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CWA # 120, 27 May 2019

The BRI Summit 2019
The Central Asia Connector

  Abigail Miriam Fernandez

The Second BRI Forum can be seen as successful in the context of Central Asia as four out of the five regional countries sent their top leaders. The initiative benefits the counties in this region as it becomes a way by which these landlocked areas gain some sort of connectivity.

A crucial area of concern for the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) is the Central Asian and West Asian region, the China-Central Asia-Western Asia economic corridor is of great strategic significance to the project as it is an alternate route to reach Europe. Thus, these regions become a transit point for the good and services traveling along this route. China has successfully over a period of seven years facilitated positive progress in policy coordination, connectivity, infrastructure, and other financial and social investments.

The relations shared between China and Central Asia politically has been optimistic, the leaders of the region have enthusiastically welcomed the Chinese investment and development assistance. This achievement has been the result of China strategically working through various mechanisms. The Chinese, unlike other donors, did not impose any structural developments as prerequisites for their investments, this made the leaders in Central Asia promptly accept the Chinese aid. The Chinese were also seen as reliable partners, who in time of need can be reached out to.

The BRI in Central Asia has not only been one of connectivity but various other area has been taken into consideration to boost the project. Economic motives are closely linked to the development interest of China which is the expansion of its export markets and safeguarding their natural resources. Aid delivery has been used to facilitate transportation and trade between countries. Further, in order to fuel its continued economic growth, Beijing has offered development assistance and concessional loans to enlarge its supplies abroad and to invest in countries that are rich in oil and gas reserves.

Central Asia is home to a tremendous amount of hydroelectric resources, Beijing has become an important factor in the management of the water resources in the region. They have gone on to construct hydroelectric power plants and install high-voltage lines to provide Central Asian electricity to Xinjiang and in the future, to the southern corridor.

Most of the Central Asian countries have opened their doors to the Chinese. Kazakhstan is one of China's most important energy suppliers because of the oil from the Caspian Sea. The country also serves as a key transit partner for natural gas from Turkmenistan eastward to Xinjiang. Kazakhstan was the first Central Asian state to actively opened itself to investment projects of China, with the aim to translate its growing cooperation with China under BRI into positive developments and better economic growth and development.

Kyrgyzstan is an important transit route and provides a wholesale market for affordable Chinese consumer goods. Kyrgyzstan has also been the only country in Central Asia to share World Trade Organization membership with China. Thus, the already existing trade policies have allowed the two countries to become major trade partners.

One of China's most significant strategic, trade and investments partners in Uzbekistan. Many Chinese companies have invested in the various sector thus contributing to the modernization and change in Uzbekistan's economy. The areas where investments have been made are in infrastructure development, textile, energy, and others. Uzbekistan is said to be China's natural partner in the BRI.

With Tajikistan, the BRI has promised to help the landlocked country gain access to the international markets and to increase economic growth. The two countries have decided to build and strengthen a community based on maintaining global peace and stability. Over the past few years, China participated in over 50 large projects in Tajikistan, including the Lolazor-Khatlon and North-South power transmission lines, road construction projects and the construction of a tunnel under the Shar-Shar Pass on the road between Dushanbe and Kuljab.

However, the BRI faces backlash when it comes to the local public's approval of the initiative, the Chinese soft power and presence has not been well received by the people of Central Asia. This has been because of the history that exists between the Chinese and Central Asian nomadic tribes. It is for this reason that the leaders have chosen not to release the type of aid and investment that they have received from the Chinese.

The Second BRI Forum can be seen as successful in the context of Central Asia as four out of the five regional countries sent their top leaders. The initiative benefits the counties in this region as it becomes a way by which these landlocked areas gain some sort of connectivity. Infrastructure construction under the BRI will produce more railways, highways, better transportation and it would most importantly connect Central Asian countries with the world market. For China, Central Asia remains an important area that it cannot afford to lose because of its strategic location and resources. 

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