Kazakhstan’s Tokayev first Central Asian President to deliver Singapore Lecture

Optimism prevails at the Singapore lecture as President Tokayev makes history

Optimism prevails at the Singapore Lecture as President Tokayev makes history as the first Central Asian President to deliver the Singapore Lecture (PMO – Singapore)

SINGAPORE: Singapore and Central Asia countries should work closely together in areas of mutual interest, a senior Singaporean minister has said.

Addressing the 46th Singapore Lecture, Senior Minister and Coordinating Minister for National Security Teo Chee Hean welcomed the visit of Kazakhstan President Kassym-Jomart Tokayev to the island country and stressed the significance of bolstering ties between the two countries and wider regions.

“While Kazakhstan and Singapore are in different regions, there is scope for Association of South East Asian Nations (ASEAN) and the five Central Asian states (or C5) to work together in areas of mutual interest,” he said.

“We share a common desire to promote an open and inclusive rules-based global order. COVID-19 has also demonstrated the need for greater cooperation across regions to tackle serious global challenges, including climate change and future pandemics.”

Teo Chee Hean stressed that differences should not be an impediment oto developing relations and cooperation.

“On the surface, Kazakhstan and Singapore could not be more different. Kazakhstan is a huge country with an enormous land mass. It has so much resources and is land-locked. Singapore is so small; we have no resources and we are an island,” he said.

“But, in many ways, we do have commonalities. Singapore has to deal, as a small country, with bigger neighbors in our region. Kazakhstan is so big, but it has even bigger neighbors to deal with. So, we understand each other quite instinctively. While Kazakhstan is landlocked, it sits along major land routes in Eurasia. We are an island, and we sit along maritime routes.”

In his speech, the Sinhaporean senior president said that Kazakhstan is the world’s 9th largest country in terms of land area and is the largest economy in Central Asia.

“It is an emerging Middle Power, with over 20 million people and GDP per capita of about US$11,500. Kazakhstan has a young demographic profile with half of the population below the age of 30. It is rich in natural resources, including oil, natural gas, and various ores,” he said.

“Kazakhstan is strategically located at the heart of Eurasia, connecting China in the East with Europe to the West. 80% of China’s overland trade with Europe transits through Kazakhstan. It was no coincidence that when President Xi Jinping announced the Belt and Road Initiative in September 2013, he did so in Astana, the capital of Kazakhstan.”

Since then, Kazakhstan has developed the Trans-Caspian International Transport Route, or Middle Corridor, to boost its standing as a transit hub. In the past three decades, Kazakhstan received 70% of the foreign direct investment (FDI) inflows to Central Asia, valued at some US$431 billion, he added.

“Kazakhstan also has a rich history and incredible natural beauty. Kazakh culture combines its nomadic heritage with the Eastern and Western influences that flowed through the Silk Road. I witnessed this first hand in 2018 when I travelled by train across Central Asia on a ten-day private trip that ended in Almaty, a beautiful city. It was a fascinating journey.”

Making history as the first Central Asian President to deliver the Singapore Lecture, Tokayev highlighted the reasons for Kazakhstan’s neutrality in foreign policy.

“Kazakhstan maintains neutrality in foreign policy, and this is a conscious choice that is a strength of the state,” Tokayev was quoted as saying in his “Kazakhstan and the Role of Middle Powers: Promoting Security, Stability, and Sustainable Development” lecture.

He said that in January 2024, the German Institute for International and Security Affairs included Kazakhstan among the middle powers of the world for the first time.

“Kazakhstan will remain open and connected with the world, promoting the foreign policy course of “Kazakhstan committed to globalization,” Tokayev said at the lecture followed by representatives from academic circles, political analysts, diplomats, and young scientists.

“Only in this way can we succeed in this new era of prolonged uncertainty. As a result, we cannot afford to be complacent and passive. By remaining open to the world, we stay vigilant and proactive in countering external challenges. We will never hesitate to defend the legitimate rights and interests of Kazakhstan, let alone sacrifice our core interests,” he said.

Tokayev noted that “sometimes Kazakhstan’s position is “met with skepticism and criticized for its neutrality.”

“However, neutrality should not be mistaken for lack of conviction. On the contrary, it is a conscious choice in favor of diplomacy and dialogue, not conflict and coercion. This choice is our strength, allowing us to help bridge deep divisions – from territorial disputes to ideological conflicts,” said.

Tokayev cited Kazakhstan’s efforts in facilitating the peace process between Azerbaijan and Armenia, mediating the Iranian nuclear program, the Astana process for resolving the Syrian conflict, and the recent deployment of the first independent peacekeeping contingent in the Golan Heights under a UN mission.

However, he stressed that Kazakhstan would always remain vigilant to confront challenges and ensure the defense of its rights and interests.

“Being open to the world, we remain vigilant and proactive in defending ourselves against external challenges. We will never hesitate to defend Kazakhstan’s legitimate rights and interests, let alone sacrifice our core interests. Our approach is sometimes viewed with skepticism – criticized for our neutrality. However, neutrality need not be mistaken for a lack of conviction. Instead, it is a deliberate choice to prioritize diplomacy and dialogue over conflict and coercion. This choice is our strength, uniquely positioning us to help bridge deep divides, from territorial disputes to ideological conflicts,”

In September 2022, Tokayev had affirmed Kazakhstan’s neutrality in foreign policy.

“We consider it extremely important to strengthen the principles of justice in international relations, non-interference in internal affairs, respect for sovereignty, and territorial integrity of the state,” he said then.

Tokayev responded positively to the call for closer ties between ASEAN and Central Asia countries.

“In my view, the notion of the ‘overlapping circles of friends’ that Singapore is voicing for a more open and inclusive regional architecture in the ASEAN area, is quite relevant for Central Asia as well,” he said.

“It is for this reason that Central Asia took the lead to establish a network of the C5 + mini-lateral cooperation mechanisms. We intend to work together with all stakeholders to address the pressing regional agenda.”

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