CICA embraces unique ‘Asian Approach’ to unite member states leveraging diversity, says CICA Secretary General

Kairat Sarybay
Photo credit:Kairat Sarybay's personal archive

This year, Kazakhstan continues to chair the Conference on Interaction and Confidence Building Measures in Asia (CICA). In an interview with Kazinform News Agency, CICA Secretary General Kairat Sarybay, a career diplomat from Kazakhstan, opens up about the progress in CICA’s transformation into a full-fledged organization, the evolving landscape of security and cooperation in Asia and how CICA is navigating these challenges.

Initiated by Kazakhstan in 1992, CICA is a multi-national forum for enhancing cooperation toward promoting peace, security, and stability in Asia. CICA has 28 member states accounting for nearly 90 percent of the territory and population of Asia. The sixth summit in October 2022 saw the milestone decision to transform CICA into a full-fledged organization.

Could you please share with us what are the key priorities and goals that Kazakhstan aims to achieve during its chairmanship of CICA?

As of now, the Kazakhstan chairmanship’s efforts are aimed at implementing the sixth CICA summit decisions, initiatives put forward by the President of Kazakhstan Kassym-Jomart Tokayev, and the decisions of the CICA Ministerial Council meeting in September 2023. These include realizing the strategic goal of CICA’s transformation into a full-fledged international organization, as well as developing and organizing new initiatives and events aiming to support youth groups and volunteerism, develop environment protection and climate action, as well as connectivity and finance.

Following the sixth CICA summit decision, the CICA transformation became a shared task of all CICA member states. The chairmanship and the CICA secretariat are working together on concrete measures to enable this transformation, the primary goals of which are to enhance the global role of Asia through the structured institutional development of CICA and strengthen cooperation between member states.

As stated by President Kassym-Jomart Tokayev at the sixth CICA Summit and supported by member states over the last two years, “We are not creating a new organization, but are moving to a new stage of institutional development”.

Recognizing the strength and potential of the youth, CICA and the Kazakhstan chairmanship also plan to organize the Rally of Volunteer Movement Leaders of the CICA member states under the auspices of the CICA Youth Council in Astana in 2024. The event will bring together young leaders from member states to exchange ideas and best practices in the areas of volunteerism and active community engagement.

Kazakhstan's Ministry of Culture and Information and the CICA secretariat are currently collaborating on shaping the event’s conceptual and organizational sides. The Statement on Promoting Volunteering for Sustainable Development, also adopted by the CICA Ministerial Council in September 2023, gives powerful political impetus to a completely new direction of CICA activities to support and encourage the active involvement of citizens in volunteer activities.

Another key priority of the chairmanship is the organization of the CICA Ministerial Conference on Environmental Issues in Astana in August. This event will be the starting point for systematic and long-term work of CICA to address the pressing climate issues Asia faces today.

The Ministry of Ecology and Natural Resources of Kazakhstan, member states, and the CICA secretariat are working together in preparation for the event. Anticipating a comprehensive approach, a series of expert meetings involving professionals from all 28 member states are set to continue until the conference takes place.

The chairmanship is also working on the establishment of a Partnership Network of Leading Universities of CICA Member States. This mechanism aims to promote academic exchanges, joint research projects and cooperation programs between universities in Asia for the benefit of education systems and youth communities across the continent.

Online expert meetings are also taking place in this field, hosted by the Ministry of Science and Higher Education of Kazakhstan with assistance from the secretariat to facilitate discussion among member state representatives.

Given new challenges in the global economy, such as supply chain disruptions, it has also been proposed to establish a Council on Sustainable Connectivity. The creation of the council is intended to boost the development of CICA member states’ transit potential and strengthen sustainable transport corridors throughout the Asian continent. At an upcoming experts meeting hosted by the Ministry of Transport of Kazakhstan and the secretariat in late February, CICA member state representatives of relevant ministries and business entities in the field of transport will discuss the concept paper on the establishment of the council in detail.

Finally, along with these initiatives, CICA aims to continue to deepen ties with nations across Asia as well as international and regional organizations to ensure peace and security in the continent.

CICA's transformation into a full-fledged international organization was launched by the sixth CICA summit in October 2022. Could you share with us progress in this direction?

CICA, as the largest intergovernmental forum in Asia, is the most suitable platform for consolidating the collective wisdom of Asian countries in the interests of peace, cooperation, development, security, and their full inclusion in global security architecture and multilateral decision-making processes.

As I stated briefly in my answer to the previous question, the sixth CICA summit, held in Astana in 2022, in the year of the 30th anniversary of the CICA, adopted the Astana Statement on the Transformation of the CICA, which launched a structured, inclusive and transparent negotiation process for the gradual, step-by-step and consensus-based transformation of the CICA into a full-fledged international regional organization.

The summit decided that the CICA transformation process will pursue the following main goals: defining overarching areas of our future cooperation and strengthening the organizational and institutional basis of our interaction.

This historic decision was preceded by extensive consultations among member states, during which it was recognized that the forum successfully serves as an effective multilateral mechanism for engagement, confidence-building and cooperation with a mature and permanent institutional structure.

Over three decades of evolution, CICA has acquired the status, role, structure, functions, methods of work, and other properties of a full-fledged international organization: constituent documents establishing common goals and basic principles of relations between member states; structures of governing bodies; an executive body; permanent advisory bodies, working bodies and cooperation mechanisms; legal capacity; and mechanisms for managing financial and human resources.

The summit tasked the Kazakhstan chairmanship, the CICA secretariat, and the member states to develop a CICA Roadmap for Transformation. The roadmap was approved by a decision of the CICA Ministerial Council on the sidelines of the high-level week of the UN General Assembly in New York on September 21, 2023. The document serves as a structured agenda and guiding document for the incremental transformation process, with an open and non-exhaustive list of issues for discussion and decision-making.

As part of the transformation process, member states are currently discussing topics such as the development of the CICA charter, improving the implementation of confidence-building measures and exploring future priority areas of cooperation, as well as the international status of the secretariat employees.

The role and functions of the Secretary General and the secretariat, as well as budget reform and human resources management, will also be discussed.

The secretariat provides substantive and comprehensive support to member states’ deliberations on the CICA transformation. It is expected that the decisions of the member states in these areas will contribute to improving the quality of cooperation within the CICA, the institutional strengthening of our organization and, ultimately, strengthening the global role of Asia.

In the current geopolitical climate, how does CICA address regional security challenges?

Indeed, we live in extremely turbulent times when geopolitical challenges are intensifying. It should be noted that the CICA has developed principles of interaction that meet the interests of all states.

Our organization promotes multilateralism and inclusiveness thanks to its fundamental principle of consensus. CICA aims at building trust, confidence and mutual respect based on its fundamental principles of voluntary participation and respect for diversity.

The chairmanship of Kazakhstan has called on all members of our organization to make the best use of CICA for bridging gaps and differences among us through open and constructive dialogue with a focus on what unites us rather than on what divides us, for the sake of peace, security, stability and prosperity in Asia.

The CICA format is very precious for a broader Asian region and the entire world as it provides all 28 member states with a platform to discuss and act on what all of us, jointly and on an inclusive basis, can and must talk about and act upon.

At the same time, I would like to draw attention to the fact that CICA employs a uniquely “Asian approach” - focusing on what unites peoples through the political, economic, historical and cultural diversity that is the property of CICA. The meeting promotes interaction across the continent, including strengthening economic, technological, human, cultural and other ties between Asian countries.

What confidence building measures (CBM) are being emphasized under Kazakhstan's leadership?

While this is a question better suited to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Kazakhstan, I can share a few insights on this topic. The Kazakhstan chairmanship is currently focused on a number of vital priority areas within CICA’s dimensions of interaction. Kazakhstan is currently acting as coordinator of the Epidemiological Safety, Public Health and Pharmaceuticals priority area and coordinator of the Military-Political Dimension. It also acts as co-coordinator of the Development of Small and Medium Enterprises priority area and the Human Dimension.

Kazakhstan also chairs the CICA Business Council, which serves as an advisory body comprising representatives from small and medium enterprises (SMEs) and relevant government authorities of CICA member states.

In October 2023, the Business Council held a productive meeting in Astana, attended by 160 experts and representatives from small and medium-sized businesses across CICA member states. Discussions centered on green finance, food security, and renewable energy. Subsequently, the Business Council set its agenda for 2024, which reflects the pressing concerns faced by small and medium-sized businesses not only in Asia but also globally, with a particular focus on the empowerment of women in entrepreneurship.

Within the Military-Political dimension, Kazakhstan holds annual development seminars to promote deeper discussions on security, conflict prevention, de-escalation, and expanding cooperation between the member states within this area.

Additionally, a new CBM was established following the initiative of the Kazakhstan Chairmanship - Epidemiological Safety, Public Health and Pharmaceuticals, providing a platform to exchange information on best practices, as well as to provide assistance to countries in need, with a call to reject any politicization in this matter.

In general, 74 events have been implemented within CICA CBMs from 2020-2023 by 14 member states. Throughout 2024, CICA plans to hold 27 CBM events, including panel sessions, conferences, seminars, training sessions and more to share best practices and insights across Asia and promote consistent and thorough collaboration. They will be organized by 7 member states (Bangladesh, Kazakhstan, China, Kyrgyzstan, Russia, Thailand and Türkiye) and the CICA secretariat.

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