By Nurimbetov Rakhmatulla Ibragimovich
The followings are excerpts from an article contributed by Independent Researcher Nurimbetov Rakhmatulla Ibragimovich at the University of World Economy and Diplomacy in Uzbekistan through the Embassy of Uzbekistan in Seoul.—Ed.
With the election of Shavkat Mirziyoyev as President of the Republic of Uzbekistan in December 2016, fundamental changes have occurred in the country's foreign policy .
The most serious modification has undergone primarily a regional direction of Uzbek diplomacy. President Sh. M. Mirziyoyev identified Central Asia as the main foreign policy priority. Further strengthening stability, cooperation, good neighborhood policy and solution of existing disagreements with surrounding countries have become the main objectives of the new regional strategy of Tashkent.
At the same time, important changes in Uzbekistan's foreign policy are reflected in its multilateral diplomacy as well. In recent years, Tashkent has significantly intensified its participation in international and regional platforms. One of the concrete results was, in particular, the country's election to the UN Human Rights Council for the period 2021-2023.
Moreover, conducting a pragmatic, open and effective foreign policy has been central issue in Address of the President of the Republic of Uzbekistan Shavkat Mirziyoyev to Parliament and the people of Uzbekistan, December 29, 2020.
A growing emphasis on multilateralism has become a characteristic feature of Uzbek diplomacy in recent years. This is largely due to the specifics of the geopolitical processes around Central Asia, Tashkent's desire to play a proactive role in contributing to the regional affairs, as well as the rapidly changing global situation and increasing uncertainty in international relations.
One of the multilateral structures of great importance in the Central Asian region is the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO), established in the Chinese city of Shanghai on June 15, 2001.
If we analyze the activities of Tashkent in recent years within the framework of this Organization, the following new "accents" can be identified.
First, for Uzbekistan, the SCO should continue to remain an important multilateral platform, primarily in ensuring stability and broad cooperation in and around Central Asia. Tashkent is convinced that, despite the expansion of the Organization in 2017 at the expense of India and Pakistan, Central Asia remains the "geographical axis" of the SCO.
Explicit "regional accent" can also be seen in Uzbekistan's intention to increase the attention of the SCO to Afghan problems in the context of more active involvement of Kabul in regional processes. In other words, the "regionalism" of Uzbekistan's new foreign policy is clearly expressed in its renewed "SCO Strategy".
In this context, it is noteworthy that President Sh. Mirziyoyev voiced the idea of convening the “Central Asia and South Asia: Regional Connectivity. Challenges and Opportunities” during the SCO video summit on November 10, 2020.
This indicates that Tashkent is strongly interested in using the SCO platform to involve Afghanistan in regional affairs and thus create favorable preconditions for stabilizing and ensuring peace in this country. The efforts of the Uzbek leadership to build a trans-Afghan railway route, which will open the way from Central Asia to South Asia through Afghanistan, are also aimed at this.
Second, there is a significant increase in constructivism in Tashkent's approaches to the SCO. Obviously, there is a change to those thematic areas from which the country had previously distanced itself. Recently, representatives of the Republic have participated in joint anti-terrorist and military exercises held in the SCO.
Accordingly, Uzbekistan has acceded to the Agreement on the Procedure for Organizing and Conducting Joint Counter-Terrorist Exercises of the Shanghai Cooperation Organization Member States of August 28, 2008 and the Agreement on the Conduct of Joint Military Exercises of the Shanghai Cooperation Organization Member States, signed on June 27, 2007.
Third, pragmatism is becoming a well-demonstrated element of multilateral diplomacy in Uzbekistan , as well as within the SCO. The proposals put forward by Tashkent to expand multilateral cooperation are in line with the national interests of the country on the one hand, the priorities of strengthening stability and cooperation in the region, on the other.
Fourth, when implementing the new strategy towards the SCO, Tashkent, recognizing the many achievements in its evolution, advocates the effective use of the enormous potential of multilateral cooperation of the SCO countries in various fields.
Another special feature of the new course of Uzbekistan towards the SCO is its initiative to form the agenda of the Organization at the present stage of its development.
At the SCO Summits in 2017-2020 President of the Republic of Uzbekistan Shavkat Mirziyoyev put forward a number of important proposals aimed at unlocking the transport and transit potential of Central Asia and the entire SCO space, strengthening cooperation in tourism, innovative and digital development, supporting the young generation, the movement of public diplomacy as an effective tool for strengthening friendship and mutual understanding between nations, the development of digital cooperation, the fight against the economic consequences of the COVID-19 pandemic, and the further strengthening of cooperation to ensure regional security.
All of them are designed to achieve practical results from multilateral interaction, which is of paramount importance in the current conditions of the development of geopolitical and economic processes in Eurasia.
To date significant progress has been made in the practical implementation of many proposals. On the initiative of Tashkent, new cooperation platforms were launched within the SCO - the SCO Public Diplomacy Center in Uzbekistan (2018) and the mechanism of the Meeting of Heads of Railway Administrations (2018).
The "Roadmap" for cooperation between research institutions of the member states, the Program on interregional cooperation, the Concept of cooperation in the field of digitalization and information and communication technologies, the Concept of interaction between the railway administrations (railways) of the SCO member states were developed and adopted.
Currently, together with SCO partners, the Uzbek side is working on the development of the following documents and programs:
(1) Strategy for cooperation between member states on development, interconnectedness, effective economic and transport corridors,
(2) Concept for interaction between member states in the field of "smart" agriculture and the introduction of agroinnovations,
(3) "Green Belt” program aimed at introducing of modern resource-saving and environmentally friendly technologies,
(4) Program of interaction on information security.
At the same time, like many other international structures, at this stage the SCO is facing certain challenges, including the problem of its adaptation to fundamental changes taking place in the area of its responsibility and the world as a whole.
Indeed, the pandemic will also have an impact on shaping the future SCO agenda. Avoiding a split within the Organization should be a common and priority task in this difficult period.
On the contrary, it is necessary to fill the activities of the SCO-8 with new content, expand its agenda through such promising areas as the creation of interregional transport and transit corridors, innovative and digital development, the search for new points of economic growth, consolidation of efforts of the member states in the fight against climate and environmental threats.
Uzbekistan is interested and ready to make its constructive contribution to the formation of a new SCO agenda in order to increase its practical relevance and strengthen its international authority.
It is expected that these and other strategic tasks will be among the priorities of Uzbekistan's chairmanship in the SCO in 2021-2022.