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Central Asia in Focus: U.S.-Central Asian Summit Announced


CHINA -- Chinese President Xi Jinping, pictured along with the leaders of all five Central Asian companies during the China-Central Asia Summit in Xian, Shaanxi province, China May 19, 2023. REUTERS/Florence Lo/Pool
CHINA -- Chinese President Xi Jinping, pictured along with the leaders of all five Central Asian companies during the China-Central Asia Summit in Xian, Shaanxi province, China May 19, 2023. REUTERS/Florence Lo/Pool

In this week’s edition: the upcoming U.S.-Central Asian summit, Kyrgyz water flows to China, Kazakhstan’s nuclear power plant construction, and more.

In the Region

U.S.-Central Asian Summit Announced

Media in all five Central Asian countries carried news that their leaders will meet with U.S. President Joe Biden on the sidelines of the United Nations General Assembly in New York in late September.

Uzbek media outlet UzDaily was first on August 18, reprinting excerpts of a letter from Biden to Uzbek President Shavkat Mirziyoev.

The letter concluded, “I look forward to the upcoming UN General Assembly…,” where “I hope you will join me and our fellow leaders for a formal C5+1 meeting.”

The C5+1 is the five Central Asian states and the United States.

The C5+1 first met in 2015. It has been the format for meetings between Central Asian and American officials, most notably at the foreign minister level.

This will the first time the presidents of these six countries are holding a summit.

Chinese President Xi Jinping hosted the five Central Asian leaders for the first China-Central Asia summit in May.

Russian President Vladimir Putin met with the five in Astana in October 2022 for the first-ever Russia-Central Asia summit.

Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi hosted the first India-Central Asia summit in New Delhi at the end of January 2022.

European Commission President Charles Michel met with four Central Asian leaders and the Deputy Chairman of Turkmenistan’s Cabinet of Ministers in Kazakhstan at the end of October 2022.

The five Central Asian presidents attended the first-ever Gulf Cooperation Council-Central Asian summit attended by Arab leaders in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia.

Why It’s Important: Since the five Central Asian states became independent in late 1991, there have been few meetings of U.S. presidents and Central Asian leaders. All were visits by individual Central Asian presidents to the White House.

No serving U.S. president has ever visited a Central Asian country.

So, it is big news that President Biden will meet with the five Central Asian leaders in New York.

Kyrgyz Water for China?

As last week’s newsletter reported, Kyrgyzstan just stopped releasing water from its reservoirs from flowing into southern Kazakhstan.

Kyrgyz officials cited low water levels in reservoirs due to lack of rain and glacier-melt this year and said there was no water to release into rivers.

So it was surprising that the Chairman of Kyrgyzstan’s Cabinet of Ministers, Akylbek Japarov, announced on a visit to China that Kyrgyzstan was ready to export potable water to China.

Japarov was in Urumqi, the capital of China’s western Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region, for the China-Eurasia Expo.

At a Kyrgyz-China business forum on August 19, trade deals between the two countries worth more than $1 billion were signed.

The big-ticket deals involved China building solar power stations and hydropower plants in Kyrgyzstan, as well as developing at least two coal mining sites.

On August 20, Kyrgyz media started focusing on Japarov’s meeting with the chairman of Chinese company Qingdao Laoshan Mineral Water Co.,Ltd.

Japarov said Kyrgyzstan could benefit from the Chinese company’s experience.

“We stand at the source of glaciers and are ready to export environmentally-friendly drinking water to China, Europe and Asia,” Japarov said.

Why It’s Important: Bottled water from Kyrgyzstan’s mountains has been available in Kyrgyzstan for years.

Admittedly, the amount of water Kyrgyzstan might export to China wouldn’t be enough to water agricultural fields.

But this is bad optics.

Kyrgyz farmers have been complaining they don’t have enough water for their fields.

Residents of the Kyrgyz capital Bishkek were temporarily without water earlier this summer.

Downstream neighbor Kazakhstan is asking for more water from Kyrgyzstan and being told the water is simply not there.

There is concern that Kyrgyzstan’s glaciers are disappearing.

At the same time, Kyrgyz farmers and water officials are saying the glaciers are not melting quickly enough this year to fill Kyrgyzstan’s reservoirs.

Yet, there is enough water for Kyrgyzstan to sell water to “China, Europe, and Asia.”

This doesn’t seem to be a good deal for Kyrgyzstan or its downstream neighbors right now.

The Latest Majlis Podcast

This week’s Majlis podcast looks at the recently rocky relations between Kyrgyzstan and Russia.

Kyrgyzstan was the only Central Asian country that seemed initially to support Russia’s full-scale war on Ukraine, though later Bishkek said it was neutral.

There have been other signs of Kyrgyzstan’s close relationship with Russia since the Kremlin launched its full-scale war on Ukraine.

Lately, ties seem strained as Russia has criticized Kyrgyzstan’s decisions on the state language. Russia is also moving to imprison Kyrgyz citizens recently returned home after joining Russian mercenary forces in Ukraine.

This week’s guests are:

  • Bakyt Beshimov, a former member of the Kyrgyz parliament and currently a Global Studies and International Relations Lecturer and Professor of Practice at Northeastern University;
  • Emil Joroev, PhD, a Bishkek-based independent political observer; and
  • Medet Tiulegenov, Senior Research Fellow at theAmerican University of Central Asia in Bishkek.

What I'm Following

Taliban Claim to Amass Large Military-Security Force

The Taliban’s acting Deputy Prime Minister Abdusalam Hanafi marked the 104th anniversary of Afghanistan’s independence from Britain by announcing Afghanistan now has a security force of 400,000 men.

Afghan government forces never reached that number between 2001-2021, though it did exceed 300,000.

It is impossible to verify the Taliban’s claim on troop strength.

It will be unsettling for Afghanistan’s immediate neighbors to think there might be a combined 400,000 members of the Taliban Ministries of Defense, Security, and Interior.

Kazakhstan Shortlists Companies to Build Nuclear Power Plant

The Kazakh government announced the companies shortlisted for the contract to build Kazakhstan’s first nuclear power plant (NPP).

The China National Nuclear Corporation, South Korea’s Korea Hydro & Nuclear Power Co., Russia’s Rosatom, and France’s Electricite de France.

The government announcement also said the area near Ulken village, on the shores of Lake Balkhash in Almay Province as being the “most preferred construction area.”

Some Ulken residents appeared at a press conference on August 17 to express their opposition to building the NPP near their village.

Fact of the Week

Afghanistan shipped 2,000 boxes of grapes to Russia by rail through the Uzbek border crossing at Termez on August 20.

The shipment is a reminder of the trade potential of the railway link that passes through Termez.

Kazakhstan and China have shipped goods to Afghanistan viathe same railway through Termez.

Thanks for Reading

Thanks for reading Central Asia in Focus! I appreciate you sharing it with other readers who may be interested.

Feel free to contact me on Twitter or by responding to this email, especially if you have any questions, comments, or just want to connect about topics concerning Central Asia. See you next week for more on what’s happening in Central Asia.

Until next time,
Bruce

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    Bruce Pannier

    Bruce Pannier authors RFE/RL's "Central Asia in Focus" newsletter and appears regularly on the RFE/RL's Majlis podcast.

About Central Asia in Focus

An authoritarian tide is sweeping through Central Asia, resulting in political repression and a stark retreat in civil liberties. Central Asia in Focus, a bi-weekly newsletter, focuses on key events shaping the course of the region. Author Bruce Pannier shares personal insights informed by his three decades of experience covering Central Asia, and tells his readers what may come next.

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