UZBEKISTAN’S FOREIGN POLICY SETS OBJECTIVES FOR THE DEVELOPMENT OF CENTRAL ASIA
Sergey Zhiltsov, Ph.D. (Political Science), Head of the Department of Political Science and Political Philosophy of the Diplomatic Academy of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Russia, Professor of the People’s Friendship University of Russia, Research fellow at the Sergey Witte University of Moscow (Moscow, Russian Federation)
Since Uzbekistan had gained independence, it has been pursuing an active foreign policy, laying claim to a leading position in Central Asia and simultaneously developing its relations with Russia and the U.S. However, the lack of progress in the resolution of the key regional problems with Central Asian countries, the exacerbation of differences with Western countries and Russia have led Tashkent to reconsider its foreign policy priorities. As a result, Uzbekistan’s main attention was turned to the implementation of trade, economic and transportation projects within Central Asia, limiting cooperation with extra-regional states.
Since the late 2016, Uzbekistan’s foreign policy began to undergo significant change. The change was linked to the victory in the elections secured by Shavkat Mirziyoyev, who had set the new national foreign policy priorities. First and foremost, the major changes affected the relations with Central Asian countries. Tashkent’s conflicts with its regional neighbors became a thing of the past. Uzbekistan restored bilateral relations with Central Asian countries, initiated the expansion of trade and economic cooperation and the development of regional interaction.
The need for alterations in foreign policy was dictated by the increase in the number of unresolved issues in the relations with Central Asian states, most significantly, in the water energy sphere. For Uzbekistan, which depends heavily on water resources that enter the country via trans-border water courses, it is crucial to resolve water-related issues. The new head of Uzbekistan decided to avoid resolving this problem with a confrontational approach to its regional neighbors. He proposed a number of integrative initiatives aimed at developing interaction mechanisms in the water energy sphere, which would take the interests of all the parties involved into account. In addition, Uzbekistan expanded the interaction in the transportation sphere, which determines the country’s prospects in regard to entering external markets.
The changes in Uzbekistan’s foreign policy were related to the need for economic development and resolution of regional problems. Ambitious tasks are only attainable if an export-oriented economy is created, and the products of this economy should gain additional opportunities to enter external markets. Uzbekistan’s plans to liberalize the foreign trade regime and modify the currency regulation sphere were linked to the above.
Uzbekistan expanded its interaction with extra-regional actors, establishing a new mode of relations with Russia, the U.S., the EU and China. The new foreign policy course is aimed at resolving economic problems, attracting Western countries’ investments and obtaining access to external markets for Uzbekistan-made products.
Uzbekistan’s ambitious plans have already affected the political climate in Central Asia. Multilateral meetings of the heads of regional states, discussion of integration initiatives aimed at resolving regional problems testify to the interest invested by all of the region’s countries in a new approach to establishing relations. Uzbekistan’s foreign policy vector creates additional conditions for resolving regional problems and may lead to the formation of an entirely new balance of power in Central Asia in the future.
Keywords: Uzbekistan, Central Asia, foreign policy, integration projects, water resources.