Weekly Digest of Central Asia

BISHKEK (TCA) — The Publisher’s note: Central Asia is an important geopolitical area between Europe, Russia and China. It is in Central Asia that world powers have confronted each other for centuries; it is here that China needs to succeed with its new Silk Road Belt for direct access to the Western markets; and it is here that a large wealth of raw materials has its origin. Every week thousands of news appears all over the world in printed and online media and it is quite understandable that many of them may escape the attention of busy readers. At The Times of Central Asia, we strongly believe that more information can better contribute to peaceful development and better knowledge of the region, and for this reason we are presenting this Weekly Digest of Central Asia which compiles what other media have reported during the past week.

KAZAKHSTAN

‘#Kazakhstan through the Eyes of Foreign Media’ contest – call for applications

Kazakhstan authorities promote reporting on Kazakhstan in the foreign media, with reports and stories ranging from economic news to broader insight into the lifestyle, culture, art and diversity of contemporary Kazakhstan

May 19 — “Kazakhstan’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs is pleased to announce the call for applications to the 2017 ‘Kazakhstan through the Eyes of Foreign Media’ competition. The contest seeks to reward original articles about Kazakhstan that have been published in a foreign (non-Kazakhstani) media outlet, between 1 January and 25 June, 2017.” READ MORE: https://www.eureporter.co/frontpage/2017/05/19/kazakhstan-through-the-eyes-of-foreign-media-contest-call-for-applications/

Restructuring of Kazakhstan’s Banking Sector Continues

With new mergers and acquisitions, Kazakhstan’s banking system will soon have fewer banks to make those that remain stronger

May 23 — “Kazakhstan’s banking sector could look radically different in just a few months, as takeovers and mergers continue at a fast pace. Halyk Bank is inching closer to finalizing the buyout of Qazkom, which will create the largest bank in Central Asia, holding around 40 percent of the Kazakhstan’s financial assets.” READ MORE: http://thediplomat.com/2017/05/restructuring-of-kazakhstans-banking-sector-continues/

Zimbabwe cabinet approves joint-venture platinum mine with Kazakhstan

A company jointly owned by a Kazakh investor and the Kazakhstan Government purchased the Bokai concession in Zimbabwe

May 23 — “Zimbabwe’s cabinet has approved a Kazakhstan company, Todall, to mine platinum in the Midlands area of Zvishavane, bringing to four the number of platinum producers in Zimbabwe, Mines and Mining Development Minister Walter Chidhakwa said Tuesday.” READ MORE: https://www.newsghana.com.gh/zimbabwe-cabinet-approves-joint-venture-platinum-mine-with-kazakhstan/

Kazakhstan to investigate bond acquisition from troubled Azeri bank

Some 9 percent of the state pension fund of Kazakhstan assets has been invested into non-Kazakhstan sovereign debt papers, and now Kazakhstan may lose funds invested in an Azeri bank

May 24 — “Kazakhstan’s central bank will investigate the acquisition by the state-managed pension fund of $250 million worth of bonds in the International Bank of Azerbaijan (IBA) after the lender announced it would not repay some of its debts in full.” READ MORE: http://www.nasdaq.com/article/kazakhstan-to-investigate-bond-acquisition-from-troubled-azeri-bank-20170524-00340

UAE and Kazakhstan amend visa waiver agreement

The UAE remains a favorite destination for Kazakhs and the agreement will help increase the number of Kazakh tourists to the UAE

May 24 — “The UAE and Kazakhstan signed a protocol to include ordinary passports under the visa waiver agreement, exempting holders of said passports from pre-entry visa requirements. The protocol was signed on Wednesday by Shaikh Abdullah Bin Zayed Al Nahyan, Minister of Foreign Affairs and International Cooperation, and Kairat Abdrakhmanov, Kazakhstan’s Minister of Foreign Affairs.” READ MORE: http://gulfnews.com/news/uae/government/uae-and-kazakhstan-amend-visa-waiver-agreement-1.2032321

Kazakhstan: Activist Recantation Demoralizes Civil Society

Civic rights activist Olesya Khalabuzar recently renounced her activism, a move testifying to Kazakhstan’s shrinking space for independent thought

May 24 — “Only two years ago, civic rights activist Olesya Khalabuzar was proclaiming ambitiously that her grand ambition for Kazakhstan was to promote a change in the population’s mindset. The country’s citizens, she told EurasiaNet.org, had to change from “slaves into masters” and “demand our rights.” READ MORE: http://www.eurasianet.org/node/83716

KYRGYZSTAN

Drilling begins on property adjacent to 125,000-oz Kyrgyzstan gold mine

Another Canadian company has embarked on a gold mining project in Kyrgyzstan. The first one is Canada-based Centerra, which is developing Kyrgyzstan’s largest Kumtor gold mine

May 21 — “Kenadyr Mining (TSXV: KEN) has started drilling the South Zone of its Borubai concession in the Kyrgyz Republic, hoping to capitalize on the property’s close proximity to a gold mine that in 2015 was opened by one of China’s largest gold producers.” READ MORE: http://www.mining.com/drilling-begins-property-adjacent-125000-oz-kyrgyzstan-gold-mine/

Kyrgyzstan to introduce toll roads

Construction of quality motor roads is an important economic task for Kyrgyzstan as the country aims to take the maximum advantage from its transit potential

May 22 — “Kyrgyzstan’s authorities plan to introduce toll roads in the country. Charging for the use of roads will remove the financial burden from the State and will make citizens more responsible for the condition of roads, the Government believes.” READ MORE: https://timesca.com/index.php/news/18066-kyrgyzstan-to-introduce-toll-roads

Kyrgyz president shows off his musical skills

With his new songs recorded and released on the web, President Atambayev can rival his Turkmen counterpart Berdymukhammedov, who has performed as a singer and musician on various occasions in his country

May 24 — “Kyrgyzstan’s president Almazbek Atambayev has released a pair of guitar ballads, backed up by professionally produced music videos. The first, Enekem, is dedicated to his mother and was released in time for Mother’s Day, along with a slick video produced by a local studio.” READ MORE: http://www.bbc.com/news/blogs-news-from-elsewhere-40026193

Kyrgyzstan unable to pay damages to Maksim Bakiyev

A British court has ruled in favor of ousted Kyrgyz president Bakiyev’s son, Maksim, accused by Kyrgyzstan authorities of public funds embezzlement and other serious crimes

May 25 — “Kyrgyzstan is unable to pay damages to Maksim Bakiyev, lawyers, representing his interests, informed 24.kg news agency. Note, the High Court of England made a decision concerning paying damages to the son of President Kurmanbek Bakiyev, who was overthrown in April 2010, for making unreasonable accusations of embezzlement of $ 26 million.” READ MORE: https://24.kg/english/52671_Kyrgyzstan_unable_to_pay_damages_to_Maksim_Bakiyev/

TAJIKISTAN

Tajikistan wants to speed up process to export fruit to China

The export of fresh and dried fruit is an important source of revenue for Tajikistan, with China being a promising, huge sales market

May 22 — “The Deputy Prime Minister of Tajikistan, Azim Ibrohim, met with the Chairman of the Committee on Foreign Affairs of the National Committee of the People’s Political Consultative Council of the People’s Republic of China, Pan Yunhe.” READ MORE: http://www.freshplaza.com/article/175599/Tajikistan-wants-to-speed-up-process-to-export-fruit-to-China

Tajikistan’s Anti-Corruption Drive Sign of Internal Feud?

The ongoing anti-corruption campaign is believed to be the handiwork of the State Committee for National Security, and looks like a classical case of clan infighting

May 22 — “Even after weeks of a seemingly monumental wave of corruption-related arrests in Tajikistan, state media has maintained a studied silence on the issue. With the prevailing orthodoxy among the nation’s leadership being that internal squabbles are not for public airing, independent media have taken the initiative, but not always with happy results.” READ MORE: http://www.eurasianet.org/node/83691

Tajikistan Takes Up Chinese

As China makes deeper inroads into Tajikistan, Tajik students are increasingly choosing Chinese language to study

May 23 — “Five years ago, foreigners walking down Rudaki Avenue, Dushanbe’s main drag, could expect to be greeted by a steady chorus of “hellos” and “privets” from knots of neatly-pressed students. But now, they’re just as likely to hear “ni hao.” READ MORE: http://thediplomat.com/2017/05/tajikistan-takes-up-chinese/

Tajikistani lawyers harassed, intimidated and imprisoned

Amnesty International says that to be a lawyer, and particularly a human rights lawyer, comes with unprecedented risks in present-day Tajikistan

May 24 — “Tajikistani authorities have dealt a major blow to the legal profession through political manipulation of the criminal justice system and repressive legislation, Amnesty International said today ahead of the country’s National Lawyer Day.” READ MORE: https://www.amnesty.org/en/latest/news/2017/05/tajikistani-lawyers-harassed-intimidated-and-imprisoned/

TURKMENISTAN

Turkmenistan: Report Claims Deputy PM Committed Suicide

Deputy PM Ereshov may have been driven to his alleged suicide by the potential prospect of being caught up in the ongoing anti-corruption drive in Turkmenistan

May 21 — “Foreign-based news website Chronicles of Turkmenistan has claimed in a report that a deputy prime minister who died suddenly in early May may have actually committed suicide. Official media in Turkmenistan reported on 51-year old Batyr Ereshov’s death, stating that it occurred on May 3, but gave no specifics about the cause.” READ MORE: http://www.eurasianet.org/node/83681

Turkmenistan’s Growing Economic Crisis

Turkmenistan expert Muhammad Tahir told IWPR that the country’s continuing over-reliance on gas exports meant it was ill-equipped to weather the current economic storm

May 23 — “Amid an ongoing economic crisis, Turkmenistan’s government is currently struggling to finish a series of lavish building projects ahead of hosting the Asian Indoor and Martial Arts Games (AIMAG) this September.” READ MORE: https://iwpr.net/global-voices/turkmenistans-growing-economic-crisis

TAPI project and investments in gas processing sector are the main subjects of the last day of International Gas Congress in Avaza

Turkmenistan this week held International Gas Congress TGC 2017 in an effort to attract investors into its gas industry and find new buyers for its natural gas

May 24 — “Active participation of the representatives of branch ministries and departments, large international organizations and oil and gas companies having considerable experience in oil this sphere indicates growing interest of business circles of the planet to cooperation with Turkmenistan that has huge economic potential.” READ MORE: http://www.turkmenistan.gov.tm/_eng/?id=8387

UZBEKISTAN

Uzbekistan: Prices for Staple Goods Rising Sharply

Prices for mutton and beef was rising as a knock-on effect of animal feed becoming more expensive in the country

May 19 — “Prices for some staple food items in Uzbekistan have increased sharply this week, forcing the government to scramble into action, albeit not very effectively. By the second half of this week, the per kilo cost of beef and mutton had risen by up to 5,000 Uzbek sum ($0.50) in the markets of Tashkent and in the Ferghana Valley.” READ MORE: http://www.eurasianet.org/node/83661

Will Uzbekistan Join TAPI?

Although Tashkent said it would join the gas-pipeline project, no details were given as to how this plan will be realized

May 23 — “During his second visit to Turkmenistan, Uzbek President Mirziyoyev agreed to join the pipeline project.” READ MORE: http://thediplomat.com/2017/05/will-uzbekistan-join-tapi/

Uzbekistan, Turkmenistan agreed on electricity transit

Transit of electricity from Turkmenistan to Kazakhstan and Kyrgyzstan through the electricity grid of Uzbekistan will help Kyrgyzstan cope with its annual power deficits in winter

May 23 — “Uzbekistan will provide its energy networks for the transit of Turkmen electricity to Kazakhstan and Kyrgyzstan. This follows from the memorandum on cooperation signed on May 20 between Uzbekenergo Company and Turkmen Energy Ministry.” READ MORE: https://www.azernews.az/region/113666.html

Uzbekistan, Turkey sign trade agreements worth $2 billion

With China and Russia being the largest investors in the Uzbek economy, Tashkent is reaching out for another regional heavyweight — Turkey — for new economic deals

May 26 — “Uzbekistan and Turkey signed agreements on implementation of the projects worth more than $2 billion at the session of the intergovernmental commission on trade and economic cooperation between the two countries in Tashkent on May 25.” READ MORE: http://akipress.com/news:592872/

AFGHANISTAN

Afghanistan’s beautiful ‘Green Zone’ offers emeralds, peace

Geologists estimate that Afghanistan’s mineral wealth could exceed a trillion dollars, with a major portion of the untapped minerals buried below the Panjshir Valley

May 23 — “It has been dubbed Afghanistan’s Green Zone: A pocket of paradise amid the bloody, conflict-ravaged country — both a hidden gem and full of gems. Specifically, they are world-class emeralds seemingly just waiting to be mined.” READ MORE: http://www.foxnews.com/world/2017/05/23/afghanistans-beautiful-green-zone-offers-emeralds-peace.html

China pushing for stability in Afghanistan to meet its own ends

China plans to extend its Belt and Road Initiative into Afghanistan, and by enhancing its influence in the war-torn country, Beijing aims to remove the possibility of Afghan terrorism impacting security in Xinjiang

May 24 — “RATHER than filling the void of the United States, China is trying to play a constructive role in Afghanistan to enhance domestic security. After all, instability in Afghanistan fuels the ambitions, capabilities, and impacts of terrorist organisations in Xinjiang, the historic homeland of the Uighur ethnic group in western China.” READ MORE: https://asiancorrespondent.com/2017/05/china-pushing-stability-afghanistan-meet-ends/#phLM3e2ZmSoHSovL.97

Four Ways Forward in Afghanistan

Foreign Affairs analyzes four plausible strategies in Afghanistan — state building, reconciliation, containment, and basing

May 25 — “After a five-month-long interagency review process, senior officials have recommended that U.S. President Donald Trump send several thousand more troops to Afghanistan. The request is in line with proposals from General John Nicholson, commander of U.S. forces in Afghanistan, and makes the consensus recommendation of about 3,000-5,000 more troops.” READ MORE: https://www.foreignaffairs.com/articles/afghanistan/2017-05-25/four-ways-forward-afghanistan

China-India-US cooperation in Afghanistan could have huge potential

China and India — the two largest economies in the region — could make Afghanistan a platform for peace and cooperation

May 26 — “India’s decision to boycott China’s Belt and Road Forum has reinvigorated the much-needed debate on the strategic relationship between the two Asian giants. This debate comes on the heels of the February 23, 2017 India-China Strategic Dialogue in Beijing, where the two states found, among their divergences, a convergence on Afghanistan that contradicts some of Delhi’s received wisdom.” READ MORE: http://indianexpress.com/article/opinion/china-india-us-cooperation-in-afghanistan-could-have-huge-potential/

WORLD

Can the U.S. Pivot Back to Asia?

Foreign Affairs’ author reflects on how US President Trump should respond to China’s Belt and Road Initiative

May 23 — “China’s sweeping Belt and Road Initiative, which involves reviving the ancient Silk Road linking Asia to Europe, has become the most visible symbol of China’s rising ambitions. Ever since the administration of U.S. President Donald Trump pulled the plug on the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) earlier this year, abandoning its chance to set the rules of international commerce, China has seized the opportunity to prove it can assume the mantle of global economic leadership.” READ MORE: https://www.foreignaffairs.com/articles/china/2017-05-23/can-us-pivot-back-asia

The old Silk Road and new Chinese, Russian and Indian alternatives in geopolitical games

Russia, India and Japan are all pursuing their alternatives to China’s One Belt, One Road initiative, and all those alternatives would put Central Asia aside

May 23 — “Following the recent summit in China about the One Belt, One Road (OBOR) initiative, new plans are emerging showing a clear discomfort from several countries and some popular opposition from various local communities in countries involved in the Chinese plan.” READ MORE: https://timesca.com/index.php/news/26-opinion-head/18072-the-old-silk-road-and-new-chinese-russian-and-indian-alternatives-in-geopolitical-games

Tensions between Caspian littoral states and Russia

Disagreements between the five littoral states of the Caspian Sea have for many years blocked energy projects and other initiatives planned without the participation of Russia. The article by Paul Goble, entitled ‘Collapse of Russian Shipping in the Caspian Puts Moscow’s Regional Strategy at Risk’, originally published by The Jamestown Foundation, analyzes the decline in traffic through the Russian ports

May 24 — “Since the start of 2017, the amount of cargo passing through Russian ports on the Caspian Sea has fallen, compared to last year, by 48.4 percent to only 1.1 million tons, according to the Russian Ports Association. This figure is striking given that Russian ports elsewhere have seen an 11 percent increase in traffic over the same period, while the ports of other Caspian littoral states have also grown busier.” READ MORE: https://timesca.com/index.php/news/18078-tensions-between-caspian-littoral-states-and-russia

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