Takeaways from Kazakhstan's Active Role at the UNGA
Author: Nicholas Castillo
Sep 21, 2023
With a flurry of diplomatic developments, Kazakhstan has emerged as an active participant at the ongoing United Nations General Assembly (UNGA) in New York.
President Tokayev’s UNGA Speech
On September 19th, President Kassym-Jomart Tokayev addressed the “general debate” of the assembly. Speaking for about 20 minutes, President Tokayev made a series of note-worthy statements and laid out his plans for Kazakhstan’s future international engagement.
Tokayev began his remarks by warning that the international community was heading toward a period of “geopolitical confrontation” and that “the resolution of political issues by force, in fact, results only in deadlock.” He went on to state that Kazakhstan “commends” all efforts to reach a “political settlement of the Ukrainian crisis.” Such comments are largely in line with Kazakhstan's reaction to the war in Ukraine to date. Kazakhstan has offered little support for Russia, refusing to recognize Russia’s annexation of Ukrainian territory. Yet, Astana has also been hesitant to offer a full condemnation of Russian actions and instead has kept rhetoric focused on territorial integrity and sovereignty, something Tokayev reiterated during his speech.
President Tokayev suggested a series of reforms to international political systems during his speech. Most importantly, he suggested a “comprehensive reform of the Security Council.” President Tokayev stated it was crucial that the Security Council “become more representative so that other countries – including Kazakhstan – can play a greater role in the maintenance of peace and security.” Tokayev’s rhetoric also hit upon the emerging political power of the so-called “Global South,” stating that “the voices of Middle Powers and all developing countries in the Council need to be amplified.” President Tokayev also suggested the establishment of a UN Regional Centre for Sustainable Development Goals for Central Asia and Afghanistan, in order for Afghanistan to become a stable and reliable state.
President Tokayev also touted the increasing role of Kazakhstan and several multilateral institutions in world affairs. This included statements relating to the role of the Conference on Interaction and Confidence Building Measures in Asia and the Shanghai Cooperation Organization, which Tokayev argued were becoming guarantors of security and economic growth in the region. Tokayev described Kazakhstan’s active role within these institutions as well as its crucial role as a transportation hub for goods between Europe and Asia. In this context, Tokayev suggested that Kazakhstan become a center for the transit of food goods.
Kazakhstan Takes Part in C5+1 Discussions with President Joe Biden
Leaders of the C5+1 countries ( Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan, Uzbekistan, and the United States) met on September 19. This meeting marks the first time a U.S. President has attended a C5+1 meeting, underscoring increased U.S. interest in Central Asia. Conversations centered on the continued development of economic ties, supply chains, and the trans-Caspian “Middle Corridor” trade route. The United States also proposed launching a C5+1 Critical Minerals Dialogue, in order to develop the critical minerals sector within Central Asian countries and ensure critical resource security.
President Tokayev Meets with a Series of Heads of State
On the sidelines of the UNGA, President Tokayev met with the presidents of Kenya, Mongolia, Montenegro, Portugal, Romania, and South Korea. Central to these conversations was increasing economic and diplomatic ties. Kazakhstan emphasized developments, including plans to open a consulate in Montenegro, increased trade between Romania and Kazakhstan, increased investment and trade with South Korea, and plans to send a Kazakh trade delegation to Kenya. President Tokayev also suggested the establishment of a business council for trade between Kazakhstan and Mongolia and upgrading Mongolian-Kazakh relations to a strategic partnership.
Kazakhstan Lays Foundations for Improvements to IT Sector
On Tuesday, President Tokayev met with Amazon Vice President Susan Pointer. There, the Ministry of Digital Development, Innovations, and Aerospace Industry signed an agreement with Amazon Web Services (AWS) to acquire AWS advanced Outpost cloud solutions and further integrate AWS services with Kazakhstan’s QazTech platform.
On September 19, President Tokayev held a meeting with Nicola Villa, Executive Vice President of Mastercard, where they unveiled plans to establish Almaty as the hub for Mastercard's consulting initiatives aimed at advancing business and human capital development in the Central Asian banking sector. The two sides signed the Digital Country Partnership (DCP) framework agreement, providing a blueprint for Kazakhstan's digital transformation. In addition, Nicola Villa disclosed Mastercard's intention to launch the Strive program in Kazakhstan through its Inclusive Growth Fund, targeting the digital transformation of over 300,000 small and medium enterprises. Villa further pledged Mastercard's commitment to provide expertise and technological support in collaboration with the National Bank of Kazakhstan for various projects, including the Digital Tenge, Instant Payment System, and Open Banking.
In New York City, on September 19, President Kassym-Jomart Tokayev, and President of GE Healthcare for Europe, Middle East, and Africa, Rob Walton, also discussed the details of a $60 billion investment from GE. Rob Walton unveiled GE’s plans to localize the production of ultrasound machines, CT scanners, angiographs, and mammographs. As part of this framework agreement, GE will establish a Centralized National Digital Archive of Clinical Images in Kazakhstan to simplify the management of patient data.
Also on September 19, during his meeting with Portuguese President Marcelo Rebelo de Sousa, President Tokayev stated his intention to send a special delegation to Lisbon to strengthen digital cooperation. Earlier in September, during a national address, President Tokayev had announced plans to increase IT exports to over $1 billion by 2026. Kazakhstan’s IT industry has seen strong growth in recent years and is expected to reach $500 million in exports this year.
While “the world of today appears to have entered a new, increasingly bitter, period of geopolitical confrontation,” and “new fault lines are creating artificial barriers and economic isolation,” Kazakhstan is setting itself apart with its multi-vectored approach. President Tokayev's diplomatic engagements with global leaders, including President Biden, signals Kazakhstan’s interest in engagement within diplomatic, economic, and technological sectors, forecasting a more important role for the Central Asian country in Eurasian and world affairs.