An update on recent developments in Chinese-Central Asian affairs.
Kazakhstan: China is expanding its media reach in Kazakhstan. CCTV+, an arm of China’s national broadcaster, signed a cooperation agreement on May 14 with the Business Kazakhstan news agency. Under the pact, CCTV+, which is controlled by the Chinese Communist Party, will provide the Kazakh outlet with content for distribution via web platforms and social media, including video and specialized news and information services. The agreement appears designed to burnish China’s image in the Central Asian state, while amplifying pro-Beijing narratives concerning international affairs. CCTV+ describes itself as China’s largest video news agency, adding that “it is committed to telling China’s story to the rest of the world.”
CCTV+ “occupies a significant place in the international media market, offering its customers video news and live broadcasts of news events through the ‘Global Publishing System,’’ according to an announcement distributed by Business Kazakhstan. “It [the Chinese broadcaster] will be an active participant in interaction with Kazakh colleagues, helping to expand the information borders of both countries.”
Kazakh President Kassym-Jomart Tokayev welcomes close relations with China, but not too close. In an interview with China’s main television outlet, CCTV, Tokayev reiterated that China is a key partner for Kazakhstan. “We should enjoy a strategic partnership [and] eternal friendship between both countries,” Tokayev told a CCTV interviewer, speaking in English. The Kazakh president also emphasized that each country “has its own path of development,” adding that “there should be no outside interference in the internal affairs of any countries.” The May 12 interview helped prepare the diplomatic ground for Tokayev’s visit to Beijing, where he will participate in the China-Central Asia summit on May 18-19 and hold one-on-one talks with Chinese leader Xi Jinping.
The outlet Forbes.kz reports that Kazakhstan and China are striving to streamline operations at Khorgos, a free-trade hub straddling the two countries’ shared border. Since it was first envisioned in 2011, Khorgos has largely failed to match its hype as a gateway for trade between China and points West. The new initiative has an awkward name when translated into English – the “Khorgos Knot” – given that it aims to remedy existing bottlenecks. The two countries want to “unify existing infrastructure into a single system,” according to Forbes.kz. Whether such a change can significantly boost trade volume remains to be seen. In addition to infrastructure hold-ups, corruption has been cited in the past as a major problem at Khorgos. The Forbes.kz report did not mention an implementation timeline for the initiative.
KazTransOil JSC has extended an agreement with Rosneft to ship the Russian producer’s oil to China, according to a May 15 statement issued by the Kazakh company. The agreement to transport 10 million tons of Russian oil per year to the PRC will now run through until January 1, 2034. KazTransOil receives a fee of $15 per ton for facilitating deliveries. During the first four months of 2023, the company transported 3.2 million tons of Russian oil to China via Kazakhstan.
Uzbekistan: China was the top foreign investor in Uzbekistan during the first quarter of 2023, a Telegram channel affiliated with the State Statistics Agency reported on May 13. China accounted for a 20 percent share of the overall 25.1 trillion Uzbek soms’ worth of investment during the January-March period (about $2.2 billion). Russia accounted for a 15.7 percent share, and Saudi Arabia was the quarter’s third highest investor with the 13.5 percent share. Turkey (6.1 percent) and Cyprus (5.4 percent) rounded out the top five.
Uzbek President Shavkat Mirziyoyev says he wants to follow a Chinese model for combating poverty, according to a report posted May 10 on the president’s website. “China’s experience in poverty reduction is noteworthy,” the presidential website report stated, adding that an Uzbek delegation recent visited China to “study this experience and develop new approaches.” Pilot anti-poverty programs developed with the input of Chinese experts will be implemented in every Uzbek region. The presidential press service also stated that 15 trillion Uzbek soms (roughly $1.3 billion) are being allocated to support small, family-operated businesses in the country. The government is additionally allocating 200,000 hectares of land for agricultural development.
The head of Uzbekistan’s Innovation Agency met with representatives of the Chinese company SuperMap International Ltd., reaching a preliminary cooperation agreement. According to a May 10 report posted on the Uzbek government’s National Scientific Portal, the deal covers “cooperation in the field of remote sensing of the earth, satellite communications, [and] the use of navigation systems to increase efficiency in the fields of agriculture and water management.”
Auto News: An Astana Motors plant in Kazakhstan has reached a deal with the Chinese automaker Changan to produce subcompact Alsvin models, Tarantas News reported on May 14. Operations aren’t slated to begin until late 2024. The report did not specify any auto production targets. The venture will aim to export up to 60 percent of the cars assembled at the plant.
China registered a 60 percent share of autos imported by Uzbekistan during the first quarter of 2023, the State Statistics Agency reported. Overall, Uzbekistan imported just over 10,000 autos during the quarter. South Korea had the second highest export total with a 36 percent share. US automakers accounted for the remainder.
Kyrgyzstan: The presidential administration is trying to quash Internet-borne rumors claiming Bishkek is ready to hand over a major iron ore deposit to China. According to the social media chatter, Kyrgyz officials were ready to exchange control of the Zhetim-Too deposit for Chinese debt relief. On May 11, a presidential spokesman Daiyrbek Orunbekov denied the rumor in a Facebook post. “We manage Zhetim-Too 100 percent,” Orunbekov wrote. “Not one percent can be given to someone else.” He also indicated in the post that the Kyrgyz government would soon fund construction of a metallurgical plant and create jobs for local residents.
Tajikistan: China Southern Airlines is launching a new route to Dushanbe on May 18, the official Chinese news agency Xinhua announced. The once-a-week flight will connect the Chinese cities of Xi’an and Urumqi to the Tajik capital. Meanwhile, representatives of the Tajik airline Somon Air are exploring the purchase of Y-12 aircraft made by the Chinese manufacturer AVIC.
Source : Eurasianet