How can Iran's involvement affect China-Kyrgyzstan-Uzbekistan railway project?
Baku, Azerbaijan, June 22
By Fikret Dolukhanov – Trend:
Beijing will fund most of the China-Kyrgyzstan-Uzbekistan railway, since one of the main goals for China is having a rail link to the Mingbulak oil field in Uzbekistan’s section of the Ferghana Valley that Chinese companies are helping to develop, Bruce Pannier, expert on Central Asia, told Trend.
Mingbulak was first developed in 1992, but abandoned after a massive oil spill. In 2010, it was scheduled to be developed by Uzbekneftegaz.
Pannier added that the railway at the same time is important for Kyrgyzstan and Uzbekistan because it gives them a new connection to China for exports and imports.
“The interesting question will be how Chinese exports enter Kyrgyzstan and reach Uzbekistan. Kyrgyzstan is a member of the Russian-led Eurasian Economic Union (EEU), which has its own trade rules, whereas Uzbekistan is not an EEU member,” the expert noted.
On the other hand, Kyrgyzstan has always been quite skeptical regarding this project because the country does not get really much out of it.
“It is true that trade with China will get a slight boost, but I think China has always been targeting Uzbekistan with this railway and Kyrgyzstan is simply a transit country,” Pannier said.
He added that China has been spreading its international influence through trade networks for some time and entered Central Asia using the same tool.
“That has never changed. There are plans to expand the railway westward but that will depend on relations between the countries. For example, Turkmen-Iranian ties are not good at the moment and Iranian-Turkish ties also experience ups-and-downs,” the expert noted.
According to him, Iran’s participation may complicate the project given the current policies of the United States.
“Washington has made exceptions in the past, for example the Kazakh-Iran oil swap arrangement. At the end of the day, if China can get all the countries to agree and is prepared to provide the bulk of financing for the project, there would not be much that could stop it,” Pannier noted.
The expert also said that it is always nice to have a UN organization support your project but in the end, it really doesn’t matter much.
According to the Stratfor, the project for the construction of the China-Kyrgyzstan-Uzbekistan railway has been under discussion for about 20 years.
The project aims to shorten the delivery time of Chinese goods to the countries of the Persian Gulf and the EU. For many countries, this route will be the shortest from China. According to preliminary calculations, the reduction of the route from East Asia to the countries of the Middle East and Southern Europe will be about 900 km, and the delivery time will be decreased by 7-8 days.
Executive Secretary of the United Nations Economic and Social Commission for Asia and the Pacific (UNESCAP) Hongjoo Hahm earlier said that the organization is ready to provide financial and technical assistance in developing joint projects for the use of the Uzbekistan-Kyrgyzstan-China railway corridor.
The executive secretary of the UNESCAP also told Trend that organization supports the discussions between Uzbekistan, Kyrgyzstan and China to further the transport corridor from China to Southern-Central Asia, and eventually to Europe and will provide assistance to develop an intergovernmental transport agreement.
Follow the author on Twitter: @FDolukhanov