Policy Paper No. 9 – Cultural and other relations – Mapping strategies of Russia, USA and China towards Central Asia

Posted on

Policy Paper No. 9 describes the cultural relationship between the five Central Asian states and the three world powers, here defined as Russia, China and the United States. The paper focuses on several issues like a shared identity, cultural influences or financial support to cultural activities.

Russia’s cultural influence in the region was and still is the strongest, greatly affected by the common Tsarist and Soviet heritage. The overall level of proficiency of Russian in Central Asia is relatively high and institutions like “The Russki Mir Fund” (Russian World Found) are implementing networks of “Russian centers” which seek to increase the access to and practice of Russian cultural heritage and Russian education. Furthermore, there is a Russian media strategy with the potential to influence the Central Asian societies, due to their mentioned knowledge of the Russian language. There are also considerable amounts of ethnic Russian in the five countries, varying from 20 percent of the population in Kazakhstan to 0.5 percent in Tajikistan.

China is trying to decrease the Russian influence in the region by widen their own “soft power”. The main instruments to reach this goal are educational programs, Confucius Institutes, mass media and Chinese public funds. While the Russian language is already highly common in Central Asia, China started a special base for the dissemination of the Chinese language in neighbouring countries in 2010. Added to this, the Confucius institutions are expanding the possibilities of Chinese education in the region. Although there is a growing impact of the Chinese cultural influence, there is still a fear in Central Asia of losing land via sales to China and scepticism towards Chines migrants.

After the end of the “Cold War”, the United States helped the Central Asian countries with their transition to market economics and with the idea of democratic political systems. Nevertheless, most of the efforts of the U.S. government towards Central Asia are interest driven, for example referring to energy resources or security issues. Despite there is a sense for the attractiveness of the Western model of development in the region, a missing common cultural heritage between the USA and Central Asia has led to a small cultural influence.

In summary, Russia’s cultural influence remains strong in Central Asia, even if the government in Bejings is trying to increase the Chinese influence. Except the noticeable acceptance for the American way of life, the cultural impact of the United States is, compared to Russia and China, quite low.

Did you know?

All three world powers (Russia, China and the United States) have formal and informal approaches to establish, support and strengthen their “soft power” in Central Asia through instruments of cultural ties with the Central Asian countries.

World powers’ “soft power” in CA

Since 2010, there is a special base for the dissemination of Chinese language in the neighbouring countries, and this trend will continue to dominate.

Dissemniation of Chinese language

It is considered that almost every fourth international student in Russia comes from Kazakhstan.

International students Kazakhstan

Moreover, the quality of Chinese education is recognized as not sufficiently high by the students and experts from Central Asia.

Chinese education in CA

The Russki Mir Fund (“Russian World Fund”) is the most important Russian cultural organisation in the region.

Russki Mir Fund

The coverage of Central Asia by the U.S. media outlets is very limited.
(p. 7)

US Media in Central Asia

Policy Paper No. 8 – Cultural and other relations – Mapping Central Asia’s relations with other Asian states

Posted on

Cultural relations between Central Asian states and India, Japan, South Korea, Iran and Turkey mostly transpire through classic and modern culture imports, shared historical narrative, and cooperation in education. Whereas the ties with Turkey, South Korea and to a lesser extent Iran are particularly tight, cultural relations with India and Japan also exist. Due to linguistic and historical reason, the relations of Central Asia with Turkey are without a trace of doubt the most active ones.

The aforementioned powers have invested in cultural relationships with the Central Asian states, by means as varied as remarkable investment of the countries’ cinematic industries into Central Asia, the establishment of cultural centres and funding of educational institutions and scholarships. These actions have the ultimate aim to forge cultural ties with the Central Asian republics. The presence of foreign media outlets in these Central Asian countries, however, is significantly lower, leaving a more open space to non-Chinese or Russian sources of information and media.

The impact of the cultural ties between these countries on the political dimension remains unclear, although there are few close or intimate leadership links between the countries. Likewise, diaspora seem to do little in bringing significant value to bilateral relationships.

Did you know?

In contrast to the dominant Turkic people in the region, Tajiks like Iranians, belong to the Indo-European family of languages.


Most of the peoples of Central Asian speak Turkic languages.

Turkic languages in CA

India’s government has promoted the study of yoga and the Hindi language in Kyrgyzstan, materially supported Kyrgyz artists touring in India, and held days of Kyrgyz culture in India.

Promotion of Indian culture

As of 2010, 200,000 ethnic Koreans lived in Uzbekistan, making it the fourth largest Korean diaspora community after China, the U.S., and Japan.

Koreans in Uzbekistan

Kazakhstan’s capital, Astana, was designed by Japanese architect Kisho Kurokawa.

Astana designed

Policy Paper No 7 – Cultural and other relations – Mapping EU-Central Asia relations

Posted on

Policy Paper No.7 examines the ties between the EU and the five Central Asian countries (Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, Uzbekistan and Turkmenistan) in the field of higher education, culture and identity, and civil society. The paper shows that while the European Studies including the European languages have been long established at higher academic institutions in Central Asia, Central Asian Studies are still a rarity at European universities. A positive development is that the exchange of students and researchers between the two regions is intensifying through frameworks such as the EU’s “Central Asia Education Platform” (CAEP), the Erasmus+ programme and the network CAREN.

Furthermore, the paper describes the ethnic, linguistic and religious set-up of the five Central Asian countries paying attention to the history of the people living in those societies. The paper reveals that diversity and multiculturalism are significant characteristics of all Central Asian societies. Moreover, the cultural identity of the peoples living in Central Asia is strongly influenced by the respective environment and natural landscape. While the Tajik and Uzbek peoples, for example, have been strongly influenced by a mountainous way of life and animal herding, the Kyrgyz people have a strong nomadic tradition.

Last but not least, the paper displays how the stark differences in the social and political realities in the five Central Asian societies are strongly reflected in the amount of officially active civil society actors. In Kazakhstan, for example, 19.680 NGOs are registered today, whereas in Turkmenistan, only 13 NGOs can operate more or less freely. As the interest of Europeans towards Central Asia is gradually increasing, the cooperation between European and Central Asian civil society actors is slowly intensifying and more tourists from Europe are interested in visiting Central Asia as a holiday destination.

Did you know?

Existing tribal traditions and family ties continue to influence the political culture. All Central Asian countries’ leaders tend to surround themselves with elites from their regions and even hometowns.

Tribal and family ties

Foreign aid has been and continues to be an important source of financial support for local organizations in Central Asia.

Foreign aid supports local organisations

According to the various sociological researches, Tajiks and Uzbeks are the most religious and traditional nations in Central Asia.

Tajiks and Uzbeks most religious and traditional

The Tajik culture is also highly influenced by the experience of a mountainous way of life and animal herding. In all these dimensions, the Tajik culture is strongly intertwined with the Uzbek one.

Tajik culture

Within the framework of identity politics, Uzbekistan was one of the first post-Soviet countries which switched from Cyrillic to Latin alphabet, a decision that has not yet been implemented by Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan.

Cyrillic to Latin alphabet

Kyrgyz people try to save the nomadic traditions and customs, emphasizing their belonging to the nomadic civilization. Thus, Kyrgyzstan initiated the World Games of Nomads – an international competition in ethnic sports, based on the folk games of nomads of Central Asia – in 2014.

World Games of Nomads

Policy Paper No. 6 – Economic relations and trade – Mapping strategies of Russia, USA and China towards Central Asia

Posted on

Policy Paper No. 6 describes the economic and trade relations of Russia, USA and China with Central Asia. Besides the impact of bilateral agreements, the paper maps the influence of the world powers through regional institutions like, e.g., the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO) or the Eurasian Economic Union (EAEU).

All five countries in Central Asia are important trading partners for Russia although the trade relations are challenged by several circumstances like economic recession in Russia itself, Western sanctions caused by the Ukrainian crisis or problems within the EEU. Nevertheless, Russia remains among the top five trading partners for the Central Asian states just as the largest labour market for Central Asian migrants.

The economic role of the United States of America in Central Asia is completely different compared to Russia. There are only a few bilateral treaties on trade and investments and the interest in economic engagement is strongly co-opted by security issues and promoting democracy for the region. In summary, the US interest is declining as is the budget for economic assistance in Central Asia.

China’s economic strategy for Central Asia is not based on bilateral trade agreements. The government in Beijing focuses on so-called economic “deals”, the SCO and the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) – the  latter being the biggest investment project in the region. China has determined Central Asia as a region of great strategic significance because of several concerns from economic interests up to security interests.

All in all, the three world powers have different strategies and interests on economic relations towards Central Asia. While the Chinese BRI and other aspects challenge Russia’s otherwise powerful position, the U.S. interest remains small-sized.

Did you know?

Russia is among the top five trading partners for all Central Asian countries.

Russia in top five

Since the USA does not pursue major economic interests in Central Asia, its economic engagement with the region remains co-opted by security.

USA in Central Asia

There are no official bilateral trade agreements signed between China and a Central Asian State.

No bilateral trade agreements with China

Policy Paper No. 5 – Economic relations and trade – Mapping Central Asia’s relations with other Asian states

Posted on

Trade with India, Iran, Japan, South Korea and Turkey hold an underlinable economic relevance for the Central Asian republics. The way in which each of these Asian powers affect their economies, however, varies greatly from one another.

Whereas bilateral trade between the five Central Asian countries and the other aforementioned countries is clearly in favour of the latter ones, the weight of hydrocarbons trade aids at balancing to a certain extent for the benefit of the Central Asian countries.

The trade relationship with Turkey is arguably the most balanced one among all the listed countries, based on the energy and the construction sectors, and it also holds the highest number of labour migrants from Central Asia, although a majority of them illegally. Economic relations with South Korea and Japan are characterised by direct investment from those countries into the region, particularly on aid opportunities. India’s economic ties with the region are mainly based on the gas and oil sector, especially in Kazakhstan, while the trade relations with Iran are strongly constrained by the sanctions on Iran.

Additionally, in 1985 Iran, Turkey and Pakistan founded the Economic Cooperation Organization (ECO), which now includes the whole region and has its headquarters in Tehran. Nonetheless, so far it has done little to be emphasized.

Did you know?

At the end of 2016 a trade dispute arose between Iran and Turkmenistan, after Turkmengaz demanded from the neighbouring country to pay a debt of USD 1.8 billion for the use of Turkmen gas

Dispute between Iran and Turkmenistan

Currently, about 300,000 Uzbek migrants work in Turkey, most of them illegally

Uzbeks in Turkey

In Tajikistan there are around 900 Indians, of which 700 are medical students.

Indians in Tajikistan

Japan was the seventh largest donor of official development assistance to Tajikistan (more than 5 % of the total) and the eighth largest donor of official development assistance to Kyrgyzstan (almost 4 % of the total).

Japan ODA to Tajikistan

South Korea is working with Kazakhstan to build green growth and energy. In 2011, the two countries held a cooperation seminar between the Seoul Initiative on Green Growth and the Astana Green Bridge Initiative.

South Korea and Kazakhstan – Green Energy

Policy Paper No. 4 – Economic relations and trade – Mapping EU-Central Asia relations

Posted on

The paper describes the economic relations between the European Union and Central Asia since the introduction of the EU’s Central Asia Strategy in 2007. The mapping involves EU interests, PCAs, financial aid and agreements related to the economic cooperation. Bilateral ties between the five Central Asian countries and selected EU member states (Latvia, Italy, Finland, Germany, Poland and France) are portrayed with regard to trade agreements, imports and exports, investments, common projects, possible disputes and labour migration.

The paper also casts light on the structure and development of Central Asian countries’ economies as well as on the role of the EU in their external trade and investment relations. The mapping reveals that the EU has great importance for Central Asian economies while Central Asia is not a core economic partner region for EU countries hitherto. With regard to the bilateral economic relations, there is a number of common interests and a considerable potential for further intensification. This can be seen in the case of Kazakhstan, which is currently the key Central Asian trade partner for many EU member states.

“The promotion of the rule of law and fight against corruption are of crucial importance to developing a positive business climate and making the Central Asian states attractive as markets for trade and investment. More fundamentally, the stability and security in Central Asia are an undisputable prerequisite for economic activities in the region.”

Promotion of rule of law

“Kazakhstan is a key trading partner of the EU member states, while Uzbekistan is increasing its opportunities to boost economic cooperation with the EU.”

Kazakhstan as key trading partner

“While helping the newly independent states to transform into market economies was the initial objective of the EU’s policy towards the successor states of the Soviet Union, connecting Central Asia with Europe was a new priority in the 2007 strategy.”

EU-CA priority in 2007 strategy

Policy Paper No. 3 – Political and security relations – Mapping strategies of Russia, USA and China towards Central Asia

Posted on

The paper describes the political and security relations between the Central Asian countries on the one hand and the world powers, here defined as China, Russia and the USA on the other. In general, the logic of the political relations of the world powers towards the Central Asian countries reflect their interest in keeping the region stable and secure.

Russia outlines Central Asia as an area of strategic interest and priority for their foreign policy in their national security strategy. All Central Asian countries have predominantly positive relations with Russia, even though they are also cautious of Russia’s dominance in the region and in regional and international initiatives. Russia has a great number of bases and military objects and infrastructure in Central Asia. The Russian military cooperation with the Central Asian countries is extensive and part of the strategy to tackle the common security challenges in the region.

In their National Security Paper the United States of America do not address Central Asia separately but together with South Asia. The C5+1 Initiative provides the Central Asian countries and the USA a platform for dialogue for development and regional security concerns. The instability in Afghanistan has been a major factor/concern in the US foreign policy towards Central Asia. In the past 17 years the USA had two military bases in the region and the Central Asian countries (especially Uzbekistan) served as relatively secure route to supply and support the (military) operations in Afghanistan. After the withdrawal of American troops from Afghanistan, the USA has reduced its military and policy aid to the region, but supposedly pans to prioritize the assistance to the region again to tackle terrorism and drug trafficking. The States have criticized the Central Asian countries for human rights violations and poor political reforms in the past and classified Turkmenistan as a country of particular concern.

For China the Central Asian countries are crucial in safeguarding the country’s western borders and to ensure the stability of the region. The Central Asian countries are also featured in the “Belt and Road” Initiative of the Chinese government. All Central Asian countries have signed a good-neighbourliness treaty and strategic partnership agreements. Relations with Kazakhstan and Tajikistan were furthered deepened through a comprehensive strategic partnership agreement. The migration of violent extremists is of special concern for China. According to rumors China is therefore considering a military basis in Afghanistan to tackle this problem. China’s logic for its foreign policy for Central Asia is still unclear, apart from its promotion of the “Belt and Road” Initiative.

Nevertheless, it can be concluded that all world powers identify radicalization, violent extremism and terrorism as well as drug trafficking and the instability in Afghanistan as major security challenges in the Central Asian region.

Did you know?

After the withdrawal of American troops from Afghanistan, the originally American airbase Manas became a Russian military base.

Manas Airbase

The biggest Russian military base outside of their own territory is located in Tajikistan.
(p. 8)

Russian military in Tajikistan

The Chinese Head of State Xi Jinping meets the Kazakh president three to five times a year.

Chinese president and Kazakhstan

No US president has ever visited Central Asia.

US president in CA

Policy Paper No. 2 – Political and security relations – Mapping Central Asia’s relations with other Asian states

Posted on

The second SEnECA Policy Paper focuses on the political and security relations between the five Central Asian countries on the one hand, and India, Japan, Iran, Turkey and South Korea on the other. When talking about Central Asian countries’ relations with other powers, the focus is mostly laid on the EU, Russia or China. However, the five countries mentioned above describe a vital part of the regional power balance and should be mentioned. So, what are the issues that Central Asian countries collaborate on with India, Japan, Iran, Turkey and South Korea? Do these issues differ from country to country, or can patterns be found across the region?

Few of the countries examined have included one another in their national strategy papers, with the exception of Turkey. Ankara features prominently in the foreign policy strategies of all five of the Central Asian states. With deep historical ties, since their independence, Central Asian states have relied on Turkey’s assistance to enter international economic, financial and political multilateral organisations. The majority of Central Asian states have also supported Japan in its bid for a UN Security Council seat and vote alongside South Korea in UN votes.

Political ties are also underscored by shared security threats and challenges. The continued instability in Afghanistan, in particular, is a concern for countries in this region given that drug trafficking as well as the potential risks around radicalisation and terrorism remain a considerable challenge. Afghanistan is a particular driver of activity for India, Japan and South Korea.

Furthermore, Central Asian republics and South Korea have a similar understanding of responsibility for international security and stability in Asia. Central Asian states and the other Asian states covered in this paper have had few disputes. There has in the past been political tension between Turkey and several Central Asian states for a variety of reasons. Iran has had a variety of disputes over territorial boundaries and natural resources, as well as Iran’s nuclear programme and the resulting restrictions placed on Iran in the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), an agreement between the EU and Iran on curtailing Iran’s nuclear programme. Indeed, the Central Asian Nuclear-Weapon-Free Zone Treaty also ensured that the support for a country’s nuclear weapons programme was limited. Despite this, Iran has, by some countries, been used as a counterbalance to Russian influence in Central Asia.

Characteristics of Central Asian relations to their Asian Partners

“Central Asian states and South Korea provide mutual support to each other, particularly within the framework of the United Nations. Uzbekistan supports a bid of South Korea to the executive bodies of international organizations almost in all elections, following the principle of reciprocity.”
(p. 12)

Central Asia – South Korea

“With Turkish assistance, the Central Asian republics acquired membership in regional economic and political organizations such as the United Nations and Organisation for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE) in 1992.”
(p. 10)

Central Asia – Turkey

“The biggest common security risk between Iran and Central Asia is the war in Afghanistan and its spill-over effects, specifically drug trafficking and cross-border terrorism.” (p.1)

Central Asia – Iran

Japan supports the Central Asian Nuclear Weapon Free Zone Treaty and is in agreement with the Central Asian states when it comes to the necessity of nuclear disarmament and non-proliferation and the peaceful use of nuclear energy.”
(p. 6)

Central Asia – Japan

India views Central Asia as ‘a commercial bridge between South and Central Asia’. The biggest common security risks between the two regions are therefore instability in Afghanistan and the obstacle it poses to India’s trade with Central Asia, which relies on overland access.” (p.4)

Central Asia – India

Policy Paper No. 1 – Political and security relations – Mapping EU-Central Asia relations

Posted on

The paper describes the relations between the EU and selected EU member states on the one hand, and Central Asia on the other hand. In particular, it examines the priority given to Central Asia, the interests of the EU and the selected EU member states in the region, and trends of the development of these interregional relations.

The paper describes the complexity of the EU‘s Central Asia policy with regard to involved actors, priorities and instruments, which creates a considerable need for coordination within the EU. It uncovers the variations in terms of strategic priorities of and interests in cooperation between the partners in both regions.

On a EU level, the core issue of political and security relations is the ongoing update of the EU Strategy towards Central Asia against the backdrop of varying value attached to cooperation with the EU by the Central Asian states. Cooperation is based on regular political dialogues and includes topics as the promotion of good governance and human rights, the fight against terrorism and organized crime, and border management.

On the level of EU member states, relations and interest vary tremendously, while all examined EU member states were engaged in the region bilaterally. Kazakhstan turns out to be the most important cooperation partner for the EU member states covered in this paper.

Voices from Central Asia on the importance of the EU

“Uzbekistan attaches great importance to the development of mutually beneficial cooperation with the EU and European states. At the same time, special attention will be paid to the promotion of a higher level of bilateral relations with the leading states of Europe, in particular Germany, France, Great Britain, Belgium, Italy, Spain, Latvia and other countries.”

Statement by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Uzbekistan


Uzbekistan Foreign Policy

“In view of promoting development of the major areas of the national economy, Tajikistan acknowledges the European Union as one of its most important economic part-ners and will continue to seek expansion and deepening of the long-term sustainable cooperation with this influential interstate association on the basis of the principle of shared benefit. This interac-tion in general will embrace all European institutions, including the European Parliament, the Council of Europe, the European Investment Bank and other organizations and agencies.”

Concept of the Foreign Policy of the Republic of Tajikistan, 2015

Tajikistan Foreign Policy

“Kazakhstan will continue efforts to develop full-scale relations with the European Union – the largest economic, trade and investment partner of Kazakhstan.”

Foreign Policy Concept of the Republic of Kazakhstan for 2014-2020


Kazakhstan Foreign Policy

EU Strategy for Central Asia

"The EU and Central Asia: Strategy for a New Partnership", also called EU Strategy for Central Asia, was adopted by the European Union in 2007. The Strategy's main goal is building resilience in the region to ensure stability and peace. As part of the Strategy following key areas of cooperation of the EU and Central Asia were identified:

  • Human rights, rule of law, good governance and democratization
  • Youth and education
  • Economic development, trade and investment
  • Energy and transport
  • Water and environmental sustainability
  • Combating common threats and challenges
  • Intercultural dialogue

In 2017, ten years after the adoption of the EU Strategy for Central Asia, the European Council reaffirmed its committment to the continuance and deepening of the relationship with Central Asia. In order to keep the Strategy up to date and streamlined with the EU's Global Strategy and the UN's Sustainable Development Goals, the European Union is currently working on a renewed EU Strategy towards the Central Asian region, which is supposed to be adopted in 2019.

Read here the full text of the "The EU and Central Asia: Strategy for a New Partnership".