On 21-22 November 2022, the President of Uzbekistan, Shavkat Mirziyoyev, paid a visit to Paris, the capital of France. The visit is critical to the relationship between Uzbekistan and France in particular, and Central Asia and Europe in general. In this context, it is possible to examine the visit through two different lenses: the relations between Tashkent-Paris and the relations between Central Asia and Europe.
Tashkent and Paris Seeking Robust Cooperation
First of all, looking at the relations between Uzbekistan and France, it should be mentioned that Mirziyoyev’s visit took place within the framework of the “Uzbek-French Business Forum.” As is evident from this, Uzbekistan places a high value on the French capital in terms of foreign investments. As a matter of fact, the Minister of Investments and Foreign Trade of Uzbekistan, Jamshid Khodjaev, has clearly expressed the importance Tashkent attaches to this issue. In his statement, Khodjaev said that Uzbekistan is a trustworthy country with all the necessary infrastructure for foreign investors and that Uzbekistan is ready to provide the necessary facilities for French companies to establish an independent industrial zone. Similarly, the Chairman of the Uzbek-French Business Council, Olivier Becht, made the following statement:
“Business plays a special role in economic growth, and therefore the activation of direct contacts between business circles is one of the most important issues on the agenda of discussions at the highest level. This is the key to building up a mutually beneficial economic dialogue. Among the promising areas are seen, energy, high technology, transport and logistics, and social services.”
At this point, it can be said that Tashkent’s invitation to Western investors is consistent with the reform processes in Uzbekistan. Because, under Mirziyoyev’s leadership, the country’s reform activities, which went through the “Third Renaissance” period and carried out the construction process of “New Uzbekistan” in this context, are primarily carried out under the framework of the “2022-2026 Development Strategy.”
The strategy has two main objectives. The first is to increase the rights and freedoms that will encourage Uzbek people to participate in politics by achieving democratic breakthroughs, and thus develop center-periphery relations, that is, state-people unity.
The second is to improve the economic situation of the Uzbek people by taking steps to facilitate the functioning of the free market. The aim of increasing the per capita income to 4,000 dollars by 2030 stems from this. As a result, the Tashkent administration implements effective diplomacy to ensure a prosperous future for the people of Uzbekistan.
Both aims presented in the framework of reform processes, as predicted, envision liberalization and hence Westernization through the goal of a free-market economy and democratization. In this regard, it may be argued that Tashkent’s administration values connections with France, one of the Western World’s most significant actors. In other words, Uzbekistan sees France as a partner with whom it can cooperate while carrying out its reform processes. So, on November 22, 2022, Mirziyoyev met with his French counterpart, Emmanuel Macron, and the President of the French National Assembly, Yael Braun-Pivé.
Furthermore, the relations between the two countries do not only develop based on economic expectations, but some developments will expand cultural ties. An exhibition on the ancient history and culture of Uzbekistan was opened at the Louvre Museum on November 22, 2022.
In addition, the two countries are also taking steps to improve cooperation between universities. In fact, at the same time as the visit, Macron’s book was presented in Uzbek at the Tashkent-based University of World Economy and Diplomacy, with the university emphasizing its collaboration with three different French universities. All of these developments might be seen as a continuation of the positive atmosphere in Uzbekistan-France ties.
The Role of Uzbekistan-France Relations in the Interaction of Central Asia and Europe
The effort to deepen the cooperation between Tashkent-Paris is also a reflection of the desire to strengthen the ties between Central Asia and Europe. Because of the energy problem that Continental Europe experienced following the Russia-Ukraine War, as well as the closure of the Northern Corridor in transit transportation, European powers are now more interested in Central Asia.
In this context, German Foreign Minister Annalena Baerbock visited Kazakhstan and Uzbekistan on October 30-November 2, 2022, and the European Union (EU)-Central Asia Connection Conference: Global Gateway was held in Samarkand on November 18, 2022, with the participation of EU High Representative for Foreign Relations and Security Policy Joseph Borrell. Mirziyoyev’s trip to Paris might potentially be interpreted as a new step in this process.
The fundamental expectation of European actors during these developments is the growth of cooperation with Central Asian nations to fulfill their energy demands, and in this framework, the linkage of Turkmen, Uzbek, and Kazakh gas to the Trans-Caspian Pipeline (TCP). The TCP development formula requires the EU to focus on Caspian-based initiatives.
Moreover, these projects also have a transit transportation dimension. The Middle Transport Corridor may also be stated to be prominent here. On the other hand, European states are preparing to make investments that will contribute to the economies of Central Asian countries. As a result, the conjuncture appears to have intensified European-Central Asian interactions.
In conclusion, Mirziyoyev’s visit to Paris reveals Tashkent’s Western orientation in line with the spirit of the “New Uzbekistan” construction process, as well as the multidimensional understanding based on the balance in foreign policy. On the other hand, France is interested in Uzbekistan’s geopolitical strategy. In a broader sense, Mirziyoyev stands out as one of the pioneers of the interaction between Central Asia and Europe. At this point, considering that Uzbekistan hosted the event titled “EU-Central Asia Connection Conference: Global Gateway”, it can be stated that Tashkent has become one of the key actors with its constructive role in Central Asia-EU relations.
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