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Opinion: Kazakhstan’s importance for Central Asia, the EU, China and Russia: Relations in progress

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Along-the-road-in-TajikistanBy Political Analyst Vira Ratsiborynska, European Parliament

The Central Asian region has a strategic geopolitical location, an enormous economic and energy potential and abundant wealth of resources that represent an important factor of interest for many leading economic world powers such as the EU, Russia and China.  

The Central Asian region has a rich history of development of trade and energy relations with these leading powers which explains why this region is appealing in its potential and intriguing in its development. Central Asia consists of five former Soviet Union republics namely Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan and Uzbekistan. Kazakhstan, with its important geographical position, rich cultural and historical background and its extensive natural resources constitutes an important geostrategic asset of the Central Asian region.

As the heart of Eurasia and the geopolitical core of the region Kazakhstan simultaneously maintains and develops strong trade, energy and political relations with the EU, China and Russia. These powers exercise economic and political influence on the post- Soviet republic, which connects the Central Asian market to their respective export markets.

Trade and energy fields represent the priority targets in the development of strategic relations for them as they provide any country with many possibilities and further trade opportunities.   Very often in these priority fields the interests of the aforementioned leading powers overlap and their political influence thus tends to expand significantly in a country. In Kazakhstan with its important geographical position there is a combination of Chinese leadership in the energy field with Russian political influence in many other strategic fields of relations.

The EU plays a mediating and soft power role in the general political and economic development of this country which represents a significant geopolitical interest for the two other competing powers in the region - Russia and China. Concerning Russia’s field of trade Kazakhstan is a third country partner in Russia’s and Belarus’ Customs Union, a project that represents only one step in Russia’s ambitious plan to further implement the Eurasian economic integration project. This trade integration project helps Russia to shape the regional agenda of Central Asia and helps to keep the country in its geopolitical orbit.

China is also influential in the field of trade relations with Kazakhstan as the Kazakh market represents an advantageous and complementary market for China. This market is useful for the Chinese market as it can satisfy the growing Chinese consumption of oil and gas. In the field of energy and trade these two markets are interconnected: Kazakhstan is an important energy producer while China is an important energy consumer. Kazakhstan in turn is also benefitting from good economic links with China as China creates many business opportunities and attracts foreign investment for common trade and energy projects with Kazakhstan. Such relations result in many tangible economic benefits and are geopolitically   crucial for Kazakhstan to counterbalance the Russian influence in the Central Asian region.

The EU is also interested in trade relations with Kazakhstan as more than 40% of Kazakhstan’s exports are going to the EU market. The Kazakh market is important for the EU due to the EU’s need to diversify its sources for oil and gas supply. Kazakhstan mainly   exports oil and gas to the EU while it imports machinery and manufacturing products. For Kazakhstan, the EU market remains attractive because the EU remains a crucial investment partner. This includes the exchange of best practices related to European know-how and expertise and an exchange of technology. The EU also supports and develops the diversification of Kazakh economy.

In geopolitical terms, trade relations with the EU are also very important for Kazakhstan because they represent an alternative to the trade relations with Russia and China. The EU is also maintaining good relations in other crucial fields in the region such as in   security and good governance development. As the Central Asian region represents many challenges for the EU that it needs to address, Kazakhstan remains essential for tackling these challenges through mutual efforts between both partners.

The security of the Central Asian region and political stability in each member country of the region stays the main priority of the EU’s relations with this part of the world. In order to achieve energy and   trade stability and security in the whole region, the EU addresses such questions as the rule of law, democracy and the protection of human rights first with each member country of the region. For the Kazakhstan-EU relations these questions represent a priority as they combine regional policy dialogue with soft power promotion.

Projects such as the promotion of democracy and the rule of law can help the EU to encourage Kazakhstan’s approach to EU norms and values and to make the country more stable and secure in the EU’s integration perspectives. This can also help the EU in tackling regional security threats like terrorism, drug trafficking, organized crime and secure border management in the whole Central Asian   region. The engagement of Kazakhstan in a mutual dialogue is crucial for the EU to be able   to successfully use its soft power tools and methods in Central Asia.

Kazakhstan that respects  human rights, that develops democratically and that is ready to commit in different fields of   mutual co-operation with the EU can be a valuable partner for every country in the world and   for the EU as a whole. This mutual cooperation is challenging as Kazakhstan is still facing   many severe shortcomings in upholding the rule of law.

The 2011 incident in Zhanaozen was a telling example illustrating that Kazakhstan needs to continue its efforts in upgrading the   principles of the rule of law within the country. In general, the common efforts of the EU and Kazakhstan in promoting democracy and the rule of law should continue in order to make Kazakhstan the best reliable partner for the EU and the world in general. That is why the negotiations on an enhanced Partnership and Cooperation agreement with the EU can serve as the basis to engage in a more stable and reliable partnership and dialogue concerning the rule   of law and democratic developments within the country.

This agreement can also upgrade the   economic relations with the EU, thus promoting its trade and investment exchanges. The EU’s priority in its relations with Kazakhstan is to achieve the common goals of security   and stability through the transformative power of the EU, to bring Kazakhstan closer to the EU and to strengthen the fields of common co-operation. To this end the EU should remain a   normative actor that knows how to balance economic interests with the promotion of norms   and values in the region. Kazakhstan should in turn build its relations with the EU on a true commitment basis that should remain beneficial for all parties involved. Kazakhstan needs to stay committed to the democratization process and the rule of law because a politically   stable country means an economically prosperous country as well.

The respect for human rights and fight against corruption can yield good results for the trade relations with the EU and can encourage foreign investment in Kazakhstan. Fostering democratic processes within a country can be a key for success to achieve more economic benefits with the EU. With regards to Russia and China, Kazakhstan needs to remain pro-active in the multi-vectored approach of its relations and to effectively promote the development of further enhanced   relations with its partners.

Diversification of trade and investment possibilities and a strong   trade and energy co-operation with all these key partners should stay essential in the political and economic development of the country. Economic co-operation has to go hand in hand with the political engagement of Kazakhstan in pursuing interior democratic development. Like this Kazakhstan can become a reliable partner not only in trade and energy relations but also in many other aspects of key regional significance for the EU, Russia and China.

Conservative Party

UK eyes tougher COVID-19 restrictions for England as outbreak spreads

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The British government is mulling tougher restrictions in England to tackle a swiftly accelerating second wave of the novel coronavirus outbreak, possibly outlawing more inter-household socialising, a junior health minister said on Monday (28 September), write Guy Faulconbridge and Bill Schomberg. 

“We don’t want to bring on new restrictions but of course we keep a constant eye on what is going on with the COVID rate,” Junior Health Minister Helen Whately told Sky News. “We were looking at what we might be able to do.”

The Times newspaper said ministers were preparing to enforce a total social lockdown across much of northern England and potentially London. The paper said all pubs, restaurants and bars would be ordered to shut for two weeks.

Asked about The Times report, Whately said the country was at a really serious point and so COVID-19 had to be brought under control. She did not give a direct answer on the report that pubs would be closed.

“This is the moment when we have an opportunity - we have a choice for the country - to get this back under control,” Whately said. “We have to break these chains of transmission.”

She said pictures from the weekend, after pubs were ordered to close early which showed crowds of young revellers outside pubs, were “worrying”.

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Labour leader Starmer accuses UK government of losing control of coronavirus as Johnson steps up control measures

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British opposition Labour leader Keir Starmer (pictured) accused the government on Tuesday (22 September) of having lost control of the coronavirus crisis, saying “there should be nothing inevitable about a second lockdown”, write Guy Faulconbridge, Elizabeth Piper, David Milliken, Andy Bruce, Estelle Shirbon, Sarah Young and Michael Holden.

As Prime Minister Boris Johnson announced new restrictions to come into force to tackle an increase in COVID-19 cases, Starmer used a speech to his party’s conference to say while Labour would be constructive and needed the Conservative government to succeed, he also criticized the testing system.

“But instead of getting a grip, the government has lost control. Our testing system collapsed just when we needed it most,” he said.

British Prime Minister Boris Johnson told people on Tuesday to work from home where possible and will curb timings for bars and restaurants to tackle a fast-spreading second coronavirus wave, but the opposition accused him of losing control.

With millions across the United Kingdom already under some form of COVID-19 restriction, Johnson will tighten measures in England while stopping short of another full lockdown like he imposed in March, according to his office and ministers.

Johnson held emergency meetings with ministers, addressed parliament at 11h30 GMT and then spoke to the nation at 19h GMT after government scientists warned that the death rate would soar without urgent action.

Just weeks after urging people to start returning to workplaces, Johnson now advised them to stay at home if they can. He also ordered all pubs, bars, restaurants and other hospitality sites across England to start closing at 22h from Thursday (24 September).

“There is going to be a shift in emphasis. If it is possible for people to work from home, we are going to encourage them to do so,” Michael Gove, the minister for the cabinet office, told Sky News.

The new curbs will restrict the hospitality sector to table service only, though Gove said he wanted those who could not work from home - for example in manufacturing, construction and retail - to continue to work from COVID-secure workplaces.

Schools will also stay open, he said.

It was unclear if the measures would be enough to tackle Britain’s second wave, which government scientists warned could reach 50,000 new cases per day by mid-October.

The United Kingdom already has the biggest official COVID-19 death toll in Europe - and the fifth largest in the world - while it is borrowing record amounts to pump emergency money through the damaged economy.

Bank of England Governor Andrew Bailey warned that the “very unfortunate” escalation of COVID-19 cases threatened the economic outlook and said the central bank was looking hard at how it could support the economy further.

Pub operator JD Wetherspoon said it could cut 400-450 jobs at sites at six airports, including London’s Heathrow and Gatwick, because of the large drop in passengers.

(Interactive graphic tracking global spread: Here)

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Conservative Party

Johnson to levy £10,000 fine on COVID-19 rule-breakers

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People in England who break new rules requiring them to self-isolate if they have been in contact with someone infected with COVID-19 will face a fine of up to £10,000 ($12,914), Prime Minister Boris Johnson said on Saturday (19 September), writes David Milliken.

The rules will apply from 28 September to anyone in England who tests positive for the virus or is notified by public health workers that they have been in contact with someone infectious.

“People who choose to ignore the rules will face significant fines,” Johnson said in a statement.

Fines will start at 1,000 pounds for a first offence, rising to 10,000 pounds for repeat offenders or cases where employers threaten to sack staff who self-isolate rather than go to work.

Some low-income workers who suffer a loss of earnings will receive a £500 support payment, on top of other benefits such as sick pay to which they may be entitled.

Current British government guidance tells people to stay at home for at least 10 days after they start to suffer COVID-19 symptoms, and for other people in their household not to leave the house for 14 days.

Anyone who tests positive is also asked to provide details of people outside their household who they have been in close contact with, who may then also be told to self-isolate.

To date there has been little enforcement of self-isolation rules, except in some cases where people have returned from abroad.

However, Britain is now facing a rapid increase in cases, and the government said police would be involved in checking compliance in areas with the highest infection rates.

Johnson has also faced calls to reintroduce more wide-ranging lockdown rules for the general public.

However, the Sunday Times reported he was poised to reject calls from scientific advisors for an immediate two-week nationwide lockdown to slow the spread of the disease, and instead reconsider it when schools take a late-October break.

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