Opportunities in KazakhstanPresident of Kazakhstan Nursultan Nazarbayev is to visit Korea on Nov. 9. Kazakhstan is the largest landlocked country at the center of Eurasia with a population of 450 million. When the New Silk Road, a Chinese initiative to connect Asia, Europe and the Middle East via railway, is completed, Kazakhstan will be the center of logistics in Eurasia.
As the ninth biggest country located between Russia and China, it serves as a mediator between the two powers for economic and political interests. The country is 13 times the size of Korea and has abundant natural resources, oil, natural gas, coal, copper, rare earth matters and uranium.
Kazakhstan has a special connection with Korea.
First, during the Soviet era, Stalin’s forcible migration policy had many ethnic Koreans to move to Kazakhstan, and currently, there are 100,000 Koreans living there. The Russians with ethnic Korean backgrounds are known for their diligence and have founded many companies that are leading the Kazakhstani economy. The unity and sense of community of the Korean people is well received, and a Korean descendant is the deputy chairman of the Assembly of People of Kazakhstan.
Second, after Kazakhstan gained independence from the former Soviet Union in 1992, it abandoned strategic nuclear weapons and was assured of economic assistance and guarantee of security by the international community. In 1996, all nuclear weapons were destroyed and and opening policy was actively implemented, consequently becoming the most economically prosperous nation in Central Asia. It can be a model to persuade North Korea and represent Korea’s position on Thaad to Russia and China.
Third, 20 years since independence, the sentiment of the old Soviet system remains in Kazakhstani culture and educational system. Studying Kazakhstan would help understanding North Koreas’ economic concept and mindset after the unification.
Last, Kazakhstani government and people are highly interested in Korea. Over 1,000 students are learning the Korean language at the Korean Education Center in Almaty, the largest economic center in Central Asia, and the program is so popular that applicants have to wait more than six months to enroll. In 2015, 8,092 Kazakhstanis visited Korea for medical tourism, the sixth largest by nation. They spend an average of 4.5 million won ($3,856), the second most after the UAE.
The visit of Kazakhstani President is expected to produce ample discussion and agreement on economic cooperation. In order to maximize the cooperation, we need transparent information exchange and economic and management specialists that both countries can trust. The Kazakhstani government plans to establish a comprehensive system to help young Koreans and Kazakhstanis work together to start new businesses and support localization of Kazakhstani companies by introducing products made by many Korean small and medium businesses.
The infrastructure will provide a creative and innovative center integrating youth startup labs, exhibition halls, concert venues and shopping mall. Hopefully, many young Koreans will cooperate with their Kazakhstani peers to create and preoccupy a new Eurasian market.
*The author is a professor of management at KIMEP University and a researcher at the London School of Economics.