One of the largest international expos of the decade is coming to the capital of Kazakhstan. On Nov. 22, 2012, the 156 member nations of the International Exhibitions Bureau (BIE) met in Paris and decided by an overwhelming majority vote of 103 countries that EXPO 2017 will be held in Astana. “I want to inform you that we have just achieved another big victory for our country,” a beaming President Nursultan Nazarbayev told a special press conference in Paris when he announced the news. “This is the greatest achievement at the international level of Kazakhstan’s independence.”
EXPO 2017 is a recognized expo, also referred to as an international specialized expo, and is part of the World’s Fair system. Recognized expos are smaller versions of the Universal expos commonly referred to as World’s Fairs. Recognized expos center around a particular theme and are held between World’s Fairs, which occur every five years. Kazakhstan has chosen the theme “Future Energy” to promote and discover sustainable, global energy solutions.
Hosting recognized expos, like hosting universal World’s Fairs, World Cups or the Olympics is a major coup for any nation. The events bring hundreds of millions of dollars in revenue and immeasurable international exposure to the culture and economy of the host nation. Countries launch major multi-year lobbying efforts to convince the International Exhibitions Bureau that their nation captures the zeitgeist of the moment and is best suited to represent the world and the chosen theme. Kazakhstan launched such an effort and was eventually chosen over the Belgian city of Liege, which received 45 votes.
Benjamin Loring, deputy director of Ceres, the Center for Eurasian, Russian and East European Studies at Georgetown University in Washington, D.C., sees Kazakhstan’s success in winning the competition to host EXPO 2017 as the logical next step in the process of integrating that nation and the rest of Central Asia into the global community and economic market place after long eras of being cut off as part of the Russian Empire and the Soviet Union. “This region of the world has been very poorly understood outside its immediate environs in the past,” Loring told EdgeKz. “However, the last 20 years have seen a gradual opening of the region to the global economy and to the world community. This will be one more step in that process.”
EXPO 2017 will last three months, include representatives from approximately 100 countries and is expected to draw three to five million visitors, which would make it the largest international gathering of its kind Central Asia has seen. It will be held during Astana’s 20th anniversary as the nation’s capital and celebrate the emergence of independent Kazakhstan and the wider region as the energy and communications hub of Europe, Asia and the Middle East since the collapse of communism. “Traditionally, EXPO exhibitions have been held in Northeast Asia, Europe and North America,” BIE Secretary General Vicente Gonzalez Loscertales said. “Holding an exhibition in the new (Central Asian) region, which is the bridge between East and West, in a young country, which has developed very good relations with European, Middle Eastern countries, former Soviet republics, as well as with all countries of the Central Asian region is an additional advantage, which also strengthens the position of Astana.”
In the 222 years since the first international industrial exhibition was held in Prague in 1791, no World’s Fair, or recognized exhibition, has been held in Central Asia. The only one to be held in the territory of today’s 12 nations of the Commonwealth of Independent States that were formerly part of the old Soviet Union took place in Nizhny Novgorod in Russia in 1875. And never in the 84-year history has the host city been chosen by such a large majority of votes.
“EXPO would not have had any great significance if it were to be held in Liege,” British financial analyst Martin Hutchinson, a contributor to the New York Times, the Wall Street Journal and Asiaweek, and author of the PrudentBear.com financial columns, told EdgeKz. “That city, like the rest of Belgium, has been at the heart of Western European trade and communications routes for many centuries. However, Kazakhstan has spent the past 20 years emerging on to the global scene after its past history in the Soviet Union.”
President Nazarbayev’s own comments reinforce that sentiment. “This will be a turning point for Kazakhstan: It will start a whole new chapter in economic development,” the president said. “I want to emphasize the importance of the fact that for the next five years the whole world will be talking about Kazakhstan,” the president said, adding that expos offer the opportunity to showcase and advance the latest technological, scientific and cultural achievements.
EXPO 2017’s Future Energy theme will promote efforts to find sustainable energy solutions to meet growing global demand. Kazakhstan’s choice of the topic reflects the recognition by the country’s leaders and policymakers that even its vast reserves of natural energy resources are ultimately finite and that eventually the country, and the rest of the world, will have to make the transition to alternative energy sources and greener economies.
Minister for Economic Integration Zhanar Aitzhanova, who has led Kazakhstan’s negotiating team to enter the World Trade Organization, sees EXPO 2017 and its green energy theme as pointing the world into new directions of growth and development for the coming century. “Today, the world needs new, environmentally safe, pathways for development. Kazakhstan has already set its course towards a green economy. We consider that a discussion about future energy is one of the most universal discussions of our time, which is precisely why we have chosen it as the central theme for EXPO 2017,” she said. Even beyond energy, the expo will expand Kazakhstan’s global cooperation with industrialized, developing and less developed countries. Government leaders are focusing especially on developing nations around the world south of the equator and looking forward to a new era of expanded development programs with them.
The event will also be a boon for Astana, which has had a successful track record over the last three years of hosting major international events, including the December 2010 56-nation summit of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe and the Asian Winter Games in January-February 2011. Both were the first major gatherings of their kind in Central Asia. They also provided Astana’s municipal government, police and services the experience and confidence to tackle hosting EXPO 2017.
Astana Mayor Imangali Tasmagambetov (right) believes the spirit and energy of his shining new capital will ensure the success of the EXPO. “Astana is the place where the energy of the youth sets the rhythm of the city,” he said.
Deputy Prime Minister Kairat Kelimbetov (below left) added that Astana’s unique location should also significantly boost the likelihood of a successful and well attended event.
“A total of 2.5 billion people live in close proximity to our country. It’s only a three-hour flight from the capital city of India, a five-hour flight from the capital of China and a three-hour flight to Moscow. We have established excellent connections. We have repeatedly held global events, including the Asian Winter Games and the OSCE summit,” he said.
The EXPO will turn Astana into a showcase for the latest global developments in the energy sector and will transform it into a hub for developing alternative energy solutions across Central Asia.
The recognition, income and interest the expo is expected to generate will also be felt beyond Astana, says President Nazarbayev.
“For us, the EXPO has to become a mega-project which will benefit each and every region,” the president told a recent gathering in Astana of mayors and governors from around the country. “This will give a powerful impetus to the innovative development of the country.”
The national pavilions that will be built to house the EXPO will be retained for future use, including as a laboratory science park for the introduction of new technologies in Kazakhstan, he said.
EXPO 2017 will provide Kazakhstan a unique opportunity to showcase the achievements it has made and the culture it has developed since gaining independence from the Soviet Union.
“EXPO 2017 will promote Kazakhstan all over the world. The exhibition defines agenda for the world economic development,” said Nazarbayev.
And judging from its efforts to win the expo and its plans for hosting it, the country plans to take full advantage of that opportunity.
Constructing the EXPO
Astana’s municipal government, mayor and planners face an immense challenge: Over the next four years, they must prepare for the largest international event ever hosted in the heartland of Eurasia, which is expected to draw five million visitors over three months.
The government of Kazakhstan has allocated 250 million euros ($325.25 million) to construct the EXPO site and build a new generation of mass transit and roads to serve it. The government also expects to attract 1 billion euros ($1.3 billion) in foreign investments for the new buildings, roads and transit systems, including a new city railway system. “This includes the costs of constructing the exhibition pavilions and new hotels for visitors,” said EXPO 2017 National Coordinator and Executive Secretary of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs Rapil Zhoshybayev. “This will be mainly paid out of new investments. And it is in line with the average amount spent on holding other EXPOs around the world.”
The EXPO itself will be held on 113 hectares (279.23 acres) of land at the end of Millennium Alley in the new southwest district of the city. The Millennium Alley area “combines numerous facilities of political and cultural significance for the city. Thus, constructing the exhibition complex at the Millennium Alley will be a logical way to continue the urban development of the city,” said Zhoshybayev. “If you start with the Khan Shatyr (mall shopping complex) and go further along the Alley, you will come to the Akorda Presidential Palace, the Peace Pyramid and the Independence Palace. The EXPO site will be located on this axis, close to the city’s new center.”
Astana also plans to install streaming cameras throughout the expo site to broadcast the event worldwide. “Astana will become the first digital EXPO with video cameras and Wi-Fi everywhere so that every corner of the world with access to the Internet can see this historic event,” said Aidar Kazybayev, chairman of the Trade Committee of the Ministry of Economic Development. Kazybayev says planning work on the EXPO was launched in January and is well underway. “We are looking for strong examples of innovation,” he said. “We are working through Astana EXPO 2017, a government corporation that has been set up to direct and coordinate the preparations, (to construct the EXPO site).” Kazybayev added that the corporation is also negotiating with potential investors and the Bureau of International Expositions Secretary General Vicente Gonzalez Loscertales for expo funding. Kazybayev said those independent investors would be the main financiers of the event, but the government would also contribute to the costs of the EXPO from its state budget.
And all of this effort will not go to waste after the expo is over. “Part of the exhibition facilities and platforms may be used as scientific laboratories, scientific centres and research institutes after the exhibition is held. We want to use the buildings erected as the EXPO village and the hotels in future as (government-owned) apartment buildings. This will help resolve social issues and development of our capital,” Zhoshybayev said. Part of those facilities will be used as a new Nazarbayev University research center, which could be used to further the innovations presented at the expo. “There is a suggestion to open a science museum… I think there will be a lot of know-how and ideas at the exhibition,” Zhoshybayev said.
EXPO’s Visions of Hope
The EXPO 2017 global gathering in Astana will showcase developments from around the world in the field of green, renewable and sustainable energy. But the leaders of Kazakhstan also see this future energy theme as forwarding their national goals of long-term sustainable economic development.
Over the next five years, Astana will function as a magnet to attract significant investment to construct exposition venues and the city’s expanded infrastructure. These projects will generate new jobs, stimulate domestic tourism, and mobilize Kazakhstan’s economic and social resources. Venues built for the exposition will serve as fruitful longer-term investments by positioning Kazakhstan and its capital as an attractive center for future large international expositions and information presentation platforms.
Serik Amirov, deputy chairman of the International Economic Cooperation Committee at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, also believes expos function as instruments for forging and strengthening partnerships between the host country and participating states. Judged in this light, EXPO 2017 will strengthen Kazakhstan’s ties with its neighbors in Central Asia.
Hutchinson also told EdgeKz that the approval to host EXPO 2017 had come at a perfect time for Kazakhstan in terms of building international relationships. “It must be seen in the context of Kazakhstan’s coming accession to the World Trade Organisation,” Hutchinson said. “Kazakhstan will find that hosting the EXPO will be especially valuable for increasing the awareness of the global community about Kazakhstan. This is particularly important because of the country’s and region’s history of geographical remoteness from the major economic centers of Asia, Europe and North America in the past.”
Olzhas Toguzbayev, deputy director of the Consular Service of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs has also recently noted the significance of EXPO in the context of Astana’s emerging role as a regular host city for major international forums and summits. He pointed out that Kazakhstan’s 2010 chairmanship of the 56-nation Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) brought Astana significant political dividends and hosting an international exposition on the scale of EXPO would also generate tremendous economic benefits and establish Kazakhstan as a major hub in Central Asia.
Therefore, Kazakhstan officials hope that by helping stimulate international discussion on sustainable green energy and economies, it will also stimulate both within their own country.