A soon-to-be signed Agreement on Strategic Partnership and Cooperation shows that in a little more than three decades, diplomatic relations between Kazakhstan and the United Kingdom (U.K.) have become one of the brightest examples of productive cooperation, expanding into a strategic partnership with.
According to Kathy Leach, ambassador of the United Kingdom to Kazakhstan, such important issues as education, energy, critical minerals, climate change, defense and security are covered by the bilateral partnership.
The signing of a memorandum of understanding with Kazakhstan on a strategic partnership in the fields of critical minerals and green hydrogen during British Foreign Secretary James Cleverly’s visit to Astana in March was the highlight of this year.
According to Kenan Poleo, the British Consul General and Trade Commissioner for Eastern Europe and Central Asia, discussions became an important moment in the bilateral relationship.
He said that the visit wasn’t seen just as a standalone. It is actually setting off a wave of activities and a wave of meetings, really going into detail around what the countries’ bilateral relationship looks like, around agriculture, critical minerals and mining, as well as education.
U.K. supports reforms in Kazakhstan
The U.K widely supported Kazakhstan’s recent reforms. U.K. Foreign Secretary James Cleverly supported “the political and socio-economic reforms being carried out in Kazakhstan, aimed at building a just state, a just economy, and a just society” in a joint statement released by the two nations’ foreign ministers in December 2022.
As Kairat Abdrakhmanov, the High Commissioner on National Minorities of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) said during a webinar on Kazakh-British relations, the country’s transformation is associated with the implementation of major political, social, and economic reforms, particularly democratic ones, and the U.K’s support is very significant.
Cultural and humanitarian ties expand
Impetus has also been gained by cultural and humanitarian interaction between the two countries in recent years. A campus was opened by British University De Montfort in Almaty in 2021, while the Scottish University Heriot-Watt will open a branch in Aktobe this autumn.
An expand by 20% is shown by Chevening Scholarship Program of the British Foreign Office for young professionals seeking a master’s degree in the U.K. this year.
Bilateral cooperation’s new growth points
According to Murat Coskun, a European policy researcher at Giresun University in Türkiye, Kazakh-U.K. relations should prioritize education, finance, scientific research and energy.
He said that increasing Kazakhstan’s relationship with the U.K. in these areas will not only boost Astana’s ties with the European Union but will also allow it to assume a more advantageous negotiation stance in relations with China, one of the world’s most powerful economies.
Cooperative extraction and processing of essential minerals, which are now in short supply in the British industry, is also seen by experts as a promising area of trade and investment cooperation between the two countries.
According to Jeff Townsend, the founder of the British Association of Critical Minerals, Kazakhstan is a “good market to work in” with a stable state system and major infrastructure investment, accounting for 60% of regional GDP.
The British Geological Survey selected four of the 18 most important minerals (bismuth, gallium, rare earth elements, silicon) produced in Kazakhstan, and has explored ten elements– vanadium, tungsten, tin, tantalum, niobium, magnesium, lithium, indium, graphite, cobalt.
According to Magzhan Ilyasov, Kazakhstan’s Ambassador to the U.K., the most support will be provided to British enterprises investing in high-value-added products.
Requirements of Middle Corridor and easing visa
The countries’ commitment to increasing trade and energy cooperation with Central Asian countries, including sustainable transport links and the Trans-Caspian International Transport Route, also known as the Middle Corridor, was highlighted by the Group of Seven (G7) Communiqué issued during the G7 summit in May.
Poleo says that this is an opportunity for the U.K. not just to encourage infrastructure investment but also to support a political accord to establish a reliable commercial, logistical route for Central Asia.
Easing visa rules for Kazakh citizens, which reflects the U.K.’s will to establish open ties, thereby creating a favorable basis for human engagement and business development, is another key component of the bilateral agenda.
Kazakhstan established a visa-free regime for British citizens unilaterally nearly a decade ago. Now it is London’s turn to take action on the visa issue and demonstrate how far the British partners are willing to go in their cooperation with Astana.