Opening Address by Kassym-Jomart Tokayev, Chairman of the Senate of the Parliament of the Republic of Kazakhstan, at Singapore Forum 2016

Dear Mr Wong Kan Seng,

Distinguished participants of the Forum.


1. It is my great pleasure to visit this magnificent city where I started my diplomatic career over 40 years ago.

2. One year ago the world community bid farewell to the nation’s founding father Lee Kuan Yew. He devoted all his knowledge and energy to build prosperous Singapore, to ensure the quick and smooth transformation of the country from Third World to First.

3. Singapore is a brilliant example of a successful nation. Mr Lee Kuan Yew visited Kazakhstan back in 1991 and offered useful advice which was taken into account by the founder of modern Kazakhstan, Nursultan Nazarbayev.

4. As a multi-ethnic and multireligious country, we admire Singapore as a robustly developing country with a conducive investment climate, abundant financial resources and state-of-the-art technologies. Kazakhstan learns from the experience of Singapore.

5. Dear ladies and gentlemen, today we are discussing the future world, where the role of Asia is becoming increasingly salient. Being geographically located both in Asia and Europe, Kazakhstan considers itself to be a Eurasian state. Therefore, in my address I would like to focus on the Eurasian perspective.

6. Eurasia, being the backbone of the modern world, is undergoing sweeping transformation which will have far-reaching consequences for the entire world. There are four major transformations that I wish to single out.

7. Firstly, we witness the unprecedented transformation of Russia with which Kazakhstan shares the world’s longest land border. The new geopolitical posture of Russia has been shaped by the changing global landscape. Western sanctions have affected the Russian economy and caused tension in relations between Russia and the West, namely the US. As a result some experts argue that the world is sliding into a new Cold War.

8. Therefore Russia’s foreign policy has now shifted its focus to Asia, particularly to China. Sino-Russian relations in the economic and political spheres have become closer than ever before. The two nuclear powers share common views on all major international issues that are reflected in United Nations (UN) Security Council voting. Thirty years ago, amidst the Soviet-Chinese confrontation which nearly brought the two countries to a nuclear war, the situation which exists today could not even be perceived.

9. The strategic partnership between Russia and China is shaping a new global reality. Furthermore, any major global issue, such as the Ukraine, Syria, international terrorism and nuclear non-proliferation, cannot be addressed without the direct involvement of Russia which has strengthened its strategic position by having sent troops to Syria.

10. Although the partnership between Russia and China is strategic in its nature, it is wrong to assume that a new bloc is emerging. Both states have their own strategic interests and also realise the importance of cooperation with the West and certainly, with the US. The question is how to seek common ground with the US in the present very complex circumstances to tackle the most acute issues of the global agenda to meet the interests of the world community. The recent visit of the US Secretary of State to Moscow has proved this tendency.

11. In general we in Kazakhstan are against the bloc mindset as far as international relations are concerned and are committed to joint solutions to urgent problems. For obvious reasons, the strategic partnership and allied relationship with Russia are essential to Kazakhstan. Cooperation between the two neighbours is being enhanced in all areas. Meanwhile the US is a major investor in our economy particularly in the energy sector. China is also a very important partner of my country. Out of US$27 billion worth of Chinese investment in the Commonwealth of Independent States countries, US$23 billion were sent to Kazakhstan.

12. Secondly, with regard to the changing landscape in Eurasia, it is worth mentioning that serious transformation is taking place in China. The rise of the world’s second largest economy is ongoing, although at a slower pace. To prevent overheating of its economy, Beijing is encouraging domestic consumption, boosting innovation, initiating huge cooperation projects such as “One Belt, One Road”, the Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank, the Free Trade Area of the Asia Pacific, and the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation (SCO) Free Trade Zone. China has decided to give up outdated and environment-damaging industrial capacity to become a high-tech powerhouse. My assessment is that this strategic plan will be accomplished.

13. Beijing has emerged as an active global player. China’s role in Central Asia has been steadily increasing. Its presence is backed by plentiful financial resources that other countries cannot afford to provide nowadays. According to President Xi Jinping, China will promote “One Belt, One Road” as the main trade and investment project that will boost the Asian economy.

14. The political and economic rise of China, coupled with the US presence in Asia with its Trans-Pacific Partnership and territorial disputes in the South China Sea, generate speculations about geopolitical ambitions and a new rivalry between the two powers.

15. However, despite the enmity, both China and the US possess huge capacity to boost regional development. For Central Asian states, it is vitally important to find ways to combine trade and economic strategies of the leading powers. The synergy of these strategic projects will enable the region to offer an efficient and balanced model of global economic development to the world.

16. The role of Central Asia in global politics is growing. Blessed with enormous natural resources and at the same time being located close to conflict zones including Afghanistan, this region is becoming a pillar of the whole Eurasian continent. Central Asia lies at the intersection of great power interests. If twenty years ago the US dominated the region, Russia and China have over the past five years seriously increased their presence.

17. President of Kazakhstan Nursultan Nazarbayev put forward an idea of Great Eurasia that would embrace the Eurasian Economic Union (EEU), the Silk Road Economic Belt and the European Union (EU) as a single integration project of the 21st century. We expect that this idea will be widely discussed at the Astana Economic Forum this May.

18. The third transformation is taking place in the EU. A number of blatant terrorist acts, an unprecedented migration crisis, financial problems, and British confusion about its EU membership suggest that Europe will never be the same again and the Old Continent is entering an era of grave upheaval. However, the potential of the EU cannot be understated; it will be able to overcome predicaments since the EU is still attractive to its members and outsiders as an evolving institution.

19. The EU is the largest trade and investment partner of Kazakhstan. Three months ago we signed the Enhanced Partnership and Cooperation Agreement with the EU. This framework document encompasses a wide range of relations and is forward-looking. Certainly, we are not planning to join the EU and would rather pursue a pragmatic policy. Three days ago, Kazakhstan’s President visited Brussels and held meetings with top officials of the EU.

20. Fourthly, negative transformation is taking place in the Middle East. Syria, Libya and Yemen were in chaos for the last five years. The largest terrorist group in history, the so-called “Islamic State”, has appeared and strengthened its foothold.

21. Religious extremism is one of the main challenges not only in the Middle East, but also in other parts of the world. Unfortunately, this phenomenon has expanded worldwide. The fight against terrorism requires consolidated measures both on military and ideological fronts. International terrorism can undermine the world order. Therefore this issue should be a priority for all countries concerned. A global network to counter terrorism needs to be established under the UN auspices. This evil should not become normality in our daily life.

22. Kazakhstan is the host of the Congress of the Leaders of World and Traditional Religions, which offers its inclusive platform for political and religious leaders to engage in a dialogue to discuss the most pressing issues such as combating extremist and terrorist threats. It is essential to ensure efficient involvement of religious leaders in explaining the malignity of religious extremism. The upcoming conference, “Religions against terrorism”, in Astana will bring together members of many parliaments and representatives of world religions.

23. We believe that the end to Iran’s isolation is a positive factor in regional cooperation. Kazakhstan has been substantially contributing to the success of international negotiations on Iran’s nuclear programme. Two rounds of negotiations were held in our country. Their outcome was reflected in the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action on Iran’s nuclear programme. On 27 December 2015, in coordination with the P5+1, Iran, the International Atomic Energy Agency and the UN Security Council, Kazakhstan supplied 60 tons of natural uranium to Iran to compensate the shipment of low-enriched uranium from this country. Apart from that a low-enriched uranium fuel bank was established in Kazakhstan to encourage the peaceful use of nuclear energy.

24. A Nuclear Security Summit has just been held in Washington, DC, and was attended by the President of Kazakhstan and the Prime Minister of Singapore. Kazakhstan is a consistent advocate of comprehensive nuclear disarmament. 25 years ago, during the Soviet era, President Nursultan Nazarbayev signed a decree to close down the Semipalatinsk nuclear test site and our country voluntarily renounced its nuclear arsenal inherited from the Soviet Union, the fourth largest in the world. It was a unique case in international disarmament history. Therefore Kazakhstan has a firm stand on disarmament issues, in particular the North Korean nuclear programme.

25. We need to acknowledge that the Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons is not fully observed because of its ambiguities. Unfortunately, the proliferation of nuclear arms and its technology is a sad reality; these deadly weapons have already fallen into the hands of irresponsible politicians, and terrorists are next in line.

26. Regional cooperation to reverse negative trends in international security should be developed. We are closely watching the multifaceted activity of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) and believe that its experience is useful for Eurasian organisations.

27. My country initiated the EEU. The EEU is purely an economic project based on pragmatic approaches and shared interests.

28. Kazakhstan proposed to declare 2016 the year of enhanced economic ties of the EEU with other countries and regional organisations including ASEAN. Last year Vietnam signed a Free Trade Agreement with the EEU. Singapore is also keen to sign such an agreement. With the launch of the EEU, Asian companies establishing joint ventures in Kazakhstan will get access to five national markets embracing 180 million people and a Gross Domestic Product worth US$2.2 billion.

29. We believe that the SCO, comprising two permanent members of the UN Security Council – Russia and China, as well as Kazakhstan and other Central Asian countries, is an important institution. The SCO pursues a universal agenda including the fight against terrorism, religious extremism, separatism; economic, investment and humanitarian cooperation. This year the SCO is going to welcome India and Pakistan as its new members, which will give it additional political and economic weight.

30. Kazakhstan is convinced that the contradictions that exist between Asian countries should not impede the building of a continental system of security and cooperation. With this in mind, we initiated the Conference on Interaction and Confidence Building Measures in Asia. Its summit meetings of heads of state and government are convened every four years, and the recent one was successfully held in Shanghai. This forum has become a tangible factor in Asian security.

31. Our country is active in the Organisation for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE), spanning a vast region from Vancouver to Vladivostok. In 2010, following an interval of more than ten years, our capital Astana hosted the OSCE Summit which adopted the declaration proclaiming indivisible Eurasian security.

32. We believe that amidst global turbulence, all states regardless of their economic and military capacities should enhance the central role of the UN in global affairs. The erosion of the UN and international law may have a devastating effect on the modern world especially against the backdrop of growing terrorism. Kazakhstan proposed to convene a UN conference at the highest level to uphold the principles of international law to restore trust.

33. I would also like to say some words about the Silk Road Economic Belt project which was launched by President Xi Jinping during his visit to Kazakhstan in September 2013. It is a powerful geoeconomic strategy which aims to modernise transport infrastructure spanning the Pacific Ocean to Europe. Kazakhstan expressed its willingness to join this project and develop its own infrastructure development programmes. This year the Kazakh portion of the Western Europe-Western China highway, that is almost 2800 km long, will be built. We are also constructing a high-speed rail across Kazakhstan. The flow of containers on the China-Kazakhstan-Europe route has grown from 6,000 in 2013 to 48,000 in 2015, and is going to reach 95,000 this year. The number of trains passing along this route will increase to 1,100 in 2016 from 77 in 2013.

34. In 2015, Kazakhstan launched the “Nurly Zhol” (The Shiny Path) programme to develop transport, logistical, energy, industrial, tourism, housing and social infrastructure. The initial stage of this programme worth US$28 billion supports specific sectors including industry and agriculture, boosts exports and protects the domestic market. This project is also funded by the World Bank, the Asian Development Bank, the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development, and the Islamic Development Bank. Each year US$3 billion are transferred from the Kazakh National Fund to move the project forward.

35. By 2018, we will build and upgrade 9,000 km of motor roads and highways, construct a new seaport infrastructure on the Caspian Sea that will connect Kazakhstan with the Persian Gulf and the Black Sea. We are enhancing logistics hubs along the border with China. Last year a new Kazakhstan-Chinese logistics terminal was launched in the Lianyungang port.

36. Our response to the global economic crisis goes beyond the package of the abovesaid measures and infrastructure development projects. Last year we launched comprehensive institutional reforms aimed at ensuring the rule of law, boosting industrial development and economic growth, strengthening national unity as well as building transparent and accountable government. Our Parliament adopted 59 laws which among other things will further streamline foreign investment rules in the country. We call these reforms 100 Concrete Steps or the Plan of the Nation. We invite Singapore and other ASEAN member countries to explore Kazakhstan and to take part in Expo 2017 to be held in Astana under the theme “Future Energy”.

37. A new high-tech village including Expo pavilions is under construction now and when the exhibition is over it will accommodate the new Astana International Financial Centre. This Financial Centre, located midway between London and Singapore, will be based on English law, preferential tax treatment and an independent arbitration court. Our Parliament already passed a law on the Centre and some foreign experts including those from Singapore are helping us to launch it. If necessary, amendments to the Constitution are also to be made.

38. Yesterday I had very substantive talks with President Tony Tan Keng Yam, Speaker of the Parliament Madam Halimah Yacob and Emeritus Senior Minister Goh Chok Tong. In general, we share common views on acute global issues. Kazakhstan is committed to enhance its multifaceted cooperation with Singapore.

39. In conclusion, I wish every success to the Forum participants.

40. Thank you for your attention.

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