Francis Fukuyama: “Central Asia will obtain more freedom if Russia and China get weaker”


The prominent American philosopher and political economist Francis Fukuyama has shared his vision on what role Central Asian countries play in the context of the Russian war against Ukraine, whether the world is facing a new conflict and what Kazakhstan can do to become more independent from neighboring countries. Even though Fukuyama predicted prosperity and peace for the entire world in his book The End of History and the Last Man, written after the collapse of the Soviet Union, he’s no longer sure of this prediction.

Fukuyama came to Kazakhstan as a mentor of the Leadership Academy for Development (LAD) program, which is aimed at «providing training for leaders from public agencies, business and civil society for forming constructive force, which is capable of facilitating inclusive economic growth, reasonable state policy and market reforms.» This is his first visit to Kazakhstan. The Center for International Private Enterprise (CIPE) and the Kazakhstani foundation CAPS Unlock (formerly known as Soros Foundation) received more than 330 applications and selected 35 participants for the program. Along with Fukuyama, the course will be taught by Mary Hilderbrand, Ph.D. in political science, Eric Jensen, director of the Rule of Law program at Stanford Law School and Eric K. Hontz, director of the Center for Accountable Investment.

As Fukuyama told the media, LAD provides training for those who work within and outside the government in order to improve the skills needed for long-term political reforms. He hopes that the course’s participants will contribute to the development of Kazakhstan and Central Asia. So far, this program has been presented on 70 occasions across the world. It includes lectures, case studies and a system for solving political problems.

Central Asia can spark changes throughout the world

Fukuyama has underlined that he is very interested in the region of Central Asia, which is going through «a special type of shock.» According to the philosopher, the region is playing «a very important role in the geopolitical context of the Russian invasion of Ukraine that started two years ago.» Fukuyama believes that massive changes are occurring not only in these two countries but across the entire world.

«The world is going through very serious changes. Regarding Kazakhstan, it is squeezed between two big powers, China and Russia, which are also going through serious transformation processes. At the same time, we also see changes in the European Union and the U.S., which aren’t free of their own problems. I think the world is about to change. One of the changes may occur in this region, I believe. This is why I am interested in this region. I think Americans should learn more about Central Asia,» the American philosopher said.

In response to questions by Kazakhstani journalists about what Fukuyama would do if he were an adviser to President Kassym-Jomart Tokayev, he said that the country’s government should do everything possible to maximize its freedom of action.

«The trick is not to stay too dependent on one country. In addition to China, Russia and the EU, South Korea and the U.S. also have interests in the region. So far, Kazakhstan is continuing to stick to this strategy, as far as it possible, based on its geopolitical, geographical and economic stance. If I were a Kazakhstani diplomat, I would follow the same policy: to reach as much freedom of actions as possible to the extent of the geographical location of the country,» Fukuyama said.

At the same time he pointed out the strong dependence of the country’s economy on political decisions, which is kind of a Soviet legacy, the philosopher says. The key factor of success for any state is to be capable of hearing what the society wants in order to deliver these expectations.

«Personally, I would prefer a model where the role of the state isn’t central and more focus is put on the society. The society should send requests to the state, while the government is supposed to provide people with all necessary resources for reaching development, wealth and prosperity,» Fukuyama said

What is going to happen with Russia, China and Central Asia

Fukuyama pointed out that none of the Central Asian countries have proclaimed themselves as «pro-Russian» because these countries are trying to stay at a certain distance from Russia. However, the expert admitted that it is almost impossible to stay independent in this situation.

«The weaker Russia and China become; the more freedom can be obtained by smaller countries around them. They will be able to decide on their own and act independently. Frankly speaking, all observers say that it is impossible to obtain total independence. I hope very much for geopolitical changes, for weakening of Russia and China, which will allow Central Asian countries including Kazakhstan to get more freedom of action, to operate more freely,» the speaker said.

According to Fukuyama, a great example is Mongolia, which like many other post-Soviet countries is sandwiched between Russia and China. This country has successfully preserved «reasonable democratic principles and autonomy in regard to its foreign policy and internal democratic institutions.»

«They have more freedom of action, more room for maneuvers. This is a model that should be studied to get rid of extremely high dependence on China and Russia,» Fukuyama said.

The philosopher believes that Russia has already weakened to some extent as President Vladimir Putin failed to deliver all the goals he announced before the invasion of Ukraine. According to the expert, there are plenty of nations in the world that may look very strong outside but are in fact weak.

«I think Russia is exactly this kind of state. We should observe what is going to happen within the following two years. I won’t predict anything in detail, especially the collapse of Russia. We have to wait but I think that this country isn’t as strong as it seems. Concerning China, we see that its economic growth has slowed down over the past ten years to 6% to 7%. The country’s economy hasn’t yet rebounded from the COVID-19 crisis. Many economists say that there are some rocks underwater in China, which prevent the country and its economy from rapid economic growth,» Fukuyama said.

Is there a threat of a new war?

According to Fukuyama, the war between Russia and Ukraine isn’t just regional because Putin was unhappy with the dissolution of the Soviet Union and further events all along.

«He is not okay with the current world order, which was set after the collapse of the USSR in 1991. He didn’t like the behavior of Ukraine and Georgia. He wasn’t happy with newly independent countries’ choice in favor of democracy and freedom,» said Fukuyama.

He says that Russia has given a bad example of invading other countries and seizing their land. The philosopher believes that the next big war may happen in East Asia.

«China’s hostile rhetoric toward Taiwan has increased. We all now think that this [invasion and seizing of land from other countries] has allegedly become possible. Now we have to think about what we are going to do with this. If the conflict in East Asia happens, it will be a global catastrophe. I think the U.S. should take every measure possible to prevent Taiwan from being conquered by China,» he said.

According to Fukuyama, China uses the same propaganda narratives as Russia in the case of Ukraine. The expert underlines that this rhetoric can cause frustration in institutions and emphasizes the idea that you can’t trust anyone, manipulations are everywhere and everything is fabricated.

«Russia has successfully done this in the U.S. and now China is going to do the same. I don’t think they use a different narrative because the old one was quite effective,» the philosopher said.

In turn, Eric K. Hontz from the Center for Accountable Investment and Fukuyama’s partner in the LAD program said that Kazakhstan should look up not to China but to Asian democracies such as South Korea and Japan.

«The narrative China is spreading is the following: you are Asians, while we have our own Chinese Asian model and you can use it as well. Democracy, liberalism and human rights are something invented in the West. These values do not belong to us as the Asian model contradicts liberalism,» said Hontz.

He also added that this propaganda never mentions countries such as South Korea and Japan, where people have plenty of opportunities for prosperity, enrichment and development. Liberalism is suitable for every country, Hontz highlighted.

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