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Comment: Lord Cameron’s visit demonstrates importance of Central Asia

24 April 2024

Lord Cameron’s visit to Central Asia and Mongolia demonstrates the importance of the region, says Chair of the Foreign Affairs Committee Alicia Kearns.

The Foreign Affairs Committee’s report “Countries at crossroads: UK engagement in Central Asia”, published in November 2023, called for high-level ministerial engagement, including visits from the Prime Minister and the Foreign Secretary.

The report found that the “deepening of UK engagement in Central Asia not only has the potential to be mutually beneficial but also should be seen as a geopolitical imperative”.

The report called for the UK to tailor approaches to engagement for each Central Asia country in order to encourage independence. Lord Cameron has announced £50 million in funding to support the sovereignty and independence of states across the region.

The Committee’s report urged the Government to expand the numbers of Chevening scholars from Central Asian countries. During his visit, Foreign Secretary Lord Cameron announced the doubling of funding for Chevening scholarships to enable more to study at British universities. In the report, the Committee called for adequate resources for the British Council. Lord Cameron has now announced a focus on opportunities for young people and ensuring access to tailored materials by the British Council.

Chair of the Foreign Affairs Committee, Alicia Kearns MP, said:

“The Foreign Secretary’s visit to Central Asia and Mongolia demonstrates the increasing importance of this geopolitical region, as identified by our report in November. In order to show the UK’s commitment to the region, we called for engagement with Central Asia at the top of Government, including visits from the Prime Minister and Secretaries of State. I am pleased to see that the Government has listened to Parliament.

“Lord Cameron’s acknowledgement that Russian elites have been using Central Asian states to circumvent sanctions is welcome. The Foreign Affairs Committee called for the UK do more to clampdown on illicit finance in the City of London and sanctions evasion via third countries. In order for the UK’s sanction regime against Putin to be effective, it must be ironclad.

“Situated along the fault line between Russia and China, protecting the independence and sovereignty of Central Asian countries is paramount. £50 million of extra funding may help the UK increase its soft power and influence in the region. We would reiterate the calls in our report for the Government to produce a strategy for trade and investment that should include more detail on how this new funding will be spent.

“Increasing the UK’s cultural ties with Central Asian countries is crucial. In our report we called for an increase in Chevening scholars and adequate resources for the British Council. I am pleased that the Foreign Secretary has announced a doubling of funding for Chevening scholars and a push to bolster English language skills and increase access to British Council resources.”

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Image: House of Commons