The attention of the international community to Uzbekistan has increased markedly in recent years. The transition to a new model of the country’s development in accordance with the Strategy of Action on Five Priority Areas of Development of the Republic of Uzbekistan for 2017-2021 and the Strategy for the Development of New Uzbekistan in 2022-2026 has predetermined a significant transformation of the country’s foreign policy course.
The renewed foreign policy of our country under the leadership of the President of the Republic of Uzbekistan Shavkat Mirziyoyev, being an organic continuation of the course of the large-scale domestic reforms, has pragmatic and strategically verified character.
Implemented at the initiative of Uzbekistan, a number of important measures aimed at both promoting national interests and solving regional and international problems of development and security testify to the growing role and authority of Uzbekistan as a reliable partner, an active participant in international relations.
As President Shavkat Mirziyoyev declared in his inaugural speech on July 14 this year, Uzbekistan will consistently continue its deeply thought-out foreign policy and economic diplomacy aimed at further strengthening relations of friendship, good-neighborliness and strategic partnership with Central Asian states, expanding multifaceted cooperation with the ”far and near abroad” countries.
The practical results of Uzbekistan’s new foreign policy course over the past six years have been:
First. Launching a new meaningful regional agenda in Central Asia. By revising the strategic foundations of bilateral relations with its neighbors in favor of strengthening good-neighborliness and cooperation, maintaining regional security, promoting trade and economic cooperation, and deepening cultural and humanitarian ties with brotherly nations, Uzbekistan has managed to bring relations with the states of the region to a new level.
The initiative put forward by President Shavkat Mirziyoyev to hold regular Consultative Meetings of the Heads of State of Central Asia has made a crucial contribution to the stable and sustainable development of the Central Asian region. Since 2018, four meetings of heads of state in this format have been held, the fifth will be held on September 14-15, 2023 in Dushanbe.
The launch of this fundamentally new mechanism of interaction has contributed to a significant improvement in the political climate in the region, allowed the countries to start a substantive dialogue on intensifying trade and economic cooperation, removing barriers for goods, services and capital.
Under the new conditions, Central Asia is becoming one of the most dynamically developing regions. Over the past 6 years, the combined GDP of the five countries has doubled, amounting to $400 billion. At the same time, the share of mutual trade in goods in the total volume of foreign trade turnover of Central Asia is increasing – from 6% in 2014 to 11% in 2022.
Consolidation of the countries of the region has contributed to the increased attractiveness of Central Asia for external partners, expanding interaction with major states and group of states. Thus, the platforms of dialogue with them in the format “Central Asia Plus” increased from 4 in 2017 to 11 in 2023.
Uzbekistan has actively promoted the development of regional cooperation in the spheres of security, trade, energy, transportation and culture, and has launched a number of international initiatives on security, development and interregional ties in Central Asia.
They have been supported by a number of United Nations General Assembly resolutions: “Strengthening regional and international cooperation to ensure peace, stability and sustainable development in the Central Asian region”, “Sustainable tourism and sustainable development in Central Asia”, “Declaration of the Aral Sea region as a zone of environmental innovation and technology” and “Strengthening connectivity between Central and South Asia”. Their adoption by the United Nations member states demonstrated the recognition by the international community of Uzbekistan’s practical contribution to strengthening regional stability and sustainable development.
Second. Starting from 2017, Uzbekistan has significantly intensified its efforts to develop relations with Afghanistan in the spheres of trade, transportation, energy, education, the involvement of this country in regional trade and economic ties.
Tashkent has played a key role in boosting the participation of Central Asian countries in international efforts to stabilize Afghanistan. Tashkent hosted major international conferences on Afghanistan “Peace Process, Security Cooperation and Regional Engagement” (March 2018) and “Afghanistan: Security and Economic Development” (July 2022). Uzbekistan has not only contributed to maintaining the international community’s attention to the Afghan problem, but also offered a completely new perception of this country as an integral part of Central Asia and an important link in the projects of connectivity between Central and South Asia.
Third. Economic diplomacy has become one of the most important priorities of foreign policy. Uzbekistan has set a course for more active integration of the country into the international financial, trade and economic space, interregional transport and logistical communications. Tashkent has intensified the negotiation process on accession to the WTO, received the status of an observer state in the EAEU and the status of a beneficiary country in the European Union’s GSP+ system of preferences.
Tashkent’s cooperation with international and regional financial institutions, such as the International Monetary Fund, the World Bank, the Asian Development Bank, the EBRD, the Islamic Development Bank and the Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank, has reached a qualitatively new level.
A key priority of Uzbek economic diplomacy has been the promotion of broad interregional connectivity. Major events in this area include the High-Level International Conference on Central and South Asia Connectivity in July 2021 in Tashkent and the EU-Central Asia International Conference on Connectivity in November 2022 in Samarkand.
Fourth. An important priority of New Uzbekistan’s foreign policy has been the systemic activation of multilateral diplomacy. President Shavkat Mirziyoyev’s speech at the 72nd session of the UNGA in 2017 put forward a number of major initiatives, including holding Consultative Meetings of Heads of States of Central Asia. In 2019, Uzbekistan joined the Turkic Council. In 2020. Tashkent fruitfully chaired the CIS. The holding of the SCO summit in Samarkand in September 2022 was a major international event, at which the President of Uzbekistan launched the Samarkand Solidarity Initiative for Common Security and Prosperity. The first summit of the Organization of Turkic States was held in Samarkand in October 2022.
The election of Uzbekistan to the UN Human Rights Council for the period 2021-2023, as well as the support of the members of the Non-Aligned Movement for Uzbekistan’s chairmanship in the organization in 2027-2029 reflected the growing potential of Tashkent’s multilateral diplomacy.
As a whole, in recent years Uzbekistan has put forward more than 80 proposals on strengthening regional security and economic cooperation and the sustainable development of Central Asia in multilateral forums. A number of major international conferences have been held at the initiative of the President of Uzbekistan on the formation of international transport corridors in the region, the solving of the problem of Afghanistan, strengthening connectivity between Central and South Asia, and opening up the potential and participation of young people in global affairs.
The active participation of the heads of state and government, heads of foreign ministries and international organizations from many countries testifies to the growing organizational potential of Uzbek diplomacy and the attractiveness of pragmatic regional and international initiatives put forward by Tashkent.
Uzbekistan’s key foreign policy partners, including leading countries and organizations, actively support Uzbekistan’s foreign policy, especially initiatives to develop regional cooperation in Central Asia, as well as Tashkent’s efforts to settle the conflict in Afghanistan and involving the country in regional ties. Such assessments are included in joint statements, expressed at press conferences and during bilateral official contacts.
Foreign experts have noted the importance of Uzbekistan’s regional policy and other international initiatives of our country. Thus, Kyrgyz researcher Beishenbek Toktogulov believes that thanks to President Shavkat Mirziyoyev’s foreign policy vision, ”the system of interstate relations has transformed in Central Asia, and the understanding of a joint solution to existing problems has emerged in the region. Tashkent has been able to form a balanced partnership and cooperation with regional and global powers and international organizations and carry the relations to a fundamentally new level. His foreign policy approach, together with his internal reforms, has eventually strengthened Uzbekistan’s international image and helped to improve the country’s economy and welfare”.
According to the well-known American expert Frederick Starr, founder of the Central Asia and Caucasus Institute, Uzbekistan has managed to lead a regional effort to establish functional relations with the interim government in Kabul. Another expert on the region, Professor Zhao Huasheng of Fudan University (PRC), considers Uzbek President Shavkat Mirziyoyev “the main initiator of the current round of Central Asian integration”.
Alexander Vorobyev, an expert at the Institute of Oriental Studies of the Russian Academy of Sciences, notes a significant strengthening of Uzbekistan’s activity in international organizations. In recent years, at the initiative of President Shavkat Mirziyoyev, the UN has adopted several resolutions on international and regional cooperation and interfaith harmony. In the expert’s opinion, Uzbekistan should be expected to put forward new initiatives in the UN, related to the interests of Uzbekistan itself, and at the same time relevant for a wide range of other states.
Thus, the image of Uzbekistan as a responsible and active participant in international relations is evidently being successfully shaped. The initiatives promoted by Tashkent and widely recognized are aimed not only at effectively ensuring national interests, but also at strengthening stability and prosperity in the Central Asian region, addressing common problems of maintaining security and development facing the countries of the world.
Daniyar Kurbanov, Director of the Center for International Relations Studies of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the Republic of Uzbekistan,
Zilola Yunusova, Head of Department of the Center for International Relations Studies of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the Republic of Uzbekistan.