U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo visited Uzbekistan on Feb.3 to discuss further expansion of American investment in the Central Asian country along with cooperation in the science, technology, and education fields.
At a joint press conference with Pompeo, Uzbekistan’s Foreign Minister Abdulaziz Kamilov expressed his country’s interest in creating joint investment projects with U.S. businesses.
Pompeo stressed the importance of further strengthening the rule of law as a prerequisite to attract foreign investment, which in turn will create jobs and prosperity for Uzbeks. He discussed with Kamilov ways to achieve that.
Pompeo said that the United States recognized significant progress made by Uzbekistan over the past three years in respecting “human rights, religious freedom, liquidation of forced labor and child labor, and the creation of the conditions for freedom of speech.” He especially commended the progress the country achieved with regard to religious freedom. “Where religious freedom is protected, peace and prosperity flourish,” Pompeo said.
Cooperation between the two nations entered a new era upon Uzbekistani President Shavkat Mirziyoyev’s meeting with President Donald Trump at the White House in 2018. Uzbekistan signed more than 20 major business deals with American companies in 2018 which would amount to $4.8 billion upon full implementation. Currently the total American investment in Uzbekistan exceeds $1 billion. These investments “will create thousands of jobs in both the United States and Uzbekistan,” according to a statement.
“In 2019, we committed nearly $100 million to bolster the rule of law, education, English language training, support for small businesses and entrepreneurs, and other forms of assistance,” Pompeo said. The United States is “committing, pending congressional approval, $1 million of technical assistance to help Uzbekistan develop its capital markets,” he added.
In order to further expand economic cooperation, Uzbekistan needs to continue privatization, regulatory reform, strengthen the rule of law, and join the World Trade Organization.
The United States provides financial aid to Uzbekistan’s education initiative, “English Speaking Nation,” which provides English language instruction and innovative university partnerships, facilitating students, teachers, professionals, and alumni exchanges between the two countries. In 2018 the United States established the Central Asia University Partnerships Program (UniCEN), which includes more than 70 Central Asian universities.
Both foreign affairs chiefs agreed that they still need to find solutions to issues that they have disagreed upon in the past.
Pompeo also talked with President Mirziyoyev during his visit to Uzbekistan on Feb.3.
Working Together For Peace in Afghanistan
The United States and Uzbekistan share a common stance on security in the region. Pompeo and Kamilov agreed to work harder on achieving piece in Afghanistan despite threats and challenges impeding the peace process. Pompeo announced that “the United States will provide a million dollars of assistance to increase trade and connectivity between Uzbekistan and Afghanistan,” which will have a positive effect on the entire Central Asian region.
Pompeo praised Uzbekistan for fostering stability in the region through its relationship with Afghanistan, which includes “commercial ties, security ties, those things that tie Afghanistan,” as well as through supporting U.S. policy in Afghanistan and the Afghan Government of National Unity, as Trump plans to “reduce the American presence in Afghanistan.”
Kamilov said that his country is actively involved in the Afghan peaceful process “because it touches on our lives and the national interest and interest of security of our state.” Uzbekistan, as a country neighboring Afghanistan, highly values the U.S. policy in Afghanistan because the U.S. presence in Afghanistan “is a stabilizing factor of the situation and deters the push of terrorism and extremism and radicalization … [as well as] drug trafficking and crime and other serious challenges and threats.”
Uzbekistan cooperates closely with the United States to maintain security at the border with Afghanistan “to prevent the movement of foreign terrorist fighters, narcotics traffickers and other criminal elements, while promoting the legitimate flow of people and goods,” a statement says. In 2018, the United States designated $2.2 million to support these efforts.
Concerns with Chinese Investments
When answering a reporter’s question on whether Central Asian countries should be concerned “about Chinese investment, Chinese influence, particularly 5G within Huawei and the 5G networks,” due to their proximity to China, Pompeo said that American companies investing in Uzbekistan come to create wealth, opportunities, and jobs for Uzbeks, obey the local law, not pollute the environment, and support Uzbekistan’s sovereignty. The economic growth and wealth generated through this process creates opportunities for Uzbeks to invest in the American economy, which will further increase wealth of both countries.
Pompeo said the United States’ investment in Uzbekistan is a response to its “demand for independence and sovereignty,” adding that “when other nations come to participate in these countries, if they’ll participate by those same set of rules of transparency and openness, doing real market transactions not state-sponsored, politically driven transactions, we welcome that competition anywhere in the world.”
Kamilov said in response to the question that Uzbekistan‘s policy is to have good relations with countries in the region.
“We want to see Central Asia as a region of stable development, prosperity, and cooperation, and we would really not like to feel on ourselves unfavorable political consequences in relation to some competition in our region between large powers,” he said.