Australia has no embassy in Kazakhstan, yet the two countries enjoy a warm diplomatic embrace. In fact, Australia and Kazakhstan celebrated 20 years of diplomatic relations in 2012. The relationship started well. So well that, in 1995, Australia had an embassy in Astana, Kazakhstan’s capital. However, the constraints of finances closed the doors of Australia’s embassy in Astana. There was no other reason according to the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade. My argument is a simple one. Australia’s relationship with Kazakhstan should be good enough to justify the idea of Australian diplomats opening the doors to their embassy on a fresh morning in Astana.
Let me start with some facts. Australia has an Ambassador to the Russian Federation. The Australian Ambassador to Russia also manages the country’s diplomatic relations with Uzbekistan, Turkmenistan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, Moldova, Armenia, Belarus and Kazakhstan. Despite this, the Canadian Embassy in Astana provides consular assistance to those Australians who need it whilst in Kazakhstan. Although Australia has no embassy or consulate in Kazakhstan, Kazakhstan has two consulates in Australia. One of which is in Melbourne, the other of which is in Perth.
I have two issues with Australia’s diplomatic relationship with Kazakhstan, or lack thereof. Firstly, the fact that Australia’s diplomatic relations with Kazakhstan are run through Moscow could be interpreted as Australia viewing Kazakhstan as a mere Russian satellite state. Kazakhstan is much more than a Russian satellite. It is a country with a credible diplomatic reputation and a growing economy. Secondly, the fact that Kazakhstan has two consulates in Australia while Australia has none in Kazakhstan suggests that Kazakhstan is willing to invest more in the two nations’ diplomatic relationship than is Australia. This is a sad fact and Australia should be more willing to invest in the Australian-Kazakh relationship, for the relationship is actually going quite well and is an important one.
Why is Kazakhstan important to Australia? I will now outline some of Kazakhstan’s economic character in order to answer this question. Australia trades with Kazakhstan more than it does with any other country in Central Asia. Kazakhstan became the first country in the former Soviet Union to get an investment-grade credit rating and its rate of economic growth has been high and will likely be high in the future. The taxes in Kazakhstan are also favourable for foreign companies for there are generous exemptions available to them. To top it all off, Kazakhstan is the ninth largest country in the world for it is 2,724,900 square kilometres in size and is endowed with an impressive collection of metals.
There are even more interesting facts about Australia’s economic partnership with Kazakhstan. Firstly, there exists a Kazakhstan-Australia Chamber of Commerce, which promotes investment between the two countries. Secondly, many Australian companies operate in Kazakhstan. Gloria Jeans is probably the most interesting example of an Aussie company working in Kazakhstan. Thirdly, both Australia and Kazakhstan co-operate well in education. For example, the University of Melbourne’s School of Engineering had their academics design a part of the Engineering curriculum at Nazarbayev University in Astana. Furthermore, many Kazakhs come to Australian universities to study. These are the strengths of the Australian-Kazakh relationship.
There are some more facts that I ought to mention, all of which attest to the quality of its diplomatic character. Kazakhstan has 12.1% of the world’s uranium yet it has made a serious effort to rid itself of the nuclear weapons it acquired during its days in the Soviet Union. President Nursultan Abishuly Nazarbayev has to be one of the few heads-of-state who shut down an entire nuclear-weapons-facility without condition. This is a serious diplomatic achievement which should not be scoffed at.
The dis-armament of nuclear weapons is also one of Australia’s priorities in international politics and we have 31% of all the world’s uranium; the most uranium of any country on the planet. So it is one of the few areas in foreign policy in which we have serious influence. Kazakhstan, with its similarly vast amount of uranium, could be just the partner Australia needs to control the spread of nuclear weapons in an unstable region which could very well continue to be unstable. Australia could rely on Kazakhstan to restrict the supply of uranium in Central Asia and promote dis-armament more generally, for it does these things already.
Nuclear dis-armament is where Australia’s and Kazakhstan’s interests are aligned and militaries tend to co-operate best when their interests are aligned. Hence our militaries have a reason to better their co-operation and more co-operation could make Central Asia more secure. Having an Australian embassy in Astana would be a good place to start achieving these ends.
Central Asia might have a volatile strategic environment but the region is becoming an important one for reasons economic. So important will be Central Asia that Xi Jinping announced that China will be linked to Europe by the Silk Road Economic Belt on his first official visit to Kazakhstan. If this plan becomes a reality, Central Asia will be a hub for investment and will join the Western World with the Eastern World. Australia ought to consider these plans if it wants to be an active member of the Asian community in the future.
Australia and Kazakhstan have a strong partnership in trade. Australia and Kazakhstan have similar strategic interests when it comes to the politics of nuclear weapons and dis-armament. Australia and Kazakhstan are two countries who strive to be active members of the Asian community. So why shouldn’t Australia open an embassy in Kazakhstan? The Australian government’s Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade ought to think about this question for it would be in the best interests of both countries to celebrate the opening of an Australian embassy in Astana. I say Kazakhstan means to Australia than just Borat.
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