Potential for Asean, Azerbaijan cooperation
AZERBAIJAN President Ilham Aliyev, Afghanistan President Mohammad Ashraf Ghani and Turkmenistan President Gurbanguly Berdimuhamedov drew considerable attention from the international community after meeting via video conferencing on July 2, discussing cooperation between their countries, including the Lapis Lazuli transport corridor, which connects landlocked Afghanistan with Europe through Azerbaijan and Turkmenistan.
Besides other valuable information, the gathering also provided an update about Azerbaijan’s efforts in the leading regional projects. In this regard, fact-based remarks by Aliyev once again demonstrated significance of Baku’s contribution to the cooperation in the wider Caspian Sea region.
He said, through major investments, a modern transport and logistical infrastructure had been established in Azerbaijan.
In this respect, the Alat International Sea Trade Port, commissioned in 2018, has a transshipment capacity of 15 million tonnes of cargo and 100,000 containers. In the future, it’s capabilities can be increased to 25 million tonnes and one million containers.
While having the largest fleet in the Caspian Sea with 260 ships, Aliyev also explained the highway development policy of Azerbaijan. Referring to the latest Davos World Economic Forum report, Azerbaijan is ranked 27th worldwide for its quality of roads. With six international airports, Azerbaijan is in 12th place in terms of air transport efficiency.
Aliyev also highlighted the country’s railroad capacity, focusing on the Baku-Tbilisi-Kars railway project which kicked off in 2017. Describing it as the “Iron Silk Road”, he stated that Azerbaijan, as a country located between Asia and Europe, makes a significant contribution to the transport and logistical sector in the Eurasian region.
The volume of goods transported by the Baku-Tbilisi-Kars railway in the first six months of this year was 3.7 times higher than in the same period last year. According to the Davos Economic Forum, Azerbaijan ranks 11th in the world in terms of railway efficiency. The Davos report also puts Azerbaijan at No. 34 for transport infrastructure.
As for the Lapis Lazuli transport corridor, Aliyev said after connecting with the Baku-Tbilisi-Kars railway in 2018, goods from Afghanistan began flowing to Turkmenistan and further to the West. The first experimental cargo shipped from Afghanistan in December 2018 was delivered to Baku port within 12 days. In January to May, 55,500 tonnes of cargo were transported between Azerbaijan and Afghanistan.
Aliyev said despite the negative effects of Covid-19, Azerbaijan had taken additional measures to provide uninterrupted transport of goods. Turkish President Reccep Tayyip Erdogan also pointed to the important role of the Baku-Tbilisi-Kars railway during the pandemic.
Azerbaijan is also an active partner in the Trans-Caspian International Transport Route, established in 2013, as a new transit corridor, extending from the Chinese-Kazakh border, connecting Kazakhstan, Azerbaijan, Georgia and Turkey via the Caspian Sea.
To sum up, Lapis Lazuli or Trans-Caspian International Transport Route projects had positioned Azerbaijan at the centre of three major integration processes — the Belt and Road Initiative, the European Union and the Eurasian Economic Union.
The Trans-Caspian cooperation aims for regional peace and prosperity. Last April, the Milli Majlis (Parliament) of Azerbaijan ratified a law on an agreement for laying a trans-Caspian fiber-optic cable across the Caspian Sea between Azerbaijan and Turkmenistan.
This line, which is also called the “Digital Silk Road”, is expected to contribute to transcontinental access between Europe and Asia, connecting the Internet centres of Frankfurt and Mumbai.
By joining this trans-Eurasian digital initiative, Azerbaijan is positioning itself to become a regional digital hub.
Today, Azerbaijan is steadily developing its bilateral relations with Malaysia and other Asean countries; from diplomacy to economic and humanitarian cooperation. The recent development regarding the unanimous support by Asean countries to Aliyev’s proposal to convene a special session of the United Nations General Assembly in response to Covid-19, via videoconferencing, was a token of mutual trust and confidence.
Azerbaijan also looks forward to strengthening its relations with Asean. There is a huge potential for it.
A more appropriate narration to explain the role of Azerbaijan as a partner in the wider Caspian Sea region may be referred to Aliyev’s statement to the media: “… Azerbaijan is a small country geographically, but from the point of view of what we can do in the region and what contribution we can make, we go beyond our geography”.
The writer is first secretary, Embassy of the Republic of Azerbaijan in Kuala Lumpur
The views expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect those of the New Straits Times