The first summit of leaders from Central Asia and the Arabian Gulf was held in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia from July 18 to July 19, 2023. The purpose of the summit was to stimulate interaction and cooperation between the countries of the regions.
The Cooperation Council for the Arab States of the Gulf, also known as the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC), was founded in 1981 and is one of the most important regional political and economic organizations in the Arab world. The GCC unites six Gulf states: Saudi Arabia, the UAE, Qatar, Kuwait, Bahrain and Oman. Its policies and decisions affect not only the Arab Gulf region, but also the entire Middle East.
The Gulf states are extensively investing in the economies of Central Asia. Today, the total portfolio of projects jointly implemented in Uzbekistan with leading companies and banks of the Gulf states exceeds $20 billion. The recent GCC-Central Asian summit was another effort that aimed at fostering collaboration between the countries of the regions and coordinating the projects implemented by the Gulf states in Central Asia. The countries of Central Asia and the Gulf view each other as reliable and long-term partners. I would like to point out with satisfaction that in recent years, relations between Uzbekistan and the Gulf states have reached a new level.
The Gulf states constitute more than 60% of the world’s oil reserves. The largest gas fields are located in the Arab Gulf region. The GCC member countries play an important role in the current geopolitical and economic system. The council is seen as an organization that aims to maintain socio-politico-economic relations among the Gulf states. The GCC has strengthened cooperation between its member countries in the fields of defense, security, the economy and foreign policy. Important steps have been taken within the framework of the GCC to integrate the Gulf economies.
The GCC differs from other similar regional organizations in a number of ways. The GCC member countries share a single language, identity and religion. In addition, their socioeconomic standards, systems of government and culture are similar to one another. The GCC maintains close links with other international and regional organizations such as the UN, the Arab League and the OIC. Since the mid-1980s, the GCC has been recognized as a financial and economic powerhouse in the Arab world.
This GCC-Central Asian summit has made it possible to resolve key issues, exchange views and chart a collective path for the future. The Gulf states are closely watching the trends and successes of the Central Asian countries as their focus on the region is rising as well as their interests in participating in joint investment projects. The formation of a GCC-Central Asia strategic dialogue platform was demanded as a result of strengthening cooperation between the two regions.
Central Asia has experienced a radical transformation in recent years. The positive trends observed in the region have affected almost all critical spheres. This positivity is reflected in the number of dialogues/summits held with other major powers or blocs as well as frequent diplomatic interactions, the growth of trade volumes and the implementation of large joint investment projects.
The remarks made by Uzbekistan’s President Shavkat Mirziyoyev emphasized the key objectives of the country’s foreign policy and designated Central Asia, where its vital interests are intertwined, as the primary focus of the republic’s foreign policy.
As a result of the establishment of strategic cooperation between neighboring Central Asian states, a completely new environment has emerged in the region that is conducive to developing trade, economic and investment cooperation. At the same time, the geopolitical position of Uzbekistan determines the special significance of developing trade and economic relations with the Gulf states. In this regard, the leadership of Uzbekistan is making targeted efforts to intensify political, economic, scientific and innovative cooperation with the Gulf states.
Foreign partners have gradually realized that stimulating regional interactions opens up new opportunities for the implementation of promising trade, economic and investment projects in Central Asia. The region’s republics have activated a regional approach in building relationships with other leading states and blocs. The Gulf states recognize the new dynamics of regional cooperation with the Central Asian countries, and are actively restructuring their foreign policies and diversifying their economies. It can be noted that the leading Gulf states are developing a new strategy to implement a broad partnership with Central Asia. The GCC-Central Asia strategic dialogue is aimed precisely at strengthening interactions between the two regions in order to develop cooperation on multiple levels.
It should be noted that over the past few years, relations between Uzbekistan and the Gulf states have significantly strengthened, and the strategic direction of cooperation has also advanced. In particular, in the course of official negotiations at various levels, Uzbekistan has put special emphasis on the development of political dialogue and cultural and humanitarian exchange, as well as on boosting trade and investment.
The Gulf states are interested in diversifying their economic relations to strengthen their own economies. At the same time, they want to take advantage of the favorable geopolitical and geo-economic positions of the Central Asian republics, particularly of Uzbekistan. Gulf entrepreneurs are interested in establishing partnerships with their Uzbek counterparts, especially with those involved in the agricultural sector.
President Mirziyoyev put forward five main areas to expand partnerships between the two regions. These include the development of large-scale ties in various formats and the future development of a multilateral agreement on friendship, regional interconnectedness and cooperation in the fields of cutting-edge technology, artificial intelligence, smart agriculture, nano and biotechnologies, climate change, ecology, tourism and digitalization.
The Gulf states occupy a special place in the current international system. Developing political, trade and economic cooperation with the Gulf states, which hold vast investment opportunities, is determined, among other things, by the interests of Uzbekistan. With this in mind, Uzbekistan is consistently developing mutually beneficial cooperation with Saudi Arabia, the most influential and largest country in terms of territory on the Arabian Peninsula, which also has the largest financial potential and human capital. Since the beginning of the year, the volume of trade between Uzbekistan and Saudi Arabia has increased by 20%, and the number of joint ventures has doubled. The implementation of important projects in the green energy sector has begun with the participation of the leading Saudi company ACWA Power. Large-scale investment projects are being worked out in the fields of green hydrogen, petrochemistry, agriculture, pharmaceuticals, medicine and tourism as well as in other fields.
At the same time, there is an increase in diplomatic interactions with Qatar. Uzbekistan considers the country as a promising partner not only in the Arab Gulf but throughout the Arab-Muslim world. Thus, the recent state visit of the Emir of Qatar to Uzbekistan, the first in the history of diplomatic relations between the two countries, opened a new chapter in bilateral cooperation with a view to upgrade relations to the level of a comprehensive partnership. Qatar is one of the most active investors in the Central Asian region. In June 2023, investment agreements were signed between Uzbekistan and Qatar in the fields of energy, logistics and agriculture worth more than $12 billion.
The opening of the Qatar embassy in Tashkent has played an important role in the active promotion of bilateral cooperation in 2023. In turn, bilateral cooperation will be advanced through the opening of the Uzbek embassy in Doha. At present, among the GCC member countries, Uzbekistan has established embassies in Saudi Arabia, the UAE, Oman and Kuwait.
Furthermore, significant progress has been made in the implementation of bilateral agreements between Uzbekistan and the UAE. Since 2020, the joint Uzbek-Emirate investment company has been operating in Uzbekistan. The UAE highly appreciates the new stage of reforms to reduce the state’s share in the economy of Uzbekistan and is also interested in expanding cooperation in preparation for master plans of cities and regions.
In turn, Oman has expressed its readiness to work together to attract the business communities of the two countries to establish closer ties and implement joint investment projects in Uzbekistan. The parties are actively working to attract capital from Omani investors. They are considering the possibility of implementing joint projects in the transportation and tourism sectors and they also intend to take practical steps to increase mutual passenger and cargo flows and conduct bilateral events to enhance cultural exchange between the two countries.
The GCC-Central Asia summit held in Jeddah has opened up new horizons for interaction between the two rapidly developing regions of the world. As the leader of Uzbekistan noted, the ideas and proposals put forward in the dialogue demonstrate that relations between the regions have great potential for further development.
The summit’s participants also supported the proposal of Uzbekistan’s president to hold the next meeting of leaders in the format of Central Asia-GCC dialogue in the historical Uzbek city of Samarkand.
Opinions in this article reflect the writer’s point of view, not necessarily the view of Rasanah