Cameron seeks ‘new era’ in UK-Central Asia relations on visit to region

Lord David Cameron has heralded a “new era” in relations between Britain and Central Asia on a visit to the region amid concerns about trade sanctions on Russia being side-stepped in neighbouring countries.

The Foreign Secretary is travelling across Tajikistan, Kyrgyzstan, Uzbekistan, Turkmenistan, Kazakhstan and Mongolia in a diplomatic bid to boost trade, security and environmental ties with the UK.

He will warn Central Asia is “at the epicentre of some of the biggest challenges we face” as he announces a series of measures aimed at supporting its “hard-won sovereignty”.

Cameron visit to Central Asia – Day 1
Lord David Cameron meets foreign minister Sirojiddin Muhriddin in Dushanbe, Tajikistan (Stefan Rousseau/PA)

“I’m delighted to be the first foreign secretary to visit your country. I’m only sorry that it’s taken so long for one to come,” he told President Rahmon.

“We want to signal a new era in relations between Britain and all of the Central Asia republics, starting here in Tajikistan.

“Overall we’re here to say ‘let’s make the partnership bigger, let’s do more things together’.”

The trip, which is the first by a British foreign secretary to Tajikistan, Kyrgyzstan and Turkmenistan, comes as reports suggest luxury UK cars are still making their way to Moscow through former Soviet states.

Cameron visit to Central Asia – Day 1
Lord Cameron is on a five-day tour of the Central Asia region (Stefan Rousseau/PA)

In talks with leaders from across the region, Lord Cameron will seek to “advance discussions on sanctions circumvention, human rights and reform,” the Foreign Office said.

He will double the amount of funding for Chevening scholarships, which support people from overseas studying in British universities, and announce £50 million over the next three years in development spending across the region.

A new scheme designed to promote the English language will also be announced, including online teaching resources with tailored local content available to teachers throughout Central Asia, the Foreign Office said.

The Foreign Secretary will also visit a number of key sites including the hydro-electric project at the Nurek Dam in Tajikistan, which is heavily reliant on Russia for fuel, and a canal irrigation site in Kyrgyzstan.

Ahead of the trip, Lord Cameron said: “We live in a contested, competitive world. If you want to protect and promote British interests you need to get out there and compete.

“Central Asia is at the epicentre of some of the biggest challenges we face and it’s vital for the UK and the region that we drive forward its future prosperity.”

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