for Regional Relations. Cooperation. In addition, a new Asian bloc, the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP), entered into force in January 2022.

Thus, the ICCA needs concrete and achievable initiatives to federate its members and stand out from other blocs. For example, as this author has already mentioned, the GUAM Organization for Democracy and Economic Development (Georgia, Ukraine, Azerbaijan and Moldova) seeks to create a free trade zone. Ideally, this would promote trade and commerce between the four countries and breathe new life into the bloc. Similarly, the Kazakh government has come up with several compelling ideas for the CICA; however, the challenge is how to get support from other member states in the short and long term to make the CICA more relevant in regional policy.

In his address, President Tokayev noted that “the number of [CICA] observers and partners has also been expanded. Turkmenistan joined the CICA as an observer, and decisions were taken to establish cooperation with the Eurasian Economic Union and ASEAN. An increase in membership can be a blessing and a curse, as it means more voices and votes at the table, potentially making consensus decisions more problematic. On the other hand, partnerships with other blocs are a good idea, as CICA should not try to compete for influence with other blocs, but rather work together.

The recent CICA summit had a simple but ambitious goal: to continue transforming and consolidating the bloc into a relevant and effective organization for the 21st century. Kazakhstan’s multi-pronged and ambitious foreign policy has much to gain from a more integrated and effective CICA, but the challenge will be to get a diverse and eclectic group of member states to support CICA initiatives given other national priorities and objectives.

Wilder Alejandro Sánchez is president of Second Floor Strategies, a consulting firm in Washington, DC. He is an analyst who monitors defence, geopolitical and trade issues in the Western Hemisphere, Eastern Europe and Central Asia.

The opinions expressed in this article belong solely to the authors and do not necessarily reflect those of Geopoliticalmonitor.com

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