Seeking to bolster China's energy and security interests, Chinese President Jiang Zemin continued a trip to Central Asia, stopping in Turkmenistan on July 6.
Following talks with Turkmenistan's President Saparmurat Niyazov, the two leaders agreed on a declaration to strengthen economic ties. "We will cooperate in all spheres, especially in the spheres of the fuel and energy complex," the Interfax news agency quoted Niyazov as saying at a news conference. China and Turkmenistan also will seek to boost trade in agricultural products and textiles.
On July 5, Jiang participated in the annual Shanghai 5 meeting, held in Dushanbe, Tajikistan. The summit also involved Russian President Vladimir Putin, and the leaders of three Central Asian nations Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan.
The Shanghai 5 participants issued a joint statement that expressed concern about a variety of regional security issues, including the rise of Islamic radicalism and drug trafficking. The member states agreed to establish an anti-terrorism center in the Kyrgyz capital of Bishkek.
Since the collapse of the Soviet Union, China has sought to increase its presence in Central Asia, a region containing bountiful energy reserves. China has limited energy reserves of its own, and needs to secure additional sources to fuel domestic economic development. At the same time, Beijing has sought the cooperation of Central Asian states in neutralizing separatist sentiment among Uyghurs in northwestern China. So far, the Chinese leadership has been largely successful in gaining the cooperation of Central Asian leaders -- including Nursultan Nazarbayev of Kazakhstan and Askar Akayev of Kyrgyzstan in the struggle to contain Uyghur seperatism.
Among the potential projects discussed by Jiang and Niyazov was construction of a gas pipeline from Turkmenistan to China and Japan. The projected cost of the almost 5,000 mile (8,000 kilometer) pipeline would be upwards of $12 billion. Such a pipeline route was first discussed several years ago. In intervening years the project appeared dead, presumably because of the high construction costs involved. However, China's energy needs appears to have provided the spark to rekindle discussions.
Turkmenistan has been keeping its oil and gas export options open. Niyazov has been reluctant to commit fully to a trans-Caspian export route. Following talks June 30 with executives of the Dutch Shell Oil Company, the Turkmen leader said obstacles preventing the construction of the Caspian pipeline which would bring Turkmenistan's gas to Turkey, via Azerbaijan and Georgia had not been resolved. Niyazov added that there was no hurry to begin construction. Niyazov has additionally maintained an open door with Russia. While Turkmenistan has been a wary participant in CIS affairs, Niyazov has established a cordial relationship with Russia. After a May 19 visit, Putin termed Turkmenistan a "leading partner," according to a report by Radio Free Europe-Radio Liberty.
Niyazov, who has made two state visits to Beijing, has long cultivated friendly ties with China. For Turkmenistan, China represents an outlet to avoid international isolation over Niyazov's increasingly repressive domestic policies. In recent months, Turkmenistan has cracked down against domestic opposition activists. Dozens of opposition figures have been jailed on fabricated criminal charges. The most prominent opposition leader to be imprisoned was Nurberdy Nurmammedov, the leader of an opposition movement "Agzybirlik." [For background see Eurasia Insight].
Turkmen authorities have completely stifled independent mass media. On May 29, the government moved to restrict the operations of internet providers in the country. Underscoring the total control that Niyazov wields over the press was the a decree that renamed the country's only women's magazine from "Ovadan" (Beautiful) to "Gurbansoltan Edzhe," which is the name of the President's mother.
In addition, Niyazov has supported moves to limit freedom of movement of foreign citizens in Turkmenistan. Security officials have started to keeping close watch on all foreign citizens entering the country from the moment they step off arriving flights.
China has been steadfast in asserting that human rights policies are the internal affairs of individual states. Indeed, the joint statement issued at the conclusion of the Shanghai 5 meeting opposed foreign "intervention" in other states' affairs in the name of "humanitarian intervention" or "human rights protection."
Avdy Kuliev is a leader of Turkmenistans political opposition in exile. He was independent Turkmenistans first minister for foreign affairs, a post that he held until May 1992.