By J C Suresh | IDN-InDepthNews Report
WASHINGTON (IDN) – The United States is “strongly committed to the prosperity, sovereignty, stability, and security of the five Central Asian countries as well as a vision of regional economic connectivity through its New Silk Road initiative,” says the Office of the Spokesperson of the U.S. State Department.
The five Central Asian (C5) states of strategic importance to the U.S. and its western allies are Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan, and Uzbekistan. They constituted the now defunct Soviet Union.
According to the U.S. State Department, since the C5 gained independence in 1991, Washington has provided about 8.8 billion dollar in assistance. The “historic meetings” between the five Central Asian states and the U.S. (C5+1) in New York on September 26, 2015 and in the Uzbek city of Samarkand on November 1, the Office of the Spokesperson said, “represent a significant step forward for the U.S.-Central Asia relationship and a sign of the growing capacity of Central Asian countries to collaborate and prosper as a region”.
In a ‘joint declaration of partnership and cooperation’ on November 1, the C5+1 foreign ministers declared their commitment to “deepening cooperation, including through regular meetings in the ‘C5+1’ format”.
The declaration said, “respecting mutually their sovereignty, independence, and territorial integrity”, the foreign ministers would “enhance a favorable business climate in the region to attract foreign direct investment and facilitate local entrepreneurship and broaden and strengthen business and investment contacts among the Central Asian countries and the United States”.
The C5+1 agreed to “Improve mutually beneficial cooperation in regional trade, transport and communication, energy linkages, and transit opportunities, including upgrading existing facilities and promoting common rules and regulations to realize fully the region’s great economic potential”.
The foreign ministers agreed to “enhance a favorable business climate in the region to attract foreign direct investment and facilitate local entrepreneurship and broaden and strengthen business and investment contacts among the Central Asian countries and the United States”.
They also agreed to address environmental sustainability challenges, including through a new agreement at the Climate Change Conference (COP21) in Paris that would contribute to the establishment of a climate regime that applies to all countries. They would join efforts in addressing climate change by promoting clean energy and green technology in the region.
The six countries would also enhance cooperation to prevent and counter transboundary threats and challenges such as terrorism, trafficking of weapons of mass destruction, illicit drugs, and human beings.
They would support Afghanistan and its “development as an independent, peaceful, thriving state, recognizing that the situation in Afghanistan remains an important factor in security and stability for the entire region”.
The C5+1 foreign ministers pledged to contribute to global and regional nonproliferation efforts, including by respecting the provisions of the Treaty on a Nuclear-Weapons-Free Zone in Central Asia and pursuing entry into force of the Treaty’s Protocol.
They would also develop closer cooperation in the humanitarian sphere and more extensive people-to-people ties, and encourage wider educational, cultural, and business exchanges.
The C5+1 further agreed to protect human rights and develop democratic institutions and practices. They pledged to “strengthen civil society through respect for recognized norms and principles of international law, including the United Nations Charter, the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, the Declaration on Principles of International Law, and the Helsinki Final Act of the Conference on Security and Co-operation in Europe”.
New U.S. Assistance
Coinciding with the joint declaration, the U.S. State Department published a fact sheet on November 1 spelling out a wide range of new U.S. assistance programmes to the five Central Asian states.
Under the tag Competitiveness, Training, and Jobs, the new multi-year program would increase the competitiveness of Central Asian economies. “This program plans to expand exports in the priority sectors of horticulture and transport/logistics (in C5 states) with outreach to businesses and trade authorities in foreign markets including Afghanistan and Pakistan.”
The programme would also assist private sector firms in those industries to: understand the opportunities and requirements of markets; adopt technologies and techniques and develop the skills needed to produce to international standards; establish relationships with potential buyers and suppliers for long term growth; demonstrate new practices, technologies, or approaches that have potential to benefit the industry as a whole.
The project also seeks to create jobs and provide private-sector skills training for youth who lack economic opportunities within Central Asia, according to the fact sheet.
The U.S. State Department informed that the World Bank plans to launch a new long-term climate change initiative in Central Asia, ‘Climate Adaptation & Mitigation Program for the Aral Sea Basin’. Washington supports a partnership with the World Bank and welcomes other partners to address the trans-boundary impacts of climate change, the Office of the Spokesperson said.
The project will provide a platform for ongoing dialogue and information exchange on climate change among Central Asian countries, building confidence for increased cooperation. It will support multi-level stakeholders – from farmers to government agencies – to raise awareness of climate change and appropriate responses.
Under the tag, Smart Waters, a new U.S. multi-year program for the five Central Asian countries and Afghanistan would build a cadre of managers capable of managing shared water resources to maximize their economic value. Smart Waters is being implemented through the Regional Environmental Center for Central Asia (CAREC), a local NGO, to train a new generation of water managers – through both short-term professional development and a University-based Master of Science program – with the skills to maximize water’s overall value among stakeholders.
The programme will also support selected river basin organizations to improve planning and demonstrate sustainable water management. It will build trust through collaboration and people-to-people interactions among water managers across Central Asia and Afghanistan.
The fact sheet said the United States has provided more than 30 million dollars since 2002 to support the American University of Central Asia (AUCA). “We plan to continue our strong support to AUCA through 2018 by supporting scholarships and programs to increase the university’s long-term sustainability,” the fact sheet adds. [IDN-InDepthNews – 02 November 2015]
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Image credit: American University of Central Asia