On October 2, the Institute for Tourism Development of Uzbekistan announced the implementation of a joint Uzbek-Chinese intergovernmental research project funded by China aimed at exploring the ways tourism could reduce poverty in Uzbekistan. Although partnering with China is not new, framing the efforts within the concept of poverty reduction is new. Tashkent’s announcement of a poverty reduction campaign at the beginning of this year and recently requesting China’s assistance in the effort could mean that from now on most of Uzbekistan’s China cooperation would be framed within poverty reduction programs.
The joint research project promises to find solutions to the existing problems of poverty, gender inequality, and boosting employment in tourism in Uzbekistan. Furthermore, the study will prepare a comparative analysis on tourism policies in Uzbekistan.
The research project cooperation was announced soon after the government of China and the United Nations Secretariat organized a conference on September 26 titled “Expanding Cooperation in the Framework of Poverty Reduction.” The Ministry of Economic Development and Poverty Reduction of Uzbekistan (until March of this year named the Ministry of Economy and Industry) was one of the participants and requested China’s assistance in its own poverty reduction activities. The ministry proposed creating a legal basis for cooperation between the countries, starting with a trip to China to study its experience with poverty reduction, and inviting a Chinese consultant to the ministry. China welcomed these proposals from the Uzbek side and expressed its readiness to share its experience.
Poverty reduction is a new buzz word in the Uzbek government following President Shavkat Mirziyoyev’s address to the Senate of Uzbekistan on January 24, in which he became the first Uzbek president to openly acknowledge the existence of poverty in the country. He said that 12 to 15 percent, or 4 to 5 million people, in the country are living in poverty. To reiterate the seriousness of the issue for his administration, Mirziyoyev spoke about his country’s upcoming plans to reduce poverty at his most recent U.N. General Assembly address on September 29.
U.N. podiums have served as the highest arena for Mirziyoyev to address the world community, and thus, anything announced there indicates a seriousness and high priority for delivering results. Given that high profile, anything now done under the banner of poverty reduction will receive the president’s endorsement.
Mirziyoyev announced three priorities to address the issue of poverty earlier this year. The first direction is for the development of industry for deep processing of raw materials (likely in reference to plans for processing natural gas). The second direction is to increase the country’s tourism potential by developing infrastructure and improving services. The third direction is to increase agricultural production for export. The intended work in the tourism sector matches with the recent intergovernmental research project with China.
It is also notable that all these measures are short-term and solely focus on increasing production, while long-term measures aiding these directions, such as serious reforms in education and public administration sectors as well as easing government regulation and interference are absent from the plan.
Tashkent’s quick move to partner with China on poverty reduction indicates that Beijing is the model for such efforts. If Western countries and aid organizations formerly spearheaded the same efforts in Uzbekistan, now China seems to be leading. China’s role has been growing in Uzbekistan for the past two decades; it is the main trade partner and investor in Uzbekistan’s economy and now the main partner in poverty reduction, too.