By Stephen Blank (01/07/2015 issue of the CACI Analyst)
Few realize that China is actually building three Silk Roads, one through Central Asia to Europe; a second, maritime one, through South East Asia to India and South Asia; and third, China is building a robust commercial network through the Arctic to connect it with Europe. In all three cases there is a common geopolitical dream that has been shared by Russian and Asian leaders since the opening of the Suez Canal: building a land-based alternative connecting East, South, and Central Asia to Europe by purely terrestrial means. China’s plans for Central Asia are extraordinarily ambitious but there are serious problems that could undermine them.
By Stephen Blank (11/11/2014 issue of the CACI Analyst)
Kyrgyzstan is considered the least authoritarian state in Central Asia, but it is also the most crisis-ridden and least stable of these states. Its long-standing domestic weaknesses are compounded by its external crises and only Ukraine has achieved a similar level of instability among post-Soviet states. In both cases, recent revolts have been aided by direct Russian hands-on efforts at destabilization. Kyrgyzstan risks a turbulent 2015 as it faces a decline in Russian subsidies amid pressure to join the Eurasian Economic Union (EEU), along with the interaction of several ethnic, economic, border, and international crises, which Kyrgyzstan’s weakening state will unlikely be able to handle.
By S. Frederick Starr (10/29/2014 issue of the CACI Analyst)
Kazakhstan may have not had a choice as to whether or not to join the Customs Union, given geographical realities and President Nazarbayev’s long advocacy of that course. Now that it is joining, however, Kazakhstan has advanced a new strategy that seeks to rescue and preserve its “balanced” or “multi-vectored” foreign policy and to extend it beyond geopolitics into economics and security. This requires the full engagement of the EU and U.S. The EU’s October 2014, Enhanced Partnership and Cooperation Agreement with Kazakhstan advances this goal in the economic realm, but does not touch security. The U.S. has yet to take make similar advances in its economic or security relations with Kazakhstan.
By Oleg Salimov (10/01/2014 issue of the CACI Analyst)
Tajikistan’s President Rakhmon met with China’s leader Xi Jinping right after the recent SCO summit in Dushanbe. It was Jinping’s first visit to Tajikistan. The official meeting concluded in the signing of 16 contracts and agreements on cooperation. In general, the agreements and contracts covered three major areas, such as economy, agriculture, and banking. The leaders also signed separate agreements on extradition and exchange of convicted persons. The connotation of the official visit is a continuation of China’s political and economic expansion in Tajikistan.
Tajikistan’s major financial achievement in the meeting between Rakhmon and Jinping was securing a grant for trade and technology development in the amount of RMB 300 million (approximately US$ 49 million) and the approval of lax export credit from China’s Ministry of Trade (the amount is yet to be announced). The RMB 300 million grant is the second non-repayable financial aid to Tajikistan after a similar RMB 150 million grant provided in 2012 by China’s then leader Hu Jintao to Tajikistan during Rakhmon’s official visit to Beijing.
According to Tajikistan’s Ministry of Economic Development, the amount of China’s total credit to Tajikistan exceeds US$ 800 million. The latest agreement between Tajikistan’s government and China’s Export – Import Bank foresees the prospect of a US$ 400 million credit from China for various developmental projects in Tajikistan. In providing development and consumer credits to Tajikistan, China pursues its own economic goals of finding and supplying new markets. The previous lax credits from China were primarily aimed at developing transportation connections between Tajikistan and China. Thus, the road from Dushanbe in Tajikistan to the Xinjiang Uighur autonomous region in China allowed for an increase in the export of Chinese goods to Tajikistan. The recent approval of lax export credit to Tajikistan is a predictable step intended to increase China’s exports even further.
In turn, Tajikistan falls greatly behind in trade turnover with China. According to Tajikistan’s Statistics Agency, the China-Tajikistan trade in 2013 reached a record US$ 682 million, with China’s share amounting to US$ 595.7 million and Tajikistan’s to only US$ 86.3 million. Tajikistan’s production industry also suffers from unbalanced trade with China. Raw materials such as aluminum, cotton, and leather are the primary export items from Tajikistan to China, whereas ready products, goods, and equipment are the main importing categories from China. This significantly undermines Tajik light and textile industry.
During his visit, Jinping announced the official construction start of Tajikistan’s part of the Central Asia – China gas pipeline. This is the fourth branch of a massive system of gas pipelines designed to supply China with natural gas from Turkmenistan. The construction agreement for the fourth branch was signed on September 12, 2013, in Bishkek at the SCO summit.
The two first branches go through Kazakhstan and Uzbekistan and deliver 69 billion cubic meters of natural gas annually (bcm/y). The third branch went into service in May 2014. It was constructed alongside the first two with a projected capability of 25 bcm/y. The fourth branch will transit 25 bcm/y from Turkmenistan to China through Tajikistan. The total length of the pipeline which also passes the territory of Uzbekistan and Kyrgyzstan is 3,700 kilometers. The length of Tajikistan’s part is 400 kilometers. China is the primary investor, constructor, and consumer of the project.
According to Saidakhmad Sharofiddinov, the head of Tajiktransgas (a state company representing Tajikistan in the project), there is no immediate plans of importing Turkmen natural gas to Tajikistan although the country desperately needs gas for its industrial and residential consumer purposes. The completion of the pipeline is expected in 2016. Putting high hopes on the pipeline, Tajikistan cherishes the idea of constructing a railroad alongside the pipeline. The realization of this idea will completely depend on China’s willingness to invest in it as Tajikistan lacks financial, technological, and other capabilities to initiate the project.
As expected, the meeting between Rakhmon and Jinping in its form and content repeated the previous meetings of Tajik and Chinese leaders. China continues its aggressive expansion in Tajikistan’s economy through credits and grants, which serve China’s needs while simultaneously suppressing the political will of Tajikistan’s government who sees no other alternatives to China’s financial aid and investment. The presumable development of Tajikistan’s energy sector is another backdrop for the country’s economy as its industrial complex has become a passive observer in a China – Tajikistan project with China supplying material, equipment, and even the workforce for constructing energy infrastructure for its own consumption. The reluctance of Tajikistan’s government to recognize China’s one-sided approach in their bilateral relationship is increasingly hollowing out Tajikistan’s political and economic independence.
By Richard Weitz (10/01/2014 issue of the CACI Analyst)
On August 24-29, the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO) held its largest multinational exercise in history, Peace Mission 2014. The declared objective of the joint drills is to help the SCO member governments deter and, if necessary, defeat potential terrorist threats. But the exercises also allow Russia and China to communicate to the SCO and other parties, especially the U.S., that Moscow and Beijing have a genuine security partnership and that it extends to cover Central Asia.
The Central Asia-Caucasus Analyst is a biweekly publication of the Central Asia-Caucasus Institute & Silk Road Studies Program, a Joint Transatlantic Research and Policy Center affiliated with the American Foreign Policy Council, Washington DC., and the Institute for Security and Development Policy, Stockholm. For 15 years, the Analyst has brought cutting edge analysis of the region geared toward a practitioner audience.