Does it make sense for Austrian companies to see Central Asia as a coherent region, or do you need a separate strategy for each country?
Machal: You have to see the countries separately, especially when it comes to the project business. Kazakhstan and Uzbekistan are ideal entry-level countries. This is where the economic potential is greatest and the framework conditions are a bit simpler than in the other three countries. Once you are there, you can move to a neighboring country relatively quickly. They are very helpful international financial institutions.
Central Asia plays a major role not least in the Chinese Belt and Road Initiative. What significance do you give Beijing's influence?
Machal:Chinese companies are very present in the region. However, more is currently being interpreted into the implementation of the Belt and Road projects than has actually already happened. Here, too, it is generally worthwhile to take a differentiated look at the countries. The little ones, i.e. Tajikistan and Kyrgyzstan, have a particularly strong bond with the Chinese - not least because of their enormous debts. Uzbekistan is much less dependent on China. And for Kazakhstan, China is an important economic partner, but the fact that everything here is only dominated by Chinese, as you can sometimes read, is definitely not the case. Kazakhstan's most important trading and investment partner is the European Union.
And what role does Russia play?
Machal: Russia is of course still important, especially in the political arena, but its importance is declining economically. Russian is also still the lingua franca, but in all countries, especially in Kazakhstan and Uzbekistan and supported by the governments, the national languages have also developed strongly. One thing is clear: you can't get away with English on business trips. You need someone who speaks Russian, or the national language.