Intriguing figures on China’s natural gas purchases reported by Russian state news agency TASS and relayed by website Eurasia Daily has shed some light on Turkmenistan’s current economic woes.
In the first nine months of 2016, China reportedly increased its overall imports of gas by 26.5 percent on the previous year, up to 71.6 billion cubic meters. The average price it paid for the fuel was $228 per 1,000 cubic meters, according to data reportedly collated by China’s General Administration of Customs. That was apparently $100 less than Beijing was paying last year.
The cheapest gas of all, however, is coming from Turkmenistan, which reportedly sells its exports to China at a giveaway rate of $185 per 1,000 cubic meters. Turkmenistan sold China 23 billion cubic meters of gas over the reported period, accounting for 13 percent of what Beijing imported.
Australia was a far second to Turkmenistan as a gas supplier — 11.6 billion cubic meters shipped to China in liquified form at $220 per 1,000 cubic meters.
The takeaway here is that Turkmenistan is being badly pinched on its only serious export commodity.
And as the Chronicles of Turkmenistan points out, Ashgabat’s sale of gas to China is serving primarily to service multibillion loans issued by Beijing.
This might explain Turkmenistan routine but lackluster attempts to restore diversity among its buyers.
In the long-term there is the trans-Afghan TAPI pipeline — the prospects of which are subject of much skeptical analysis.
More immediately, Turkmen President Gurbanguly Berdymukhadmedov is traveling to Russia on November 1 for talks that are all but certain to touch upon the possibility of Gazprom resuming its acquisitions of gas from Ashgabat.
Earlier in 2016, there was some talk of a meeting to take place some time before the close of the year between the leaders of Turkmenistan, Azerbaijan and Turkey for coordination on reviving the fortunes of the trans-Caspian pipeline route. It is uncertain whether this particular summit is actually going to happen by the appointed time, however.
Ashgabat has through the fault of its own diplomatic lethargy contrived to box itself into a corner and there is no guarantee any number of urgent, high-level encounters will be able to yield useful results any time soon.
Sign up for Eurasianet's free weekly newsletter. Support Eurasianet: Help keep our journalism open to all, and influenced by none.