British-Uzbek relations can be said to have started with the exchange of letters between the Emir Timur and King Henry IV of England in the first years of the 15th century. England at this time was a middle-ranking European power while Timur was the ruler of a might empire. Henry’s missive to Timur (c. 1404) opens with suitably flowery compliments: … magnifico et prepotenti Principi domino Themurbeo amico nostro … (‘… to the magnificent and mighty leader, chief Timur Bey, our friend …’). Henry also wrote in similarly amiable vein to ‘Mirassa’ (Miranshah, Tamerlane’s third son), to express gratitude for the protection the latter had given to Christian merchants. Despite this cordial beginning, however, the relationship did not progress. A trickle of British merchants, travellers and adventurers visited what is now the territory of Uzbekistan from the 16th century onwards, but formal contacts were not established until the end of the 20th century.
A new chapter in British-Uzbek relations began on 31 December 1991 when, following the dissolution of the Soviet Union, the United Kingdom formally recognized the state independence of the Republic of Uzbekistan. Diplomatic relations were established on 18 February 1992. The first President of Uzbekistan, Islam Karimov, visited to the UK in November 1993. The agreements that were signed during this visit, together with documents previously signed in Tashkent by Douglas Hurd, the then British Foreign Secretary, laid the legal foundations for bilateral cooperation. This has been developed in various formats, including exchange visits between high-ranking officials. In recent years, there has been increasing emphasis on political dialogue in areas such as democratic development, judicial and penal system reforms, regional security and climate change. There is also active inter-parliamentary cooperation.
Trade and economic cooperation between Uzbekistan and the United Kingdom is developing steadily. Uzbek exports to the UK include precious and semiprecious stones, textiles, yarn, nonferrous metals and agricultural products as well as various profession services. Imports from the UK include medical equipment, pharmaceuticals and advanced technical equipment. As of 2016, more than 160 companies with 100% British capital were registered in Uzbekistan; moreover, 567 companies with partial British capital were operating in various sections of the Uzbek economy; and more than 73 companies with 100% British capital were registered in Uzbekistan.
The Uzbek-British Trade and Industry Council (UBTIC), founded in 1994, provides a high-level platform for bilateral economic cooperation. Sessions are held annually, alternating between Tashkent and London. The 24th session, scheduled for November 2017, is due to be held in London.
Another important organisation is CATBIG, the section of the British Expertise International (BIE) that covers Uzbekistan and the other states in Central Asia and Transcaucasia. BIE is the leading UK private sector organisation for British companies offering professional services internationally. Founded in 1966, BIE maintains close relations with a range of government departments. In mid-2015, it became part of Strategy International. Funding for BIE (and CATBIG) relies entirely on member company subscriptions and fee based services. CATBIG organises three large annual meetings, in addition to smaller sessions with visiting officials and specialists in various fields.
The UK All-Party Parliamentary Group for Uzbekistan was established in February 2017, with the aim of developing good relations between the peoples, legislatures and governments of the two countries. It is chaired by Andrew Bridgen, MP (Conservative), with Baroness Warsi (Conservative) as co-chair. The vice-chairs are: Khalid Mahmood (Labour), Lord Bowness (Conservative), Lord Sheikh (Conservative), and Baroness Stern (Cross-bench).
Cultural and humanitarian cooperation is also developing. The British Council plays a key role in this sphere through the teaching of English and the support it provides for arts, education and society programmes. There are also joint initiatives, particularly in the field of education, notably the International Westminster University, established in Tashkent in 2002 (see also sections on ‘Education’ and ‘Affiliated Projects’ elsewhere on this website). Pioneering private initiatives include the partnership between ‘The Haven, Wolverhampton’, a refuge which provides practical and emotional support services to women and children who are affected by domestic violence and homelessness, and women’s welfare groups in Uzbekistan. There are also volunteer groups of British specialists in various fields (notably medicine) who provide advanced teaching and training sessions to young Uzbek professionals.