The ancient Silk Road, spanning thousands of miles and connecting the East with the West, laid the foundation for cooperation, mutual learning, and mutual benefit. Inspired by this historic route, Chinese President Xi Jinping proposed the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) in 2013. This ambitious project aims to build a trade and infrastructure network linking Asia, Europe, Africa, and beyond. China’s collaboration with five Central Asian countries – Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan, and Uzbekistan – has seen remarkable progress in regional development and trade. This article explores the flourishing relationship between China and Central Asian nations under the Belt and Road project, focusing on trade growth, investment, and infrastructure development.
Explosive Trade Growth: In the first four months of 2023, China’s trade with the five Central Asian countries surged by an impressive 37.4 percent year-on-year, according to the General Administration of Customs. This significant growth demonstrates the strengthening economic ties between China and Central Asia. In 2022, the total trade volume between China and these nations reached $70.2 billion, marking a remarkable increase of 100 times compared to three decades ago. Chinese Commerce Minister Wang Wentao highlighted the noteworthy increase in imports of agricultural, energy, and mineral products, while exports of mechanical and electronic products also witnessed substantial growth. Such exponential trade expansion is a testament to the growing economic integration and collaboration between China and Central Asian nations.
Investment and Infrastructure Development: China’s commitment to the development of Central Asia is further exemplified by its substantial direct investment in the region. By the end of 2022, China’s investment stock in the five Central Asian countries reached approximately $15 billion. The investment has facilitated the implementation of crucial projects in various sectors, including oil, gas, mining, processing, manufacturing, connectivity, and digital technology. These endeavors have brought tangible benefits to the people of Central Asia and have played a vital role in advancing regional economic development.
Noteworthy Projects and Achievements: The success of the Belt and Road Initiative can be observed through several remarkable projects in Central Asia. For instance, the construction of the Dushanbe No. 2 thermal power plant in Tajikistan, in partnership with China’s Tebian Electric Apparatus Stock Co., Ltd. (TBEA), has significantly addressed Tajikistan’s power supply shortage during winters and improved the national power supply structure. Completed in 2016, this project restored central heating to Dushanbe residents after a 15-year hiatus, enhancing their quality of life.
The China-Central Asia Gas Pipeline, the first transnational gas pipeline in China, has been instrumental in meeting China’s natural gas demands. In 2022 alone, the pipeline supplied 43.2 billion cubic meters of natural gas. Since its inception in 2009, the pipeline has transported a total of 423.2 billion cubic meters of natural gas, contributing to energy security and economic growth in the region.
Enhanced Connectivity and Regional Integration: The Belt and Road Initiative has promoted interconnectivity among the countries along the route, fostering regional economic development, particularly in landlocked Central Asia. Signifying the progress made in transport infrastructure, China, Kyrgyzstan, and Uzbekistan signed a memorandum of understanding on cooperation for the China-Kyrgyzstan-Uzbekistan railway. This agreement marked a significant milestone in the construction of a transport corridor in the Eurasian continent.
Pakistan’s Importance in the Belt and Road Project:
In addition to the five Central Asian countries, Pakistan holds a vital position in the Belt and Road Initiative, further strengthening the regional connectivity and economic integration. Situated at the crossroads of South Asia, West Asia, and Central Asia, Pakistan serves as a gateway to the Arabian Sea and offers strategic access to major international shipping routes.
China and Pakistan have established a close partnership under the Belt and Road framework, manifesting in various significant projects. The China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC), a flagship project of the Belt and Road Initiative, has transformed the economic landscape of Pakistan. It encompasses a network of infrastructure development projects, including transportation networks, energy projects, industrial parks, and special economic zones.
CPEC has played a crucial role in boosting Pakistan’s economy and addressing its infrastructure deficit. The construction of the Gwadar Port, a deep-sea port in southwestern Pakistan, is a key component of CPEC. It serves as a vital trade route and a potential hub for transshipment in the region, connecting China’s western provinces with global markets. The development of Gwadar Port has immense strategic and economic significance, offering Pakistan and landlocked Central Asian countries access to the Arabian Sea and beyond.
Furthermore, energy projects under CPEC have helped alleviate Pakistan’s energy crisis. Several power plants, including coal, hydro, and solar energy projects, have been established, contributing to the country’s energy security and meeting the growing electricity demands of its population.
The China-Pakistan cooperation extends beyond infrastructure development. The two countries have also deepened their economic ties through increased trade and investment. China has become Pakistan’s largest trading partner, with bilateral trade reaching new heights. The establishment of special economic zones and industrial parks under CPEC has attracted Chinese and international companies, stimulating industrial growth and creating employment opportunities in Pakistan.
Moreover, the Belt and Road Initiative has enhanced cultural exchanges and people-to-people connectivity between China and Pakistan. Educational collaborations, scholarships, and cultural exchange programs have fostered mutual understanding and strengthened the bonds between the two nations.
Pakistan’s strategic location, its robust partnership with China, and its participation in the Belt and Road Initiative have positioned it as a significant player in regional development and connectivity. The collaboration between China and Pakistan under the BRI framework has not only brought economic benefits but has also strengthened the bilateral relationship and promoted regional stability.
As the Belt and Road Initiative progresses, Pakistan’s role will continue to expand, further harnessing its potential as a vital link between China, Central Asia, and the broader region. The ongoing cooperation between China, Central Asian nations, and Pakistan exemplifies the collective commitment to mutual development and prosperity in the spirit of the ancient Silk Road.