US Focuses Attention on Central Asia With New Economic Initiative – The Diplomat

Donald Lowe, US Assistant Secretary of State for South and Central Asia traveling to Turkmenistan, Uzbekistan and Kazakhstan between November 6-11. This is Lu’s second trip to Central Asia this year, with an earlier trip through Kyrgyzstan, Uzbekistan, Tajikistan and Kazakhstan in May and follows a wave of increased engagement with an increasingly important area.

Lu’s trip, the State Department said, was intended to highlight “our shared goal of a prosperous, secure and democratic Central Asia.” Lu is expected to discuss a variety of bilateral issues in each country, as well as launch a new $25 economic initiative in the region.

The current trip comes against the background of an increased focus on Central Asia, in relation to its bordering position on both Russia and China, which was recently announced US National Security Strategy (NSS) is characterized as posing “various challenges”. Outlining these challenges, the NSS stated that Russia “poses an immediate threat to the free and open international system” while China “is the only competitor with the intent to reshape the international order and, increasingly, the economic, diplomatic, military, and technological power to advance this purpose.” In other words: Russia is the challenge of the present and China the challenge of the future; Central Asia borders both.

US strategy towards Central Asia remains framed by a strategy revealed in Beginning of February 2020 by the Trump administration’s State Department. The strategy, with the then-ambitious withdrawal from Afghanistan in mind, sought to reshape the American approach to engagement with the region beyond the war in Afghanistan.

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At the time of his release, Alice Wells, then deputy assistant principal secretary for South and Central Asia, said, the diplomat that the central mantra of the strategy – US support for the “independence, sovereignty and territorial integrity” of the region – is “essentially the holy trinity of US policy in Central Asia”.

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Although much has changed since the beginning of February 2020, the American strategy towards Central Asia has only become more relevant. There is nothing particularly novel about emphasizing “independence, sovereignty, and territorial integrity,” but the Russian invasion of Ukraine has pushed the discussion of these basic features of the modern state system back into the spotlight. (Hear that? It’s the voice of a million IR graduates whispering”Westphalian sovereignty” into the night.)

In any case, as noted above, the announcement of Lu’s trip in November again featured a mention of the “holy trinity,” noting that Lu’s visits “will strengthen the United States’ commitment to the independence, sovereignty, and territorial integrity of every country.”

The Central Asian region’s democratic credentials are weak, but US geopolitical concerns are not. While coalition building with other democracies is a feature of the Biden administration’s overall foreign policy, the NSS nevertheless noted that “many non-democracies are joining the world’s democracies in engulfment.” in behaviors arising from the layers of “authoritarian government with a revisionist foreign policy”. The NSS highlighted “waging or preparing for wars of aggression, actively subverting the democratic political processes of other countries, leveraging technology and supply chains for coercion and repression, and exporting an illiberal model of international order” as behavior that even non-democracies are concerned about. . Indeed, in the great sorting between autocracies and democracies, the Biden administration carved out a place for “countries that do not adopt democratic institutions but nevertheless depend on and support a rules-based international system.”

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Central Asia fits into the gray area between revisionist autocracies and Western-style liberal democracies. As a relatively young region of independent states, covered geographically by major powers, there has long been an appetite for diversity – of partners and trade routes, in particular.

The war in Ukraine has also increased attention and awareness of Central Asia. Given the region’s economic integration with Russia, international sanctions on Moscow trickle down to Central Asia through various avenues, intensifying the difficulties for the landlocked region whose main trade routes cross Russia. were positive – Like transferring some businesses from Russia to Kazakhstan – but also significant disadvantages when Central Asian countries try to avoid secondary sanctions and adapt to future restrictions on their economic and trade options. With both Russia and Iran under sanctions, Central Asia has a dwindling number of neighbors through which it can trade: Afghanistan and Taliban-controlled China.

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In light of these difficulties, and following a Successful C5+1 ministerial meeting in September On the sidelines of the United Nations General Assembly, the United States announced the launch of the Economic Resilience Initiative in Central Asia. A State Department spokesperson told The Diplomat that as part of the initiative, the United States will provide 25 million dollars to find sustainable development in the region.

“The Economic Resilience Initiative will support the development of the region’s trade routes and capacity, educate and train a skilled workforce, and attract international investment to Central Asia,” the spokesman said.

As part of the initiative, the United States plans to launch what it called “C5+ONE or Opening Networks through English” – a program that will invest $5 million to support regional efforts to build a “21st century workforce and attract foreign investment.” By prioritizing English language training for young professionals in critical sectors.”

The economic section is particularly important for Central Asian governments as the war in Ukraine continues and sanctions on Russia continue. The focus on learning the English language, and the “workforce of the 21st century”, however, are not part of immediate aid efforts, but rather a long-term strategy to strengthen the English-speaking world as a path to future economic, social, political, and cultural development. Remember: Central Asia borders what the US considers both its immediate challenge – Russia – and the great challenge of the future – China.


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