By: Andri Djufri Said, Raden Sigit Witjaksono, Catur Hadianto, Sulaiman Syarif, Edy Wardoyo
The Central Asia region is emerging as a notable source of oil and gas for world markets. The U.S. Energy Information Administration has estimated that gas exports from the region could account for 11% of global gas export sales by 2035, belying arguments by some observers in the 1990s that the region would be marginal as a contributor to world energy supplies. Central Asia sits atop a vast supply of natural gas. According to British Petroleum (BP), the proven natural gas reserves of Kazakhstan, Turkmenistan, and Uzbekistan are estimated at over 700 trillion cubic feet, among the largest in the world. Turkmenistan is the 6th biggest holder of natural gas reserves in the world with over 618.1 trillion cubic feet.
What happens in Central Asia affects Western interests directly, for example through the impact of the competition in Central Asia on long-time allies Turkey and Pakistan. The Western interest in gaining access to Central Asian oil and other raw materials is clear, as is its interest in protecting its investments in the region. The Western alliance has a direct stake in slowing the growing drug trade from and through Central Asia, preventing public health emergencies, and ensuring the safety of the highly suspect nuclear power infrastructure.
Central Asia has also known as the future of energy source. The interest of other countries in the close region and beyond will have equally significant impact on the development of the Central Asia Republic. US and Europe along with Turkey, Iran, and China will be at the forefront of the new relationships and the region that to be competed by major player countries. How the central Asia countries deal with this situation and more independent with other major power countries?
It is no coincidence that a number of major global players display a heightened interest in the region. Each of them pursues its own interests in the region. World powers and groups of states are active in developing a strategy of action toward the Central Asian states, as evidenced by the United Sates ‘‘Great Central Asia’’ concept, the European Union concept of dealing with Central Asia, Russian initiatives for creating a single economic space, the ‘‘Dialogue: Central Asia–Japan,’’ and so on.
Many experts believe that the countries of Asia and the economies of Asia are going to be the drivers of global growth in the future decades. The ability to connect with, to be part of, and partner with these countries and these economies is what’s going to drive prosperity and security globally.
Central Asia has again become a geopolitical chessboard. The superpowers of today, U.S., Russia, and China, have much at stake in Central Asia. China engages the region in order to tap the vast amount of natural gas. Russia is increasing trade with many countries in Central Asia for military and strategic purposes. The U.S. seeks to bring democracy and stability to Central Asia to prevent the region from becoming a cradle for terrorism.
The U.S. also wants stability and democracy in Central Asia in order to improve human rights and reduce hostility in Afghanistan and the region as a whole by discouraging radical terrorist groups from gaining control of the region. The other countries, such as Turkey and Iran, are also in a position to plat the most constructive role in the region and will attempt to redirect the Central Asia republics away from a Western orientation.
The Central Asian Republics have an immense supply of natural resources, but they could significantly benefit from more foreign investment and added infrastructure. Kazakhstan is the world’s largest exporter of uranium. Tajikistan, Uzbekistan, and Kyrgyzstan have large gold and mineral deposits. They are also major cotton and wool producers. Turkmenistan and Kazakhstan export substantial amounts of natural gas and oil. Currently, the largest trading partners by volume to Central Asia are Russia, China, Turkey, and Iran. Trade information from 2012 reveals that intra-regional trade is $3 billion, accounting for only 6.2% of total imports into Central Asia.
Opportunity for Indonesia
Traditionally, Indonesia has a good relationship with Central Asian countries in terms of religion contacts between the two people. Majority of population in that countries are moslem. This similarity could be the best modality to tie close relations with Central Asia. Presiden Yudhoyono had already visited Kazakhstan in September 2014 to strengthen energy and economy relations.
So far until 2016, Indonesia concluded more than 58 treaties (ammong others in the form of Agreement, MoU, Arrangement, Joint Communique) with Kazakhstan (13), Kyrgistan (12), Tajikistan (12), Uzbekhistan (16) and Turkmenistan (5). Most of the treaties are in the political, economics and investment field. Those treaties would be served as legal basis for Indonesia to further strengthen and expand cooperation with countries in Central Asia.
As Indonesia has a policy to strengthen its energy security in the future, Central Asia could become strategic point of Indonesian foreign policy. Government could promote economic and energy relations by encouraging and facilitating private sectors to open contacts with business sectors in Central Asia. Geostrategic position of Central Asia could also be used to raise Indonesian trade volume by making Central Asia as a hub for Indonesian product to be marketed in European states.
Central Asia is being rapidly transformed. The kind and timing of its new political, economic and military attachments must be monitored closely. The Indonesia’s opportunity to get benefit from their growth and stability should not be lost.
Jakarta, 31 October 2016