The Central Asia Regional Economic Cooperation (CAREC) Institute held a reception in Beijing in conjunction with the Belt and Road Development Forum on 21 June 2019 to host distinguished guests represented by Ambassadors and diplomats of CAREC member countries in the People’s Republic of China (PRC), representatives of international development organizations and think tanks based in the PRC, and prominent government and public officials of the PRC, including Ms. Zou Jiayi, Vice Minister of Finance of the PRC.
The Director of the CAREC Institute expressed his gratitude to the audience and fostered a renewed commitment of the Institute to serve capacity building, research, networking, and advocacy needs of the member states to facilitate cooperation and sustainable development.
Keynote speeches were delivered by Excellences Ambassadors of Azerbaijan and Georgia, diplomats from Pakistan and Uzbekistan, Vice Minister of Finance of the PRC, and representatives of the Xinjiang Uygur and Inner Mongolia Autonomous Regions of the PRC.
Excellences Ambassadors of Azerbaijan and Georgia emphasized deepening strategic partnership between their countries and the PRC, favorable geostrategic location of these Caucasian countries at the crossroads between Europe and Asia, and the importance of the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) which both of them viewed not only as a platform for cooperation which brings economic dividends but also an important mechanism to enhance people-to-people contact, tourism, cultural exchange, and serve the cause of stability, security and peace in Eurasia.
His Excellency Ambassador of the Embassy of Azerbaijan Mr. Akram Zeynalli stated that Azerbaijan has been a partner of the CAREC Program since 2003. More than USD 5.88 billion have been invested in 22 transport, energy, and trade projects in Azerbaijan through this Program. Mr. Akram Zeynalli thanked the CAREC Institute for providing evidence-based research, capacity building services and networking with research institutions. Supporting CAREC Program with relevant knowledge through research and providing it with accurate guidance. He stressed he is quite confident that CAREC Institute will assist the partner countries to determine correct paths toward development, prosperity and stability.
His Excellency Ambassador of the Embassy of Georgia Mr. Archil Kalandia elaborated on the Trans-Caspian Railway Transport Corridor which has a tremendous potential as it reduces significantly the shipment time compared with the maritime route. He added that Europe and the PRC have exchanged 132 containers in 2016 through Georgia’s seaports and the new Baku-Tbilisi-Kars railway link. This number has been growing exponentially every year. Additionally, to highlight successful regional cooperation, the Ambassador mentioned that regular railway shipments from the port of Lianyungang to Istanbul will attract more cargo to the Trans-Caspian Transport Corridor.
The Ambassador Kalandia emphasized the favorable investment climate in Georgia and listed a growing number of the PRC investments in his country. He elaborated that utilization of the country’s transit potential is one of the priorities of the Government of Georgia. In this regard, modernization of the Georgian railway is currently underway to double the annual capacity from 28 to 48 million tons, while reducing the shipping time and operating expenses. Moreover, East-West Highway project, expansion of Poti port, and construction of Anaklia deep sea port are underway. The Ambassador concluded that Georgia, as a bridge connecting the European and Asian markets, prioritizes its engagement in BRI, and will host the third Belt and Road Forum in Georgia later in 2019.
The Counsellor of the Embassy of Pakistan Mr. Asim Ali Khan congratulated the CAREC Institute on achieving the full legal status of an international organization in the PRC, and thanked the PRC for hosting the Institute in Urumqi – “the heart of the Silk Road.”
He highlighted that Pakistan is improving its national road corridors which serve as routes to the Middle East and South Asia for the country’s northern neighbors. With the support from the CAREC Program and Institute, stronger ties with northern neighbors have enabled Pakistan to import enough energy to refill its shortage in electricity supplies. In return, Pakistan offers the landlocked CAREC partners access to its warm water ports in the Arabian Sea.
Pakistan’s location at the crossroads of Central, South, and Southwest Asia makes it ideally suited to become a hub of economic activity. The country can provide better connections between the Middle East and the interior transport corridors through its sea ports to enhance regional cooperation.
The Minister Counsellor of the Embassy of Uzbekistan Mr. Batir Tursunov stressed the importance of the CAREC Program and Institute as an open and inclusive platform for regional cooperation. Since establishment of this platform, he said, cooperation trends have been positive, expressed, for example, through the joint communiqué on the “Central Asian Connectivity” which elevates inter-state relations in the Central Asia at a qualitatively new level.
He elaborated on the economic value of the new planned corridors: PRC – Central Asia – West Asia, PRC – Kyrgyzstan – Uzbekistan, Mazari – Sharif – Kabul – Peshawar railway, and provided estimates of job creation, revenue generation, container transportation cost reduction, and tourist attraction through these corridors. They are to unlock the transit potential of the Central Asia which is currently underutilized. Moreover, he reasoned these routes could be linked with the flagship PRC – Pakistan economic corridor Belt and Road project to enhance economic activity.
The Minister Counsellor Tursunov highlighted the common risk facing all Central Asian countries regarding water scarcity and stressed the importance of promotion of the “green economy” and “smart agriculture.” He further expanded that abundant regional opportunities exist in tourism with hundreds of Central Asian cultural assets on the protected world heritage list. In this regard, he proposed to hold annual tourism forums in our countries.
The PRC Vice Minister of Finance Ms. Zou Jiayi thanked the CAREC Institute for past work and thoughtful plans, and elaborated how much importance the PRC government attaches to regional cooperation. She recalled how the government facilitated the headquarter agreement and acquisition of the full international inter-governmental organization legal status of the CAREC Institute.
Ms. Zou Jiayi highlighted that the policy dialogue with the CAREC member countries needs to be strengthened, and the Institute shall aim at high-quality policy consultation and flagship knowledge products and services to facilitate regional integration. She explained expectations of the government that partnership network should be expanded to strengthen cooperation with international, multilateral development organizations, and think tanks both in and outside the region to enhance influence.
Ms. Zou Jiayi made institutional improvement recommendations which shall conform to the modern digital age. She highlighted that the CAREC Institute’s Think Tank Development Forum had a huge potential and suggested its targeted development. The Vice Minister stressed importance of continued cooperation with the member countries and the Asian Development Bank (ADB), and underlined that the CAREC Institute shall play a critical role as a bridge between the CAREC mechanism and the BRI.
Member of the CPC Standing Committee of Inner Mongolia Autonomous Region, Executive Vice chairman of the People’s Government of Inner Mongolia Autonomous Region, Mr. Ma Xuejun congratulated the CAREC Institute on signing the headquarter agreement with the PRC, and recalled many joint forums and dialogues conducted in cooperation with the Institute. He expressed hope about future cooperation prospects in areas of trade, energy, transport, agriculture, and animal husbandry.
Member of the CPC Leadership Group of Xinjiang Uygur Autonomous Region Government and Director General of Finance Department of the People’s Government of Xinjiang Uygur Autonomous Region, Mr. Wan Haichuan thanked the CAREC Institute for its contribution to the economic development of the Xinjiang Uygur Autonomous Region. Since the establishment of the Institute’s physical base in Urumqi in 2015, numerous workshops, forums, and policy dialogues have been conducted, and partnerships concluded which have benefited the region tremendously. Mr. Wan expressed his readiness to continue provision of support and facilitate favorable working environment for the Institute and its staff. He highlighted further cooperation areas where efforts need to intensify, namely: cooperation with the economic and social department of the region, more communication between the region and member countries, improved policy coordination, better connectivity among trade and logistical facilities, more targeted products under mandated areas, facilitation of free trade, financial integration, and people-to-people bond.
The reception and the forum concluded with participants quoting the great Confucius: “when the paths are different, people don’t make plans together,” however, in CAREC, we have joint plans and projects as the path to sustainable development is one.
The CAREC Institute is an intergovernmental organization dedicated to promoting economic cooperation in the Central Asia and along the Silk Road through knowledge generation and sharing. The Institute is headquartered in Urumqi, Xinjiang Uygur Autonomous Region, PRC.
The CAREC Institute is jointly shared, owned, and governed by eleven CAREC member countries: Afghanistan, Azerbaijan, the PRC, Georgia, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Mongolia, Pakistan, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan, and Uzbekistan. It is a knowledge support arm of the CAREC Program which is a proactive facilitator of practical, results-based regional projects, and policy initiatives critical to sustainable economic growth and shared prosperity in the region, guided by the overarching vision of “Good Neighbors, Good Partners, and Good Prospects.”