Another big conference on Central Asian democracy
20/06/2005, Yevgeniy Mikhaylov
An international business conference appeared to be quite contradictive.
Almaty cannot be surprised by a big scale international forum, but, nevertheless, the recent international business conference of the "Asia Society" became a very special event.
In some sense it does not have any precedents in the history of Kazakhstan.
The main significance of the conference is obviously political. Just a few months after the revolution in Kyrgyzstan and the slaughter in Uzbekistan, big businessmen, diplomats, public figures from a number of countries gathered here in Almaty, just a few hundred kilometres away from Bishkek and Andijan.
Isn't it the most efficient PR advertisement for Kazakhstan, moreover, natural one without any artificial show-offs? The entire Central Asian region can adjust its image thanks to the business conference at least partially: not everything is absolutely bad here, not all countries are being destabilised, there is successful development exemplified by Kazakhstan. Examples that can be in theory reproduced in the practices of the other states.
There is a reverse point of view on this big problem: justified concerns about a possible negative influence of the instability in the region on the development of our country. Many talked about it at the conference. President Nursultan Nazarbayev in an address to the participants touched upon the subject of providing stability in the region, strengthening the security system in Central Asia as one of foreign political priorities of Kazakhstan.
The conference organiser Richard Holbrook, famous US politician, ex-ambassador of the USA to the UN and the current chairman of the "Asia Society", stressed that dramatic political events in one of the post-Soviet republics could influence the others. But, nevertheless, the general trend of discussions at the conference still remained benevolent towards Kazakhstan, that is the regional instability has not damaged the image of our country abroad, in the world community.
The second important moment of the conference was the presence of the Kazakhstani opposition, who had an opportunity to participate in discussions and deliver their speeches.
It should be noted that the opposition used it to the full extent, but lost to the authority: from now on it cannot be accused of concealing interior problems of the country or "shutting up" its political opponents.
It was an unprecedented move in the Kazakhstani practice of international forums (except for those dedicated to development of media), and it proved to be efficient. Thus, the summary of the conference is, of course, an entire set of "advantages" for the image of the country and its authorities.
On the economic level the effect of the conference was less obvious, although the immediate payback in such cases arrives later. There were quite a few complicated questions and there were also serious disagreements, for instance, in estimating the total volume of direct foreign investments attracted to Kazakhstan during the independence years.
Some sources mentioned an amount of 40 billion USD, others, including John Ordway, US ambassador to Kazakhstan - 10 billion less. Although the essence does not change because of this small difference - anyway Kazakhstan remains leader, at least among CIS member states, on the volume of foreign investments per capita.
The main problem is not such discrepancies in financial and political statistics, but in the search of further ways to develop economy.
And, perhaps, that was exactly the "weak spot" of both the conference and the Kazakhstani development in general. And about other sectors of the economy not related with raw materials, even here it was spoken as about something supplementary. The name of the conference session at which they were discussed is quite characteristic - "Beyond energy resources: information technologies, processing and agricultural industries." That is, the energy resources remain the basis of the foreign business interests in our economy. A lot of time was traditionally dedicated to oil, gas, and their transportation to the foreign markets, although nothing new was actually said.
The most concrete information came from Vladimir Shkolnik, minister of energy, who said that the production of oil in Kazakhstan this year would only reach 60 million tons. The traditional "weak spot" in this subject is the discussion of different promising versions of export pipelines without mentioning any clear oil sources to fill them. But it was not a problem of that particular conference.
The theme of increasing commerce and investment co-operation in Central Asia was not abundant in concrete facts either.
The speaker on that subject was the interim vice premier of Kyrgyzstan and the most valuable part of his speech was a call to the Kazakhstani capital to continue investments into his country: no re-privatisation is expected there. A good promise, if only it were supported by facts of stabilisation in his country.
His proposition to the regional countries to come out to the Chinese market with their own goods to compete with the Chinese can be quoted as one of the conference's curiosities…