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This week, United Kingdom Foreign Secretary David Cameron embarked on a diplomatic tour across five Central Asian republics. He described this tour as marking a “new era” in UK-Central Asia relations. Cameron’s journey began in Tajikistan and continued through the Kyrgyz Republic, Uzbekistan, Turkmenistan, Kazakhstan, and Mongolia. He emphasized a desire for partnership with the region.

Cameron clarified his visit’s purpose, stating that the UK is not asking these countries to choose between partnerships with Russia, China, or anyone else. Instead, he promoted the idea of partnering with the UK for mutual security and prosperity. After meeting with Kazakhstan’s Deputy Prime Minister – Foreign Minister Murat Nurtleu on April 24, Cameron reiterated this message.

Moreover, this visit holds historical significance. Cameron last visited Kazakhstan 11 years ago. This makes him the first UK Prime Minister to pay a state visit there in 2013. His visit concluded deals worth over £700 million and led to a joint statement on strategic partnership. This week’s visit was equally groundbreaking. Cameron and Nurtleu signed a Strategic Partnership and Cooperation Agreement. They aim to strengthen relations in foreign policy, security, trade, investment, banking, employment, social policy, science, and education.

Besides, Cameron expressed excitement on his social media. He noted that the new agreement aims to enhance cooperation in education, trade, and climate action. Additionally, he announced £50 million (US$62.6 million) in new funding to promote regional growth and economic resilience. The number of Chevening scholarships for Kazakhstan will also double.

While in Astana, Cameron met with President Kassym-Jomart Tokayev, visited the Astana International Financial Centre, and engaged with students at Astana IT University.

Commercially, trade between Kazakhstan and the UK reached $1.2 billion in 2023, with nearly 600 companies with British capital operating in Kazakhstan. The UK is a top 10 foreign investor in Kazakhstan, with British investments totaling $794.5 million in 2023.

During Cameron’s visit, Kazakhstan and the UK signed two commercial agreements. One involves the Kazakh Ministry of Healthcare, Almaty city administration, Kazakh Invest National Company, and British AstraZeneca. This agreement aims to implement a project for manufacturing biotechnological products in Kazakhstan. Kazakh Invest highlighted this plan as a step towards increasing domestically produced medicines and enhancing bilateral strategic relations.

Maria Shipuleva, head of AstraZeneca’s office in Kazakhstan, noted the company’s long-standing partnership and investments in education. She mentioned that AstraZeneca would begin clinical trials in Kazakhstan this year. The new plan focuses on localizing production and addressing conditions like diabetes, heart failure, kidney disease, and oncology.

Another agreement signed involves the Committee for Highways of the Kazakh Ministry of Transport and British Car Park Transformer. This document outlines the construction of roadside service facilities on national and international highways, with at least 250 service stations planned.

Alicia Kearns, chair of the Foreign Affairs Committee at the UK Parliament, highlighted the growing importance of Central Asia. She praised the UK government for heeding Parliament’s call for high-level engagement with the region. Kearns also stressed the need to ensure Western sanctions against Russia are not circumvented and called for a separate strategy for trade and investment.

She emphasized the importance of increasing cultural ties with Central Asia, noting the significance of the doubling of Chevening scholarships and the push to enhance access to British Council resources. The deepening of UK engagement in Central Asia, she said, holds significant geopolitical and mutual benefits.

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