Kazakhstan's strategic future: an exclusive interview with geopolitical expert Marco Vicenzino

Marco Vicenzino
Photo credit: Yersultan Akhtanov/ Kazinform

As the world comes together for New Vision 2024, the biggest Central Asian business forum, tackling the most urgent possibilities and problems in geopolitics and international business, Kazinform News Agency correspondent presents an exclusive interview with Global Strategy Project Director Marco Vicenzino. Mr. Vicenzino will provide his insightful opinions and views of the event, drawing from his vast experience in both international business and geopolitical issues. The discussion revolved around the current geopolitical environment and its effects on the world and the region, with a focus on Central Asia. Mr. Vicenzino will provide insight on Kazakhstan's potential as a key hub for logistics and transportation, its investment possibilities for foreign firms, and the benefits and drawbacks Kazakhstan faces on a regional and worldwide level.

What are your impressions of the event?

It is my first day of the event, an impressive roster of speakers, very well organized and the theme behind it, there is a lot of thought put into it, very forward-looking and definitely there should be follow up on a conference like this. Hopefully it's not just a one off, so what I've seen so far is something promising for the region for Kazakhstan for the broader region. I think also for beyond.

What can you say about the current geopolitical situation and its influence on a global level and originally in Central Asia?

We're living in a very difficult time, a very dangerous time in history, probably the most dangerous time since the end of the Cold War. The issue is that it's not just one single crisis going on, there's several crises moving simultaneously and not separate from each other. There's an element of interdependence upon it hence if things do escalate in the different conflicts, in the different crises. In my opinion, no one's going to escape the consequences, everyone's feeling the impact right now.

For Example, food supplies, in many parts of the developing world, whether it's parts of Asia or parts of Africa, the prices are going up. There's several problems that are a result of these crises, but even throughout those crises for certain countries, for certain individuals there are also opportunities. I see the situation specifically for Kazakhstan. Kazakhstan is a landlocked country and has many disadvantages in many places. Historically it's true.

I think, in this particular time in history, Kazakhstan is quite a unique situation. Kazakhstan is between Russia and China and the trade between the two will keep increasing from a logistical perspective, from a trade perspective. Kazakhstan is in a very important situation, which it can benefit enormously - not just now, but going towards the future. We talk about the traditional Silk Road. Historically, Kazakhstan has been in the center of all of that. If you look at high-tech, it’s a great talent pool of engineers from a natural resource’s perspective. It's a land that's blessed with all types of different natural resources, ranging from mining, energy, uranium, nuclear power. Many other countries want to build nuclear power plants over time in order to diversify their energy resources . A lot of it comes from here.

Kazakhstan has many advantages geographically: its soil, its human resources, its human talents. The key thing is that it has to manage that effectively and that's going to require leadership from both the public sector and the private sector and they're not mutually exclusive. It's important for them to work both together because what they have to do is to see that they understand both sides, and understand what their National Assets are and how to leverage that internationally.

Marco Vicenzino
Photo credit: Diana Bizhanova/ Kazinform

Usually, countries that have been surrounded by Major powers in the past traditionally have been seen as weak as being too dependent upon one or the other in this land. You have great diversity, not just diversity of the land itself, but diversity in your population. The younger people in this country on average speak three languages: Kazak, Russian and English. Instead of allowing for the traditional way of allowing the outsiders to exploit the differences in the country. It's important for the leadership and the people to realize, acknowledge and accept their differences and use that diversity as an asset to be able not just to survive but to prosper in the neighborhood.

Do you think there is a potential for Kazakhstan to become one of the largest transportation and logistics hubs in Central Asia?

I think it's inevitable. Just look at the map. We are talking about being landlocked - it has disadvantages, but historically, in many ways you're on an amazing piece of land. Land is going between East and West. If China wants to move its products Westward it can do it by sea, but it's not all by sea alone it has to do it by land and it has to pass through Kazakhstan. The question is how much does the country, its leadership, its private sector, and its public sector be able to manage that effectively and exploit that to the fullest amount possible and that will be seen over time. It's not something you can just simply take for granted. It has to be worked on a daily basis, it requires that strategic vision always how to improve it, how to maximize it, how to make it ensure that it survives and grows not just in the immediate term but for the long term. It's not just looking 5 or 10 years ahead you have to look decades ahead and understand how to use your position to your fullest advantage.

What do you think about Kazakhstan's investment potential for foreign investment?

Potential is enormous in terms of what you have to offer: the natural resources, the human resources, your geographic location. It's part of a marketing campaign. You have to sell yourself in a very intelligent way to market the country. In other words, you have everything, the resources are there, but many times it's how you sell it, how do you make the outsiders understand and that's a matter of public relation, strategic communication. More intelligent businessmen internationally don't need to explain. They already understand it, but there are a lot of other businesses worldwide operating, who could make good strategic investments that are often maybe hampered by certain perceptions wrong. People in Kazakhstan understand what's being, what people are being misinformed about and to correct that. That requires a good strategic communications campaign that involves once again the public and private sector, working closely together.

What do you think are the biggest disadvantages and advantages of Kazakhstan when it comes to foreign investment on a global and regional scale?

I just mentioned the public perceptions, outsiders perceptions, foreign direct investors, those who are not curious enough to go beyond standard stereotypes. Those are the ones that you have to reach out to and make the effort and that requires a very intelligent strategic communications campaign. There are a lot of people out. If they understood much better what's going on in the country they would be willing to come here, visit and then they come here, then they convince them. What they see is much different from whatever stereotype they may have because of the broader region. In terms of advantages, young people here are very skilled, very educated, multilingual, and hospitable. People from the outside are very much at home here. You have several advantages and it's not just economic which we discussed, which are obvious, but it's also the cultural, historic, social. There's a lot more to it investing in a country, is not just only about primarily. It's the resource people are looking at something concrete, something tangible, a tangible asset, but along with that, if people have to come and invest and have to spend time, you have all the other advantages that many other countries may not have.

We are having a huge SCO summit next week. 15 leaders from different countries are coming to Kazakhstan. What do you think is the future of this cooperation and what are they going to talk about?

15 countries with 15 different sets of national interests all looking at SCO in different ways. Some see it as a security organization, some see it as an economic platform. In reality, it's a combination of all of them. It depends on what each country wants to promote.

In my opinion, Kazakhstan hosting the SCO summit it's important to emphasize the economy. It's a security organization but if we get the economic plan the economic message, if we get that right the everyone will benefit as a result so I think it's that pushing that economic agenda and the collective interest of all to participate more on the economics as opposed to security or it's called Shanghai Cooperation Organization. Security is the lead word, but security is only going to take you so far in development. Everyone wants to protect their borders, be free of war as much as possible, and have domestic internal security for your citizens. That's all important but ultimately if you don't have the economic development where it companies all of that there's not really not much of a value to having an entire organization that's based purely on security. There's got to be development, there's got to be a strong development and economic angle to it all.

I think Kazakhstan looking at its diplomatic relations around the world and the situation it's an it's an advantageous position to be able to promote that message in such a forum involving 15 countries from the region.

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