China in Central Asia: humanitarian assistance and trade (Eurasianet, USA)

If you read Central Asian media, you probably have already heard that China is a good neighbor, ready to help friends in difficult times. The press service of the embassies of China work tirelessly spreading the news about the generosity of Beijing: thousands of test systems for the diagnosis of coronavirus kits with personal protective equipment, teams of Chinese doctors.

The pandemic also gives Chinese companies the opportunity for PR in the countries where they are treated with caution. In particular, 12 April, the company Zijin Mining gave Kyrgyzstan remedies and thermometers, said the Chinese Embassy in Bishkek.

Meanwhile, tech giant Huawei expands in the Uzbek capital infrastructure “smart city”. Published April 3 article (more like a press release) on the news website noted that “the company is not left Uzbekistan and in the most difficult times of the fight against the epidemic of coronavirus, providing the main air Harbor of the country on a grant basis the two thermal imaging cameras”.

About China now soon will not forget, but the leaders of Central Asian States cash infusion will need more than the camera.

In debt relief along the “Belt and road”

As of 2019 Bishkek owed to Beijing in the order of $ 2.3 billion, equivalent to about 30 percent of the GDP of Kyrgyzstan. President Sooronbai Jeenbekov 14 APR asked the President of the PRC XI Jinping for help. Talks with the Export-import Bank of China began two weeks later.

As reported by the April 30 edition of the financial times, Beijing has not yet shared a plan about how to be a “wave of orders” on debt relief from the countries that joined the initiative “One belt, one road”. Chinese negotiators prefer to work on a bilateral basis, and “to suspend the payment of interest” on loans, not write them, the newspaper said one government adviser.

Kyrgyzstan used to a little more gentle treatment from his other main patron, Russia. Although the last time Moscow three years ago, has written off the debts of Bishkek already pozabyla, and Russia is difficult to compete with China on the thickness of the purse, the Russian market has not gone anywhere.

Trade statistics

Russia — for the first time in two years and with minimal separation from the main competitor — has regained its status as the main foreign trade partner of Uzbekistan.

The trade turnover between China and Central Asia in the first quarter was significantly reduced by 47% with Kyrgyzstan, and about 20% with Tajikistan, Turkmenistan and Uzbekistan, according to own data of China.

But China wants to catch up, assured the Minister of Commerce of China Zhong Shan, Vice-Premier of Uzbekistan Sardor umurzakova at the time held on 15 April a telephone conversation. A week earlier from the epicenter of coronavirus — province Wuhan to Uzbekistan left the train with the party of the 216 Chevrolet Equinoxes. It was the first shipment since February, China has stopped exporting cars to the peak of the epidemic covid-19 on-site.

Leaky borders?

Beijing is so eager to return to a normal life that may violate imposed by the Uzbekistan regime of full cessation of flights. Chinese workers quietly brought into the country for Chinese planes with humanitarian aid, said on 7 April, radio “Ozodlik”. Hundreds of engineers and other workers arrived in Uzbekistan four Charter flights, which, according to official information, was intended for transportation of doctors and humanitarian aid. Some of them were sent to the cement plant in Andijan, the other — to the factories in Tashkent. Apparently, upon arrival, they were all placed in quarantine for 14 days. (Came in the Uzbekistan experts and business people on other planes with humanitarian aid, is not known. Search in Chinese sources is not particularly shed light on this question. And the Embassy of China usually do not miss the possibility popiarit the PRC, such information sharing is not in a hurry).

Major projects

But if any businessmen managed to seep in CA, they have something to do. Below are some of the largest Chinese projects in the region in the past month:

• State oil company of Kazakhstan and China has created in the South Kazakhstan joint venture to manufacture steel pipes for the transportation of oil, gas, water and petroleum products, reported the Ministry of industry and infrastructure in Kazakhstan on 8 April.

• With the support of one of the largest Chinese state conglomerates, China Oil and Foodstuffs Corporation, in Dushanbe was upgraded to a large flour mill, able to process 400 tons of wheat per day, reported the newspaper Asia-Plus on April 20.

• April 18, three 60-meter turbine blades destined for a wind power plant “Zhanatas” power of 100 MW, crossed the border of Kazakhstan in Horgos, said the Chinese Embassy. “Zhanatas” is the largest wind energy project in Central Asia and implemented by the State energy investment Corporation of China. The first phase of the project was commissioned last summer.

• Prime Minister of Tajikistan qohir rasulzoda April 27, visited the Chinese builders on the highway Dushanbe, Bokhtar (formerly Kurgan-Tyube), the company said Sinohydro Bureau 16th, the “daughter” of Chinese Power China. During his visit, the Prime Minister expressed the hope that, despite the pandemic, Chinese contractors will continue to work, said that doing everything possible to return the key workers from China to Tajikistan, and promised “to ensure that the project was delivered on schedule in September of the following year and began a new Chapter in the Sino-Tajik friendship.” With 2016 in Bokhtar operates Chinese textile complex worth 160 million dollars. The highway would facilitate the export of Tajik textile.

Yau Tsz Yan investigates China’s policy in Central Asia at the OSCE Academy in Bishkek.