As the birthplace of the Belt and Road Initiative, Kazakhstan holds special significance in the joint development of this initiative.
Shigeo Katsu, the Founding President of Nazarbayev University, has witnessed the birth of the Silk Road Economic Belt. In an exclusive interview with SFC, he offers invaluable insights into the profound significance and far-reaching impact of the Belt and Road Initiative, along with the dynamic transformation of the relationship between China and Kazakhstan over the course of the past decade.
Katsu emphasized, “the relations over the last 10 years between China and Kazakhstan has been very, very strong”, adding that China has really established itself as the economic engine of the world.
SFC Markets and Finance: Do you still remember the day of September 7,2013? What's the reaction of the audience?
Shigeo Katsu: Beforehand, our only knowledge was that this was President Xi's first overseas trip and his first big policy speech. We were informed that this address would center on Central Asia and its surrounding regions. We knew that it must be something important, because all the Chinese press showed up and installed satellite dishes. We understood that the speech would be transmitted live back home.
During the speech, President Xi presented this concept which turned out to be the Belt and Road Initiative. I think the audiences were very impressed.
SFC Markets and Finance: What's your first impression of the Belt and Road Initiative?
Shigeo Katsu: It was a very, very important initiative, and it is still (important) today.
I had the opportunity to work on behalf of the World Bank in China in the early 90s and spent almost three and a half years in China. You really started to see the fast growth happening just in front of your eyes, how the city changed and how the country changed. And then, it accelerated in 2008.
In 2008, there was also the big event called the great financial crisis. The whole world went into a deep recession. But China, at that time, came up with a very big infrastructure and investment programme. And it helped the whole global economy to shorten and minimize the impact.
China really established itself as the economic engine. President Xi and his Belt and Road speech and initiative really put China on the map with a sort of proposal of development model and development partnership, which was quite different from the traditional ones before.
SFC Markets and Finance: This year marks the 10th anniversary of the Belt and Road Initiative. How many changes have you seen in Kazakhstan?
Shigeo Katsu: The interesting thing is when BRI was first proposed in Kazakhstan, the Kazakhstan government had prepared its own connectivity and transport programme and the infrastructure programme called "Nurly Zhol", which means "enlightened path". In that sense, because Kazakhstan also thought in similar terms already, and had its own plans, for Kazakhstan, China's Belt and Road Initiative was very complimented. For Kazakhstan people, it was like, ‘okay, we were working on that, and China's Belt and Road Initiative could really help us in complemental investments.’
SFC Markets and Finance: How do you comment on China-Kazakhstan relations in the past 10 years?
Shigeo Katsu: In 2011, China and Kazakhstan upgraded bilateral strategic partnership to an "all-round strategic partnership." Current President Tokayev, he himself is a fluent Chinese speaker. He speaks good Chinese and he has studied in China for several years. And he started his diplomatic career in China. So he obviously values his relations with China a lot. I think the relations over the last 10 years between China and Kazakhstan has been very, very strong.
SFC Markets and Finance: How about the future?
Shigeo Katsu: I think from now on looking to the future, the exchange of younger people and education exchange are going to be very important. It's going to be very important that young people here and young people from China get to know each other. And now in Nazarbayev University, we're also receiving visiting students from China.
SFC Markets and Finance: How can we enhance the exchanges between young people and universities?
Shigeo Katsu: Well, our admission department is actually quite keen to also visit China, so that our university gets to know Chinese high school graduates better, as well as undergraduate students and graduate students. Through that activity, we hope to attract more Chinese students here, but also, at the same time, the university and our students start to be more interested, increasingly, in China.
In the meantime, since 2017, Nazarbayev University has been part of what is called the Asian Universities Alliance, AUA, overlaying the banner of 15 universities in Asia. It is put together based on an initiative of Tsinghua University. From China's side, you have Tsinghua and Peking University. And we represent Central Asia. Because of this alliance, (our) students, our researchers, our administrative staff, they all have been exposed to other Asian universities included, and at the same time, senior leaders of Peking University have also visited us.
SFC Markets and Finance: I want to talk a little more about the two countries' relation. How important it is for Central Asia?
Shigeo Katsu: Central Asia was both the turning point and pass-through point of great civilization and trade. Many of the great thinkers and scientists of 1,000 years ago have Arabic names, that actually came from Central Asia. And (in) Central Asia, civilization races bloomed a lot because of trade and investment of science. So, that was a golden period. For Central Asia today, it would be very, very important to rebuild it again. The Belt and Road Initiative is part of that.
SFC Markets and Finance: We are in a world full of uncertainties. What's the key for the Belt and Road Initiative in the future?
Shigeo Katsu: I think precisely because there's an expression called VUCA World—more volatile, more unpredictable, more complex, and more ambiguous. In this world, what is important are maybe three things: if one really believes in something, one has to be persistent and resilient. But also, at the same time, third, it's important to be flexible.
In this world of uncertainty, I think Belt and Road Initiative also will have to be a little bit flexible. I do hope that the Belt and Road concept or the revival of the Silk Road is going to be a long-term undertaking. It's not just meant to be a 10-year or 15-year project.
SFC Markets and Finance: You also mentioned that you worked for the World Bank. Do you think how long before the global economy recovers from the pandemic?
Shigeo Katsu: I think many parts of the world have already recovered from the pandemic. And now the issue is, obviously, during the pandemic, many countries in particular led by the United States and also European (countries), were putting lots of resources into the economy to keep the economy floating up. There's too much liquidity, which has also turned into inflation. Bringing down inflation has therefore been a big task for most of the OECD countries. All the countries are now struggling with how to bring down inflation while not killing the economy.
I think last year, many people were more negative, (more) pessimistic. This year, people think that they're a little bit guarded. They are a little bit more optimistic. Of course, it's very important for the global economy that China also finds itself bearing.
SFC Markets and Finance: Many central banks in the Western countries hike rates quickly. How will this influence developing countries?
Shigeo Katsu: When the western economies struggle with inflation, central banks all raise interest rates. But it has an immediate impact on emerging markets, since their external borrowings and debt is very much in dollars or in other currencies. And when interest rates are raised, it means that the debt burden and financial burden are much more complicated.
So emerging markets have to get and deserve a lot of financial support, and meanwhile themselves have to be very careful in macroeconomic management.
SFC Markets and Finance: So what should the international financial institutions do?
Shigeo Katsu: World Bank's mission was to fight poverty. But now, I think we have also seen in some of the discussions, also with the BRI, a lot of investment is going into how to deal with climate change. The traditional international financial institutions like the World Bank, Asian Development Bank, or European Bank for Reconstruction Development, African Development Bank, Inter-American Development Bank and so on, they're being increasingly pushed not only to do traditional development lending, but also to focus on climate change. And with limited resources, it's going to be tough.
So probably, there has to be a big agreement, we want these international organizations to take a bigger role in fighting climate change or helping countries there. Then you also need to give these banks more resources, lending resources and investment resources. But many of the governments that own the banks don't want to give them more because they themselves also have a lot of fiscal problems. It's not an easy situation.
SFC Markets and Finance: How should the international community work together on climate change?
Shigeo Katsu: On climate change, we know there are no borders on climate change. The planet, our world, is an interconnected, single ecosystem. What we've already seen extreme weathers, a lot of extreme weather events. I think everybody has to work together forward.
新媒體統籌：丁青云 曾婷芳 賴禧 黃達迅