Abstract. In this scientific article, the processes of the formation and development of digital diplomacy and digital economy in Central Asian countries are discussed. The historical background of the formation of diplomacy in Central Asia, state programs and conceptual documents on the digitalization of society and the state, as well as global trends in this direction are concidered.
The relevance of the topic is conditioned by the fact that modern international relations are developed in light of the realities of informational globalization and the penetration of digital technologies in key areas of socio-economic and foreign policy processes.
To date, many countries are implementing strategies for the digital development of society and the state. They focus on the use of digital diplomacy and digital economy tools. Digital diplomacy implies active use of social networks, blogs and other modern ICT channels by state institutions and their representatives, political institutions, political parties in the process of implementation of foreign and domestic policy objectives of the state. Most research works interpret digital diplomacy as the use of modern ICTs to solve diplomatic problems and create a positive image of the country and its foreign policy guidelines through the Internet.
Theoretical, methodological and applied aspects of digital diplomacy are studied and analysed in the literature of Western scholars and researchers such as: G.Kissinger, J.Nai, F.Hanson, T.Hatib, W.Dutton, M.Telwell, N.Wescott, B.Baitevay, R.Burhart, A.Lesi, B.Harris, K.Nakamura, M.Viid, M.Wollin, E.Nvik, E.Okin, M.Holmes, V.Kretu, O.Grekh, V.Radunovich, J.Funk, M.Newrmy, M.Kersenta, M.Bjola, I.Manor, J.Cassidy.
The book “Digital Diplomacy: Theory and Practice” presents a systematic analysis of the practical aspects of the implementation of digital diplomacy in foreign policy, in particular, the experience of the United States and other countries on this issue. Digital diplomacy is defined as a strategy for managing change through digital tools and virtual cooperation. Digital diplomacy can and should be used as a soft power tool. Some scholars believe that digital diplomacy appeared in 2006-2007, with the formation of an advocacy group in the State Department in 2006 (“US digital outreach team”).
At the same time, digital diplomacy is not yet regulated by a separate law in any country in the world, but is only coordinated by separate conceptual documents. For example, in 2009, the U.S. State
Department adopted the document “Public Administration in the 21st Century”. The adoption of this document was dictated by the need to use the potential of digital diplomacy to improve the efficiency of the State Department. The document provides for the interaction of the State Department with all areas of world politics, including governments of other countries, transnational companies, non-governmental organizations, etc.
The U.S. digital diplomacy system is methodologically the most advanced and perfected. Governmental and legislative institutions, political institutions, political parties and other organizations in the United States use an extensive methodology in the organization and conduct of digital diplomacy: text analysis, induction and deduction, public opinion research, comparative analysis, web-based analysis of Internet user activity and so on.
This fact has allowed the U.S. to project a positive image of the country’s public institutions onto the world stage; to increase the attractiveness of U.S. political institutions among other countries as bodies capable of positively influencing the course of political processes in different regions
of the world; to disseminate the official position of the state on various issues in a more operational mode for foreign countries; to assist U.S. citizens in other countries in solving various issues, including consular, humanitarian, educational, informational, etc.; develop particular proposals for the President of the United States to improve the performance of public institutions and adopt important strategic documents based on the effectiveness of digital diplomacy.
In addition, in the United Kingdom, issues related to the organization and use of digital diplomacy in foreign policy are listed in the “ICT Strategy for 2011-2015”. The strategy provides for the active use of digital technologies in the activities of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs to organize an online
dialogue with citizens, hold a web conference to discuss draft strategic documents (draft laws, concepts, government programs, etc.), expand the virtual presence of the Ministry in digital services, and strengthen political relations with foreign countries. In addition, one of the most important tasks is to increase the qualifications of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs staff in the effective use of digital diplomacy in foreign policy activities.
In order to raise the efficiency of foreign policy activities, taking into account the importance of digital diplomacy, in 2012 the UK Foreign Office developed a concept paper “Public Digital Strategy”, which describes the forms and methods of application of digital diplomacy in foreign policy. According to the strategy, the use of digital diplomacy is noted as one of the main objectives of the MFA, which is necessary for the development of digital methods of making foreign policy decisions and documents, strengthening the virtual activity of diplomats, representatives of political institutions, improving digital tourism and education, as well as for the provision of consular services.
In turn, foreign countries actively use the potential of the digital economy for the country’s social and economic development. The use of the digital economy is necessary to increase the volume of exports of goods via the Internet, to receive dividends for the country’s economy and budget, to create jobs and to attract foreign investment. According to the definition of M. Kaluga, the digital economy is a communication environment for economic activity on the Internet, as well as the forms, methods, tools and results of its implementation.
According to some estimates, the digital economy has created 22% of the world’s GDP. The top ten list of most expensive companies in the world is dominated by representatives of the digital economy (Amazon, Google, Facebook, Netflix and Apple). According to the Boston Consulting Group’s forecasts, the digital economy will reach $16 trillion by 2035.
If we consider the global trends, China took a leading position in terms of e-commerce market volume in 2018. It should be emphasized that China pays close attention to the use of digital tools for socio-economic development and attracting foreign investment. China’s forward-looking economic strategy takes into account the role of the digital economy in the world, which is why it has planned to create a developed and well-staffed information society in the country by 2049.
China’s goal in the development of the digital economy is to fully connect the Internet and the real economy, and by 2020 to become the world’s largest economy, a leader in the global import market for goods and services. In 2016, China’s digital economy amounted to $3.3 trillion. (30% of total GDP). This sector employs 40 million people, and another 415 million jobs will be created by 2035. By this time, China’s digital industry will account for 48% of the country’s economy, and its turnover will be estimated at $16 trillion. (in 2016 - 1.5 trillion).
In recent years, these processes have also begun to take shape gradually in Central Asia. Practically all the countries of the region have started to adopt and implement a set of measures for the digitalization of society and the state in order to develop an innovative economy and new forms of public diplomacy. From this point of view, it is relevant to study the significance of the development of digital diplomacy and the digital economy in Central Asian countries, as well as to develop significant scientific and theoretical conclusions on the issues under study.
The Central Asian region, due to its geostrategic and geopolitical position, has always played and continues to play an important role in international relations. Since the early 1990s, all the countries of the region - Uzbekistan, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan and Turkmenistan - have become full-fledged subjects of international relations with the declaration of their independence, and have begun to pursue a sovereign foreign policy, establishing diplomatic relations with foreign countries and becoming members of international organizations such as the United Nations.
Since then, the process of developing Central Asian diplomacy in international relations has begun. Foreign policy has been carried out in the traditional forms of diplomacy - issues of sustainable development of Central Asia, including the creation of a solid regulatory framework between the states on cooperation in different areas and spheres - transport communications, water and environment, delimitation and demarcation of state borders and other areas of relations between the states of the region, as well as with foreign states and international organizations, have been discussed exclusively through negotiations, signing of interstate and intergovernmental treaties and agreements, participation in regional and international organizations, accession and ratification of various international conventions.
Despite all the difficulties in entering into international relations, primarily related to diplomatic practice, the countries of the region have not faced serious obstacles in its implementation and organization, as diplomacy in the region is not new. Historically, it was formed with the emergence of the first state union and relations in the region, in the 7th century BC, with the establishment of the Ancient Bactria State in the territory of Khorezm. The Ancient Bactrian State included the territories of Surkhan, Kashkadarya and Zarafshan valleys. The central cities of these regions were located in the place of Kyzyltepa, Yerkurgan, Uzunkyr and Afrasiab. These are the oldest cities discovered by archaeologists in Uzbekistan. Their age is at least 2700 years old. Diplomacy in Khorezm was developed through negotiations with representatives of foreign countries in the field of trade; craftsmanship and agriculture were also developed in the country.
Historically, Central Asia has maintained contacts with China, Persia, Afghan tribes, India and Russia. The region reached its heyday in the Middle Ages, which was marked by the scientific achievements of Bukhara and Samarkand, the rise of the Great Silk Road and the conquests of Amir Timur.
Uzbekistan, at the crossroads of the ancient Silk Road, has been developing and establishing diplomatic relations with foreign countries for centuries in order to strengthen trade, and economic, cultural and political relations. Diplomatic relations were achieved during the time of the state leader Amir Temur. During his reign, diplomacy reached a new level, and political and economic relations with the countries to the West and East were established. Amir Temur founded his diplomatic school, paying great attention to the development of foreign relations and relations through the organization of diplomatic correspondence, including with the leaders of several Western countries - Byzantium, Spain, France and England, as well as the exchange of embassies and diplomatic envoys.
Copies of the diplomatic correspondence of Amir Temur have been preserved. In one of these letters, sent to the Chinese Emperor Taizu, Amir Temur stressed: “the roads between the caravanserais are open, the robbers are destroyed, the roads to distant countries are safe and travelers will not be exposed to danger.” Another example is the diplomatic letters sent by Amir Temur to the French King Charles VI Valois and the reply of the French King to Sahibkiran, the originals of which are kept in France. The letter of Amir Temur contains a proposal to the King of France on the development of bilateral relations in various fields of activity, primarily trade. In his reply, the King of France expressed his agreement and sent congratulations to Amir Temur on his victory over the Turkish sultan Bayezid. .
Uzbekistan’s diplomatic experience accumulated over many centuries and has had a positive impact, on the one hand, strengthening the system of building foreign policy relations and benchmarks in the Central Asian region and, on the other, on developing ties with the international community.
In a short time, thanks to the joint efforts of the leaders of Central Asian countries, a new political atmosphere has been created in the region. Dialogue and interaction between the countries at the highest levels has been intensified, and historic steps have been taken towards building constructive, mutually beneficial and multifaceted cooperation. A vivid example of this is the first consultative meeting of heads of Central Asian states held in Astana on March 15, 2018 on the initiative of President of Uzbekistan Sh. Mirziyoyev.
The adoption of the special resolution of the UN General Assembly on Central Asia on June 22 this year was a historic event that marked the beginning of a new stage of regional cooperation. Today, all Central Asian countries agree that a solid foundation and guarantor of sustainable development and prosperity in the region is the willingness and sincere desire for cooperation of all Central Asian countries for a common future.
The current level of political trust in Central Asia will also allow the countries of the region to enhance interstate cooperation in the digital environment. The formation and development of the digitalization processes in the Central Asian region has been facilitated by such factors as the number of mobile phones users, now 5 billion people, Internet users worldwide reaching more than 4 billion, of whom 3 billion use social networks, 83% make online purchases. 80% of the leaders of governments around the world use social networks, e-government and e-commerce processes have become popular. Furthermore, new digital technologies, big data, the Internet of Things, the processes of creating “smart things” (including “smart city”, “smart office”, “smart medicine”), as well as robotic services and services that operate on the basis of artificial intelligence emerged.
To date, the development of digital diplomacy in the region has been facilitated by both government officials and ordinary citizens on the social platforms of the Internet.
In 2017-2018, the region experienced a significant growth in the number of Internet users: in Uzbekistan by 69% (15 million, among them 13 million use social media); in Kazakhstan by 87% (14 million use social media); and in Kazakhstan by 14% (14 million use social media, among them 6 million use social media); in Kyrgyzstan by 117% (2.1 million, among them 1.3 million use social media); in Tajikistan by 172% (3 million, among them 300,000 use social media); in Turkmenistan by 32% (1.4 million, among them 33,000 use social media).
According to the Global Digital 2018 report, almost 9 million active profiles from Central Asia are registered on Facebook. The most popular mobile applications for communication in Kazakhstan and Kyrgyzstan are WhatsApp, Imo in Uzbekistan and Turkmenistan, and Viber in Tajikistan. The second most popular in Kazakhstan is Facebook Messenger, in Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan Imo, in Uzbekistan - Telegram, and in Turkmenistan – Line.
Also, the digital activity of the heads of Central Asian states in social networks is growing. For example, the leaders of Uzbekistan Sh. Mirziyoev, Kazakhstan K. Tokayev, Kyrgyzstan S. Zheenbekov, Tajikistan E. Rakhmon, Turkmenistan G. Berdimuhamedov all use modern social networks (Facebook, Twitter, Instagram) in their practical activities. As of May 2019, about 2 million social network users worldwide were subscribers to profiles of Central Asian Heads of State. The largest part, more than 1.7 million, are subscribed to the pages of the President of Uzbekistan Sh. Mirziyoev on Facebook and Instagram.
The social network profiles of heads of states in the region are already becoming one of the main information platforms for receiving and discussing current events and processes in Central Asia. Opening pages and groups in social networks today allows the creation of a convenient format for prompt communication of government agencies with the Internet audience and this is used as a source to disseminate their own information intended for the media and the public at large.
This innovative trend and political behavior of the region’s leaders has opened a new chapter in digital diplomacy in Central Asia.
At the same time, each country, proceeding from its national interests, is developing digital diplomacy in relation to their foreign policy. For example, the measures taken to develop e-government and the openness of the activities of State bodies in Uzbekistan has opened the way to the formation of domestic digital diplomacy. The Law of the Republic of Uzbekistan “On Transparency in the Activities of State Authorities and Administration” is of great importance in ensuring freedom of access to information. This law clearly defines the procedures for informing the public about the activities of government bodies, and is aimed at ensuring broad access for the public and public associations to the information about the decisions they make, especially those that affect the rights, freedoms and legitimate interests of citizens.
One of the first steps in this direction was an event organized in 2010 by the UNDP on the use of digital diplomacy for the staff of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Uzbekistan . During the event, issues relating to the enhancement of Uzbekistan’s role in international relations were studied, taking into account the active support for relations with foreign countries and international organizations.
In Uzbekistan, the relevance and necessity of digital diplomacy in foreign policy are determined by the Decree of the President of Uzbekistan Sh. Mirziyoyev “On measures to radically improve the system of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the Republic of Uzbekistan and strengthen its responsibility for the implementation of priority areas of foreign policy and foreign economic activity”. Following the demand for digital diplomacy, the Decree sets out the task of expanding the use of digital diplomacy, which provides for the wide use of the Internet, including social platforms in the activities of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Uzbekistan.
It should be noted that many government agencies are already actively using all the world’s social networks in their activities. Facebook and Twitter are the most popular and relevant Internet platforms for government agencies in Uzbekistan. On these platforms, the Cabinet of Ministers, the Ministry of Internal Affairs, the Ministry of Health, the Ministry of Emergency Situations, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, the Ministry of Justice, the Ministry of Higher and Secondary Specialized Education, the Ministry of Public Education and the State Oil Company of Uzbekistan have created their own pages to inform the public about the work done in the framework of their activities, as well as to disseminate news of practical importance to society.
Tajikistan regulates digital diplomacy within the framework of the “Foreign Policy Concept of Tajikistan”. The document states that the essence of informational civilization is almost unlimited in terms of communication and communication beyond spatial boundaries, development of Internet technologies and the expansion of satellite communications, development and dissemination of news and information, as well as the emergence and development of digital diplomacy.
The use of digital diplomacy in Tajikistan’s foreign policy is related to the following:
- ensuring a real and adequate perception of the essence of the domestic and foreign policy of the Republic of Tajikistan by the general international community;
- presentation and promotion of the achievements and prospects of socioeconomic development of the country, its cultural and scientific achievements;
- promotion of the country’s favorable climate for investment, fruitful economic cooperation and tourism development;
- promotion of information to positively impact foreign public perception of Tajikistan;
- promotion of the expansion of opportunities for the country’s mass media in the international information space;
- implementation of active international cooperation in the information sphere;
- timely and effective counteraction to cybercrime and information threats to the Republic of Tajikistan’s independence and national interests, including the historical shrines and spiritual and ethical values of the Tajik people.
Kazakhstan is also taking active measures to promote digital diplomacy. According to Kazakhstani experts, it is important for the country to develop the “Concept of Digital Diplomacy of Kazakhstan”, which can significantly expand the zone of influence of Kazakhstan. Virtual reality does not depend on the limitations of physical space and opens up a window of opportunity to promote Kazakhstan’s ideas and initiatives at the global level. It is important to use not only traditional sites, but also the entire power of global social networks to achieve their goals.
In Turkmenistan, the Law “On Legal Regulation of the Development of the Internet and Internet Services entered into force in 2014”. The main goals and objectives of the Act are “to ensure free access to the Internet by users in Turkmenistan, to define a legal regime for information posted on the Internet or transmitted through the Internet, to prevent socially dangerous acts committed on the Internet, and to create the conditions for the effective detection and punishment of perpetrators of such offences”.
It should be emphasized that the implementation of digital diplomacy will enable the full implementation of new tasks to ensure the national interests of the country, increase transparency and openness of foreign policy activities, and increase an online presence in the world through the widespread use of digital technologies.
In turn, the digital economy is now becoming a driving force for economic transformation and growth in all Central Asian countries. This is due to the region’s interest in the formation of an innovative economy through the introduction of digital technologies in the economic sector, which will improve the investment climate, attract foreign investment, and increase national GDP.
The countries of the region have adopted important conceptual documents in order to achieve high indicators of digitalization of the economy: in Kazakhstan, the Digital Kazakhstan Program, Kyrgyzstan, the Taza Coom Program, Turkmenistan, the Digital Turkmenistan Program and the Concept of Development of the Digital Economy for 2019-2025, and in Uzbekistan, the State Program “Digital Uzbekistan-2030”.
Tajikistan has not started work on the adoption of the Digital Economy Development Program.
The World Bank is preparing an international project “Digital Central Asia- South Asia” (“Digital CASA”), which is aimed at the development of e-government and digital economy. The SCO is also playing an active role in the development of the digital economy in the region. Since 2004, members of the Organization have participated in the forums and activities of the SCO Ad Hoc Working Group of Member States on e-Commerce.
In Uzbekistan in 2018, as part of the Year of Support for Active Entrepreneurship, Innovative Ideas and Technologies, a number of Decrees and Resolutions of the President of Uzbekistan were adopted in order to develop the digital economy. These documents formed the legal basis for the introduction and development of cryptoassets, smart contracts and blockchain. Wide-ranging measures are being taken to develop the digital economy, electronic document management systems are being introduced, electronic payments are being developed and the legal and regulatory framework for the digital economy is being improved.
One of the recent events in this direction was the adoption of the Presidential Decree on the approval of the Strategy for Innovative Development of Uzbekistan for 2019-2021. A special role in the document is given to the development of the domestic software development industry through the creation of a technopark for startup projects, as well as ensuring full digitalization of the management of the state register by 2021 and simplification of the property registration.
Currently, the National Digital Economy Development Strategy (Digital Uzbekistan
- 2030) is being developed, which includes:
- measures aimed to improve the infrastructure of electronic services and the digital transformation of all sectors of the economy;
- revision of the legislation in the digital economy in order to improve data protection and attract private investment, including the adoption of a new version of the law “On Telecommunications”;
- creation of conditions for accelerated development of e-commerce, venture financing of startups in the technological sphere;
- introduction in the sectors of economy and daily life of blockchain, IoT and other modern Internet technologies;
- further improvement of the e-government system with the expansion of services provided to the population;
- further improvement of conditions for the development of programming and outsourcing services.
In addition, the country has an effective e-government system. The virtual office of the President of Uzbekistan Shavkat Mirziyoyev (pm.gov.uz), established in September 2016, is part of the e-government system. As of April 2019, the virtual office of the President had received more than 2.8 million applications. Similar government policies in the digital economy are being implemented in other countries of the region, where the main priority is:
- in Kazakhstan: acceleration of the pace of economic development of the country and improvement of the quality of life of the population through the use of digital technologies in the medium term, as well as the creation of conditions for the transition of the economy to a fundamentally new line of development, ensuring the creation of a digital economy of the future in the long-term;
- in Kyrgyzstan: creation of an open and transparent state that serves citizens, as a whole and for the individual, where life, rights, freedoms, health, education, improvement of the quality of life of citizens, as well as improvement of business conditions are at the core;
- in Turkmenistan: improvement of the efficiency of all sectors of the economy and the public sphere of the country through the use of information technologies.
In response, it should be noted that digitalization processes in Central Asia are far from being fully implemented. A number of complex issues remain, which hinder the further development of the digital economy in the region. First of all, there is no common vision or approach to digitalization in Central Asia, an absence of a single regional document on the development of the digital economy, low penetration of high-quality Internet, and a lack of modern IT technologies and personnel in this area.
In addition, ICT infrastructure cannot meet the needs of the digital economy. According to some estimates, the average penetration rate of broadband in homes is only 34%, and in some of them less than 10%. This is well below the global average of 41.4%. These problems contribute to the decline in the competitiveness of the digital economy in Central Asia, as well as lagging behind countries in the region in the digitalization of socio-economic relations on a global scale.
The following conclusions can be drawn from the study and analysis of the development of digital diplomacy and the digital economy in Central Asia:
- The formation and development of the digitalization processes in Central Asia have been facilitated by the popularization of e-government and e-commerce processes, the emergence of new digital technologies – big data, the IoT, the processes of creating “smart things”, including “smart city”, “smart cabinet”, “smart medicine”, as well as robotic services and services that operate on the basis of artificial intelligence.
- The development of digital diplomacy in the region is key to the activation of both government officials and ordinary citizens on social media platforms on the Internet. Profiles of heads of state from all Central Asian countries in social networks are becoming one of the main information platforms for the international community to receive and discuss current events in Central Asia.
- Each country, proceeding from its national interests, is developing the issues of digital diplomacy in the foreign policy of the state. For example, Uzbekistan needs digital diplomacy to achieve its foreign policy objectives, Tajikistan needs it to help create an effective means of influencing foreign public opinion in order to increase positive perception of Tajikistan, Kazakhstan and Kyrgyzstan to promote the country’s international image, and Turkmenistan needs it to enhance the legal culture of society and the state in the information space.
- The digital economy is becoming a driving force for economic transformation and growth in all Central Asian countries. This is due to the region’s interest in the formation of an innovative economy through the introduction of digital technologies in the economic sector, which improves the investment climate, attracts foreign investment, and increases national GDP.
- Digitalization processes in Central Asia are far from being fully implemented, and a number of complex issues remain that hinder further development of the digital economy in the region. First of all, there is no common vision or approach to digitalization in Central Asia, the absence of a single regional document on the development of the digital economy, low penetration of high-quality Internet, and a lack of modern IT technologies and personnel in this area. With this in mind, as well as to address existing problems in the field of digitalization, it is necessary to develop a strategy for the joint development of the digital economy in Central Asia, as well as to create a Central Asian digital trading hub, designed to organize and develop online trade between the peoples of our region within a single regional digital platform.
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