China gets gas and more
from Turkmenistan By Bruce Pannier and
Saparmurat Niyazov's six days in China represent a
long time for an authoritarian leader who is known
to dislike leaving his presidential palace
unoccupied for very long.
The length of
his stay, his third to China, highlights the
importance that Turkmenbashi, as he is known,
places on developing his contacts with his giant
neighbor to the east. And
is building on a promising foundation in economic
terms. From a low starting point in 2000,
Chinese-Turkmen trade has grown sevenfold to
US$179 million per year.
China, with its
insatiable demand for energy, can take as much
natural gas as Turkmenistan can supply. Niyazov
said recently he aimed to send China billions of
cubic meters of gas per year.
referred to a gas field "on the banks of the Amu
River. There, it is closer to China. From there we
will supply China with 30 billion cubic meters of
gas via Uzbekistan [and] Kazakhstan and on to
Shanghai. Therefore there are good opportunities."
Presidents Hu Jintao and Niyazov signed a
major deal on Monday that foresees the
construction of a gas pipeline directly linking
their countries and facilitating the flow of
Turkmen gas to China.
say they have the resources, although the extent
of the Turkmen reserves has not been independently
confirmed. In any event, they need investment to
make their resources available, and it is this
investment that Niyazov is seeking during his
talks with Chinese officials and businessmen.
However, not everyone is convinced that
selling massive quantities of natural gas to China
will run as smoothly as the Turkmens think. Khalil
Shebgin is a former president of the
Turkish-Chinese Friendship Society in the Turkish
"It is very difficult to bring
Turkmen natural gas to China," Shebgin said.
"There are three problems: first, the route to
build a pipeline; second, it will cost a lot of
money; and third, other countries have to be
involved, like Uzbekistan, and there are many
problems" in Turkmen-Uzbek relations.
realignment? Beyond the obvious trade and
investment objectives, the Niyazov visit to
Beijing can be seen in more subtle terms of
regional alignments and power politics.
"There's a three-way struggle or contest
going on with the Central Asian republics,
involving Russia, China and the United States,"
China expert Glen Barclay of the Australian
National University in Canberra said. "Beijing is
pursuing a very active diplomacy at the moment,
[not only] in Central Asia [but in] the South
Pacific, Latin America, Africa, which it can
afford to do because of its enormous economic
greater links with the Central Asian republics,
including Turkmenistan, China can preempt or
counter moves by the US to establish influence in
the region, he said. US leverage would
automatically tend to contain China's and Russia's
For Niyazov, the
attraction of China is that it can serve as a role
model in his elusive search to make Turkmenistan
prosperous while allowing him to hang on to the
balance Conventional wisdom says lifting
the lid on economics will inevitably lead to
increased political freedoms. But so far at least,
that has not happened in China.
Chinese believe that [former Soviet leader
Mikhail] Gorbachev made a critical, indeed fatal
error by tending to assume that economic freedom
involves political freedom as well," Barclay said.
The result was the collapse of the Soviet
Union. The Chinese have never believed in making
that link between economic liberalism and
politics, he said. Instead, he said, China has
always operated as a very commercially conscious
state with an authoritarian system.
have shown that it's perfectly possible to manage
a very open economy with an authoritarian
single-party structure," Barclay said.
(Yovshan Annagurbanov and Mohammad Tahir
of the Turkmen Service contributed to this