Arab interests in Central Asia
A summit between the Cooperation Council of the Gulf States and Central Asian countries was held in Jeddah. The aim: to broaden economic cooperation starting from religious commonality. Every year about 50,000 Saudi tourists visit the historical cities of Kyrgyzstan and Uzbekistan.
Jeddah (AsiaNews) - The first summit of the "Central Asia - Gulf States Cooperation Council" format was held on 19 July in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia. It was attended by the leaders of 11 countries: Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, Qatar, Kuwait, Oman and Bahrain, along with the presidents of the five Central Asian countries, Kazakhstan, Uzbekistan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan and Turkmenistan.
The meeting took place at the initiative of Riyadh to promote inter-regional economic cooperation, the expansion of investment opportunities, security and the development of humanitarian relations.
The meeting was chaired by the Crown Prince of the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, Muhammed bin Salman. He emphasised the need to strengthen collective efforts to solve problems affecting energy security and the global production chain.
The President of Kyrgyzstan, Sadyr Žaparov, spoke about the problems related to Afghanistan, Palestine, Yemen and Syria, as well as Sudan and Ukraine. According to press reports, he noted that 'any conflict must be resolved exclusively by political and diplomatic means, at the negotiating table and on the basis of commonly recognised principles and norms of international law'. Žaparov also made proposals for economic cooperation, speaking on behalf of all his colleagues in the region.
As he put it, "Central Asia has its own very important potential in the field of trade, of logistical transition between Asia and Europe, so I propose that our governments propose new forms of cooperation, exchanging experience and expertise in all the most important sectors, from energy to infrastructure, agriculture, health, tourism, IT and the many innovations'. Žaparov then proposed that the Gulf States participate in the mega-project to build a new 'China-Kyrgyzstan-Uzbekistan' railway line to facilitate the transportation of all kinds of goods and at the same time 'stimulate mutual cultural exchange'".
The Oman delegation was led by Deputy Prime Minister Sayid Asaad bin Tariq Al Said, who in the name of Oman Sultan Haysam touched on the issue of Palestine: "the Palestinian people have the right to self-determination, with the capital in East Jerusalem", as stipulated by international agreements and the peace initiatives of Arab countries.
Uzbek President Šavkat Mirziyoyev also took the floor to emphasise that the Central Asian countries are expanding the visa-free entry regime as a function of greater cooperation with the Persian Gulf region; he also insisted on the need to counter Islamophobia, extremism and racism worldwide.
Saudi Arabia's Minister for Investment, Halid bin Abdel, made very optimistic statements after the meeting about the expansion of relations between the countries of the two regions, which "are both important parts of the international market system, and the religious commonality, which has existed since the 14th century, makes these relations particularly strong".
Kyrgyz MP Nuržigit Kadyrbekov, head of the 'Kyrgyz-Arab Friendship' group, recalled that 'until now, there was no place for Arab and Central Asian leaders to meet in person, and now many new possibilities are opening up, these are two regions that need each other... they do not have the nature that we have, we do not have the oil that they have'.
The Arabs are particularly interested in tourism in Central Asian countries, and in their agricultural production. According to this year's statistics, about 50,000 tourists come from the Gulf, mainly from Saudi Arabia, to visit the historical cities and tourist areas in the mountains between Kyrgyzstan and Uzbekistan. Asian food, and especially mountain honey, is also very popular with the Arabs.