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This article by the Minister of Foreign Affairs of the Republic of Kazakhstan Beibut Atamkulov was initially published in Global Times newspaper
The last several years have been a defining period in the development of relations between Kazakhstan and China. Never before have our two nations embarked on such an ambitious and globally important project as the revival of the ancient Silk Road. Since independence, Kazakhstan has strongly believed in enhancing international trade and facilitating greater business ties with its closest neighbors. For this reason, Kazakhstan's first President Nursultan Nazarbayev pursued open market policies that facilitated and enhanced global trade, not just in the region, but around the world.
Nazarbayev, the founding father of modern Kazakhstan and the leader of the nation, together with the leaders of China, for almost three decades built a solid Kazakh-Chinese partnership. Today relations between Kazakhstan and China are an example of mutually beneficial and effective cooperation. Being one of the biggest trade partners of Kazakhstan, China is the fourth highest foreign investor in our economy after the Netherlands, the US and the UK. More than 14,000 Kazakh students are studying at Chinese universities today.
Kazakhstan's new President Kassym-Jomart Tokayev shares this vision and remains steadfast in Kazakhstan's commitment to developing even closer ties across Eurasia. In his first speech since taking office, President Tokayev reiterated his commitment to following the first president's strategic mission at home and abroad. A key part of this is building on the close ties forged between Kazakhstan and China.
The role of Nazarbayev in building an independent, democratic, prosperous, rich and strong Republic of Kazakhstan, as well as his contribution to the development of a comprehensive China-Kazakhstan strategic partnership and deepening cooperation in the Belt and Road Initiative was emphasized by Chinese President Xi Jinping in his recent letter to the first President of Kazakhstan. The commitment to continuing friendly relations between Kazakhstan and China was stated in his congratulatory letter to President Tokayev, where Xi expressed his hope of also contributing to the deepening of the Chinese-Kazakh comprehensive strategic partnership for the benefit of the two states and their peoples.
In 2013, Kazakhstan was proud to play host to Chinese President Xi as he launched the ambitious Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) in our modern capital, Nur-Sultan (formerly Astana). It was a momentous occasion as he unveiled a project which was unprecedented in aspiration and scale. As well as its geographical position, Kazakhstan has long prided itself on creating open trade networks between Europe and Asia. Therefore, it is logically an indispensable player in the BRI.
Creating "a vision of free trade" across the Eurasian continent had long been the goal of Kazakhstan. Through the BRI and Kazakhstan's own Nurly Zhol program, this is now becoming a reality. I am confident that under the dedicated leadership of President Tokayev, both our governments will continue to implement this important task.
In China, Kazakhstan has found a major strategic partner, a long-term collaborator and reliable neighbor. Both our great nations understand and value each other. Kazakhstan is a vital partner in the successful implementation of the BRI, while China is an expansive marketplace and leading power on the global stage.
Thanks to Kazakhstan's strategic position at the heart of Eurasia, our country continues to play a leading role in developing an expansive network of infrastructure, including railways, roads, logistics hubs, digital networks, airports and ports.
Our efforts continue to pay off. The latest World Bank "Doing Business" report for 2019 has placed Kazakhstan 28th in the world, a rise of eight places from 2018.
Kazakhstan has not only made it easier to conduct business and investment activities inside our country, but also globally. We have transformed into a modern transit hub and our logistics and transportation infrastructure is facilitating trade between East and West, North and South in ways not seen for centuries.
To date, the speed of container trains across Kazakhstan has grown to 1,100 kilometers per day. We can now help deliver cargo from the southeastern provinces of China to Europe in just 15 days, three times faster than by sea.
Major international transport corridors such as "Western Europe - Western China," "TRACECA" and the "Trans-Caspian International Transport Route" will be running through Kazakhstan. This is one of the reasons why we have made trading across borders easier by introducing an electronic customs declaration system and reducing administrative fees.
The government of Kazakhstan has also made modernizing our transport infrastructure a priority. Over the past decade, we have invested approximately $30 billion in national transport infrastructure and we have plans to invest an additional $8.4 billion by 2020 through our Nurly Zhol program.
Kazakhstan and China can boast of the Khorgos International Center of Boundary Cooperation. It is a completely new format of cross-border cooperation.
We plan to turn the center into an economic driver of the region, and today it is becoming the center of attraction for investments.
The free trade zone has been successfully functioning between the EAEU and China.
Despite our achievements, we understand that modernization must continue apace, and it can be achieved much more quickly with the participation of international investors and businesses. This is why Kazakhstan has been actively facilitating foreign direct investments in the infrastructure sector, among other key industries.
While the global economic future continues to look challenging, Kazakhstan is determined to contribute to the enhancement of international trade and business. In the past, some have considered our status as the biggest landlocked country in the world to be a disadvantage, but we saw it as a blessing and an opportunity. Our location means that Kazakhstan is linked by land to both Asia and Europe. We want to utilize this to the advantage of not just Kazakhstan, but the whole of Eurasia and beyond.
We will continue to follow the strategic mission of the first President Nazarbayev and promote policies of progress, inclusivity and development.
Further developing relations with China is the aim of my forthcoming official visit to Beijing, which will reaffirm the commitment to strengthening and deepening relations of a new stage of our comprehensive strategic partnership.