Image credit via The Hill
BY KASSYM-JOMART TOKAYEV
I am immensely proud to be travelling to New York to head Kazakhstan’s delegation to the United Nations General Assembly. It will be my first visit as president but I am, of course, no stranger – as a former foreign minister – to either the United States or the UN, where I served as under-secretary general.
I hope this experience will be valuable as I work to build on the legacy of our first president, Nursultan Nazarbayev, who led our country with such distinction. It is my task as his successor to continue the remarkable progress he made both domestically and in Kazakhstan’s contribution internationally.
Indeed, my election in June underlines how far our country has come over the last 30 years. After President Nazarbayev decided to step down earlier this year, the peaceful transfer of power and competitive elections show both that democracy has taken root and that the desire of the Kazakh people is for continued development. It is a goal I am determined we will reach.
In my first State of the Nation address earlier this month, I put an emphasis on accelerating political reform and on improving human rights and the quality of life. I set out the ambition of a truly modern state which is both accountable and responsive to the needs of its citizens. My intention is to build up a state that listens but also, what is more important, hears the voices of its citizens.
The new National Council of Public Trust, which has representatives from across Kazakhstan’s society, has been established to help build a genuine dialogue about the further path of reforms.
Building a more responsive state is also important for our goals to speed up economic development and spread prosperity widely. Our economy – and the standard of living of our people – has been transformed over the last three decades. But I believe the continued growth and modernization of our economy cannot be sustained without continued political reform and the active involvement of all our people in decision-making.
A major factor, too, in the transformation of our economy into the most successful in Central Asia has been Kazakhstan’s openness to foreign investment and partnership. I want to improve the investment climate further and make sure our international partners feel secure and comfortable doing business in our country.
These partners include more than 700 American companies which rightly see Kazakhstan as the region’s commercial hub. They include Nasdaq and Goldman Sachs, which have become shareholders in the Astana International Exchange. Major American tech companies have joined Kazakhstan’s efforts to usher our country into the fourth Industrial Revolution.
These business links have strengthened since the Enhanced Strategic Partnership between our two countries was signed in January 2018. Last year the inflow of U.S. investment in the Kazakh economy increased by 45 percent. I want to see more American companies and investors engaged in an economy and business climate already unmatched in our region and which a series of recent financial studies have found is heading in the right direction.
The links between our two countries, of course, go far beyond the economy. We have built a close partnership with the U.S. and cooperated closely on many important foreign policy issues. This will not change. Under my leadership, Kazakhstan will continue the constructive, balanced and independent foreign policy we have followed so successfully over the last three decades.
It is an approach which has at its heart a determination to promote peace, dialogue and cooperation wherever we can and to deepen the connections between our region and the wider world. Strongly committed to a better future for Central Asia, Kazakhstan offers cooperation with its partners and allies in trade, investment, communication, infrastructure and security. Through geography and our values, Kazakhstan is uniquely positioned to act as a bridge between East and West – a responsibility we take very seriously. Kazakhstan has, for example, actively supported the reconstruction of Afghanistan through mediation, investment and aid programs. The Astana International Financial Center (AIFC) is also helping spread prosperity across the region.
On the global stage, we will continue to argue for the widest possible dialogue to tackle global problems and to champion the cause of nuclear non-proliferation. After voluntarily giving up the nuclear arsenal we inherited from the Soviet Union, Kazakhstan has shown that security and influence do not depend on these weapons. We use our experience to encourage other countries to follow our lead and to work toward a world which will eventually be free of nuclear weapons.
Unfortunately, the collapse of the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty risks leading the world again down the path of nuclear proliferation. Through multilateral talks, building trust and continued cooperation with international partners, we can reverse this trend and, in time, eventually eliminate this threat to humanity’s survival. We will do all we can to encourage dialogue, ease suspicions and build confidence on this and other global challenges.
Kazakhstan is entering a new era – one of reform and continued progress. I am confident, with the help of our allies and partners, that our country has a bright future and will continue to be a force for good in the world.
Kassym-Jomart Tokayev became president of Kazakhstan on March 20. He previously was chairman of the national Senate from 2007 to 2011 and from 2013 until ascending to the presidency. He was Kazakhstan’s prime minister from 1999 to 2002 and director-general of the United Nations’ office in Geneva, 2011 to 2013.