Last week, European Council President Charles Michel gathered with 4 of the 5 Central Asian presidents in Cholpon-Ata, Kyrgyzstan, for the second high-level EU-Central Asian assembly. Kazakh President Kassym-Jomart Tokayev, Kyrgyz President Sadyr Japarov, Tajik President Emomali Rahmon, and Uzbek President Shavkat Mirziyoyev attended, with Turkmenistan represented by Deputy Chair of the Cupboard of Ministers Nurmuhammet Amannepesov.
The gathering got here on the heels of the third China-Central Asia summit, hosted by Chinese language chief Xi Jinping in Xi’an final month, and serves to additional spotlight the area’s geopolitical significance.
Over the previous three years, China, Russia, and the EU have every targeted efforts on creating these regional chief conferences into common affairs; an analogous U.S. effort (dubbed the C5+1) gathers international ministers collectively, relatively than presidents. China first instituted its effort on this space with a digital summit in 2020, and after the latest summit the plan is maintain such leaders conferences each different yr (subsequent up: 2025 in Kazakhstan).
Last October, Michel met with the 4 Central Asian presidents (and a Turkmen consultant) in Astana, Kazakhstan, for the first EU-Central Asia high-level meeting (word: not a summit). That gathering got here simply two weeks after Russian President Vladimir Putin attended the first Russia-Central Asia summit (branded as a summit) in Astana.
Whether or not conferences or summits, the order and the timing couldn’t be missed: Each Russia and Europe had been trying to Central Asia, in search of to broaden cooperation below the darkish clouds of the battle in Ukraine.
Final yr I famous that “the joint communiqué after the EU-Central Asia Leaders’ Assembly didn’t point out Ukraine instantly and neither did the Kremlin readout of Putin’s October 14 summit with the Central Asian presidents.” (The Russia-Central Asia joint statement additionally didn’t point out Ukraine.)
This yr’s EU-Central Asia assembly caught to that development. Each final yr’s and this yr’s joint communique included what has turn out to be boilerplate language in Central Asian statements with some exterior powers: “The Leaders expressed continued dedication to uphold the U.N. Constitution, significantly the rules of respect for the independence, sovereignty, territorial integrity of all international locations, non-use of drive or menace of its use and peaceable settlement of worldwide disputes.”
The China-Central Asia Xi’an declaration printed on Might 19 formulated it like this: “China firmly helps the event path chosen by the Central Asian international locations, and helps all international locations in safeguarding nationwide independence, sovereignty and territorial integrity and adopting numerous unbiased home and international insurance policies.”
The closest final yr’s Russia-Central Asia joint assertion acquired was a reference to “reaffirming dedication to the elemental worldwide authorized norms and rules enshrined within the U.N. Constitution” and “reaffirming our frequent place on strict observance of the elemental precept of equal and indivisible safety.”
The phrase “equal and indivisible safety” has its roots within the Chilly Warfare. First showing within the 1975 Helsinki Accords — which acknowledged “the indivisibility of safety in Europe” — The Guardian final yr outlined the phrase like this: “At its most crude, it means safety ought to be seen as a collective idea so if the actions of 1 state threaten the safety of one other, the precept of indivisible safety is breached. Subsequently no state ought to strengthen its safety on the expense of one other.”
Russia has turned the phrase to its personal use and doubled down on its characterization of NATO enlargement (and Ukraine’s flip towards Europe) as innately threatening to Russia. There isn’t essentially area on this formulation for “independence, sovereignty, and territorial integrity.” That these three seem in each the EU and the China joint statements with Central Asia, however not the Russian one is fascinating, if not important. It could possibly be that Russia is shy of utilizing such phrases whereas at battle in Ukraine — a state whose territorial integrity Moscow is actively violating, to say nothing of its views on Kyiv’s independence and sovereignty. Russian leaders and commentators have notoriously, through the years, made remarks questioning how actual Central Asian independence and sovereignty is, a lot as they’ve about Ukraine.
China has its personal model of the “indivisible safety” idea, branded now below the “Global Security Initiative” framework — which the Central Asian states have, per the latest joint statement, purchased into. The assertion stated that “Central Asian international locations converse extremely of and are prepared to actively implement China’s International Growth Initiative, International Safety Initiative, and International Civilization Initiative” — with out specifying what which means in sensible phrases.
Returning to the EU-Central Asia assembly final week, the ensuing joint statement touched on a variety of Central Asian priorities, from Afghanistan and terrorism, to commerce and connectivity, to the Aral Sea. In discussing terrorism, nonetheless, the assertion used this language:
“They emphasised the inadmissibility of public appeals and incitement to terrorism and extremism and advocated the intensification of efforts to fight the unfold of terrorism ideology and propaganda by the web. On this regard, the Leaders referred to as for constant implementation of related U.N. Safety Council resolutions on countering the unfold of terrorist, separatist and extremist ideologies, together with on the web.”
That is an instance of diplomatic language that every aspect interprets fairly in another way. What a European might even see as political opposition difficult a authorities, or at worst irritating protesters, a Central Asian chief might model as incitement to terrorism or blatant separatism. Tajikistan’s marketing campaign in opposition to native leaders within the Pamirs is one such instance, and Uzbekistan’s crushing of dialog about independence in Karakalpakstan is one other.
In the end, joint statements can solely inform us a lot about relations between states — or teams of states on this case. It’s clear that Europe, Russia, and China (and others) see worth in making an attempt to interact with Central Asia as a area, and that the geopolitical local weather of the day locations Central Asia as a fulcrum between East and West. Central Asia’s pursuits stay steady throughout these relationships, however prioritization and phrasing shifts between the completely different companions. And naturally, every Central Asian state has its personal set of pursuits, and so they don’t at all times align.
The EU and Central Asian leaders have agreed to raise their engagement to a summit beginning subsequent yr in Uzbekistan.