Central Asia is a heart of the world and in order to control the world, the region should be under the control of a power. Historically, it is tied with its nomadic and silk route. It is a crossroad for the movement of people, goods, and ideas between Muslims land and Europe, China and India. In the 19thcentury, there was a competition between Britain and Imperial Russia to establish influence in the region and it might have been an effort for global balancing. The influence of British gradually rose while Russia declined with the humiliating defeat by Japan in1905. After the World War I, Imperial Russia collapsed ironically and was able to re-infuse itself as USSR with Central Asia as five provinces. From the World War II, USSR controlled Caucuses and Central Asia and was able to preserve its dominance in the region until 1991.Post disintegration of USSR, Central Asia appeared in to five autonomous states Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Turkmenistan, Uzbekistan, and Tajikistan that are land-locked and require the cooperation of neighboring countries for accessing world markets. The region, which is located in Eurasia and heartland, increased its geopolitical importance. The Region is volatile in nature with Kazakhstan and Turkmenistan only having relative stability. Although they have shown some economic growth, the other Central Asian economies are slim and petite.
Governance in the regional states has been continuously showing elitist pattern with being less responsive to popular aspirations. There is a constant factor in their foreign policies, which is the quest for security and for economic advantage. At the social level, the influential criminal groups have grown across the region, with rampant corruption, narcotics, poverty, and terrorism threatens all five states in Central Asia. Much of the state apparatuses are inherited from socialism- literacy, workers, infrastructure etc. The force structures and military thinking, inherited from soviet, is not compatible with modern Western systems. Contemporary Central Asian leadership has three primary concerns: maintaining power, fighting internal resistance and of development of autonomous economy..From the strategic prospect, the region is significant for geopolitical interest to China, Russia and United States. The region of estimated proven natural gas reserves are 232 trillion cubic feet comparable to Saudi Arabia. Kazakhstan and Turkmenistan possess about 100 trillion cubic feet and Uzbekistan 65 trillion cubic feet, Region’s oil reserves are 17.49 billion barrels. Kazakhstan has regions ‘largest proven oil reserves.
Central Asia states are seeking investment but the international community is more focusing on geopolitics than investment. The regional sates are pursuing cooperation and opportunities among themselves. The improved political cooperation and stability among Central Asian states also has opened opportunities of investment growing economies particularly for China and India. The region has two trump cards of educated youth and abundance of natural resources with stale and secure environment for foreign investors. The two rapid growing markets China and India are interested in the regional energy and mineral resources. Both the countries have developed close relationship with Central Asian states. Post reforms era, China has made progress in investment driven model for the manufacturing and investment beyond the border. Therefore, China has vast scope of investment in Central Asia. ‘OBOR’ project is a game changer investment of China in the region has introduced the region as a transit corridor for the Asia, Europe and Russia.
The region has promising investment potential in the fields of petrochemical, agriculture and tourism. These three sectors have low-level of foreign direct investment but with the great determination and priority of governments, it may be boasted. The region has a verity of petrochemical and agriculture commodities and raw material for processing to value the regional economy. The region also has potential to serve in both domestic and international meat market. Italy has invested in beef industry of Kazakhstan and has been earning much from several years. Another area of investment is a textile industry, which has immense opportunities of cotton and wool production. The Central Asian states have the same Soviet past but follow different directions for development aspirations.
Tajikistan is a more attractive country for the cross border investors due to its favorable environment for investment. The government is directing foreign investment to install new industries and modernize old industries. Aluminum, cotton, energy and tourism reveal potential of investment and attract foreign investors toward Tajikistan. The foreign direct investment in Tajikistan has increased from $270 to 317 million in 2018. According to the report of United Nations Conference on Trade and Development, Foreign Direct Investment stock in the country was 42.7 billion in 2018.The major investors are China, Russia United Kingdome and America have invested in energy and banking sectors. Chinese companies are investing in agro, tourism, hydropower and steel production sectors of Tajikistan. From the last two years, it has invested more than $3 billion in the country. According to the report of Chamber of Commerce of Tajikistan, China wants to create industrial enterprise with progressive technology and equipment.
Kazakhstan is the largest economy of Central Asia, which shares 70% of total investment in the region. According to National Bank of Kazakhstan, the foreign direct investment has increased by 9.8% with the amount of $4.1billion in 2018. The main areas of investment are transport, mining, trade finance, information technology, communication and insurance. Last year, 17.2% investment in fixed asset has increased. A significant growth in industry 27.1%, construction 20.6%, real estate 20.1% and agriculture 14.2% is also calculated. The government has arranged a list of $10.6 billion projects and has made legislation in permit system, taxation and custom system to attract investment in the country. The migration and visa process has been relaxed and the citizens of 62 countries can and travel Kazakhstan easily.
Uzbekistan has introduced visa for three years sin march 2019 for the participant of foreign investment companies. Furthermore, the foreign investors who invest more than $3billion can get residence permit for ten years. Within a one day, a certificate of origin of goods will be issued to foreign traders. With the participant of international financial institutions, 89 projects were launched in 2019. Then 31 project of more than $3billion are also planned with the help of World Bank and Asian Development Bank. Banks are able to open account for those who are Uzbek residents and businessperson with the requirement of FATF.
Turkmenistan is isolated country of six million people with rich natural gas reservoirs. The government tightly controls any foreign activities monitoring very closely. Visa system is very complicated but the businesspersons and investors are frequent. The business environment does not support foreigners because Turkmen language has long been in isolation. Therefore, businesspersons have to rely on English language for the business activities in Turkmenistan. However, international investors have shown their interest in investment and trade with Turkmenistan. The country has potential of investment in the sectors of agriculture, energy, construction and transport. The Foreign Direct Investment stock was $36 billion in 2018 of 81.6% of GDP. China, Russia, Uzbekistan and Kazakhstan are the main investors in Turkmenistan. Due to development of market economy, Turkmenistan has planned to raise investment in fixed assets $65.72 billion by 2025, which will facilitate manufacturing sector and will create many jobs in the country.
Kyrgyzstan is the landlocked, mountainous with an economy of agriculture, minerals and reliance on workforce abroad. Cotton, wool and meat are main agricultural products. Other sources of income are gold, mercury, uranium and natural gas. The country attracts foreign investment in construction of dames, mining, gas production and agriculture sectors but most of the investment goes to mining industry but due to conflicts between local population and investors in few districts of Kyrgyzstan the flow of investment decreased. The country is facing few challenges to the Foreign Direct Investment, the economy minister Oleg Pankartov has stated, “main problem is the lack of land plots to implement investment project due to limited resources”. He further added, “there are difficulties of land transformation and limited energy capacity and poor infrastructure”. That is why; the Foreign Direct Investment flow decreased 31.5% in 2018. The main investors in Kyrgyzstan are Britain, China, Canada, Kazakhstan and Russia. In 2019, the World Bank reported the rank of the country is 70th out of 190 countries. Kyrgyzstan is among those who have made progress in terms of investment and protection. The trade with neighbor countries has boasted. However, the country has wide potential in investment, to make contract and of payments.
In short, Central Asia is a top investment destination in the world. The most investment is in the natural gas, hydrocarbon and metal sector to extraction, processing to transportation. The other destinations for Foreign Direct Investment in the region are service sectors real estate development, agriculture, trade, communications, labor, expertise, technology, manufacturing and infrastructure development. China, European Union and Russia are major investors in the regional countries. Chinese investment is growing quickly in all economies of the region. Other key factor of investment inflow is the rate of return on investment that seems positive. In other words, to get long-term benefit from the investment, Central Asian countries must allow investors to benefit too.
Muhammad Akram Zaheer