Last but Least, Chinese Santa Doesn’t Forget Kyrgyzstan
Chinese President Xi Jinping, who has opened his wallet to the tune of tens of billions of dollars on his four-nation tour of Central Asia this month, didn’t run out of money before he arrived in Kyrgyzstan. Beijing has offered Bishkek a much-needed cash infusion reportedly totaling about $3 billion.
During his trip, Xi helped inaugurate the world’s second-biggest natural gas field, in Turkmenistan, which will help triple China’s imports from what is already its largest foreign supplier. In Kazakhstan, he reportedly signed energy deals worth $30 billion. In Uzbekistan, AFP reported $15 billion in vague energy and mining deals.
In resource-poor Kyrgyzstan, Economics Minister Temir Sariev said Beijing’s credits and investments would total $3 billion. About half will be used to build a 225-kilometer pipeline across the country for the Turkmen gas, from which Kyrgyzstan will eventually receive transit fees.
The package announced on September 11 includes a loan to build a new highway connecting Kyrgyzstan’s north and south, KyrTAG reports, citing Sariev, a $400 million loan to modernize the ailing Bishkek heating plant, and $400 million toward a long-delayed Chinese-built oil refinery. There’s even a promise to open a hospital specializing in Chinese medicine.
The two sides also agreed to start calling their friendship a “strategic partnership.”
What does China get in return? A growing foothold in Central Asia, a hope for stability on its western border, and an alternative energy corridor. (Plus a promise that Kyrgyzstan would never recognize Taiwan's independence.)
Intriguingly, it looks like Beijing is also interested in the future of the Manas airbase outside of Bishkek. The facility has housed American troops servicing the war in Afghanistan since 2001. Sariev told KyrTAG that Beijing is interested in playing a role creating a “civil hub” at Manas when the Americans depart next year. Turkey and, more notably, Russia have also expressed an interest in the facility. So the Chinese might be stepping on some toes here, which surely they have already done spreading so much largess in Russia’s backyard.
Tomorrow Xi will attend a summit of the Shanghai Cooperation Organization in Bishkek.
David Trilling is Eurasianet’s managing editor.