Weekly Digest of Central Asia

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BISHKEK (TCA) — The Publisher’s note: Throughout the 19th and 20th centuries, Central Asia was the scene of intense geopolitical struggle and the Great Game between the British and Russian Empires, and later between the Soviet Union and the West, over Afghanistan and neighboring territories. Into the 21st century, Central Asia has become the area of a renewed geopolitical interest, dubbed the New Great Game, largely based on the region’s hydrocarbon and mineral wealth. On top of that, the region now is perhaps the most important node in the implementation of China’s One Belt, One Road initiative through which Beijing aims to get direct access to Western markets. Every week thousands of news appears in the world’s printed and online media and many of them may escape the attention of busy readers. At The Times of Central Asia, we strongly believe that more information can better contribute to peaceful development and better knowledge of this unique region. So we are presenting this Weekly Digest which compiles what other media have reported on Central Asia over the past week.

KAZAKHSTAN

Kazakhstan’s Energy Company Continues to Borrow to Survive

Kazakhstan’s national oil and gas company’s recent Eurobond issue has increased the company’s debt and highlighted its dependence on borrowed capital

Apr 30 — “Kazmunaigas, Kazakhstan’s national oil and gas company, placed $3.25 billion in Eurobonds in mid-April, increasing the scale and the span of its debt portfolio. The company partially restructured its outstanding debt through a trade that essentially extended the deadline.” READ MORE: https://thediplomat.com/2018/04/kazakhstans-energy-company-continues-to-borrow-to-survive/

A little pivot to Central Asia

Kazakhstan is well-suited to become the United States’ main partner in Central Asia, as President Trump’s attitude to this country is more cooperative than that of his predecessor

May 1 — “Kazakhstan is one of the 10 largest countries in the world, yet most Americans couldn’t find it on a map. It spans Central Asia, home to the world’s most sophisticated civilizations in the Middle Ages, yet most Americans know nothing of the region’s ancient cities, scholars and poets. Today, Kazakhstan is a secular and anti-Islamist Muslim-majority nation, yet most Americans have no idea we have friends here.” READ MORE: https://www.washingtontimes.com/news/2018/may/1/a-little-pivot-to-central-asia/

Kazakhstan, Austria mull Atyrau GCC project development

The Kazakh government understands the necessity of developing its own gas-to-chemicals industry in order to avoid its dependence on oil prices

May 2 — “Kazakhstan’s Energy Ministry met with its foreign partners regarding the future of the Atyrau gas chemical complex (GCC) project to discuss the possibility of increasing the GCC’s initially announced annual capacity of 800 thousand tonnes of polyethylene to 1,250 thousand tonnes, an informed source at the government agency told New Europe.” READ MORE: https://www.neweurope.eu/article/kazakhstan-austria-mull-atyrau-gcc-project-development/

Faced with Chinese expansion, Kazakhstan seeks alternative energy markets

As China remains the major export destination for Kazakh oil and gas, Kazakhstan is seeking to diversify its hydrocarbon export routes

May 4 — “It could be assumed that the intensifying trade war between the United States and China would cause economic slowdown in China and result, in the long run, in the drastic reduction of Chinese imports of energy resources from Kazakhstan.” READ MORE: https://timesca.com/index.php/news/19701-faced-with-chinese-expansion-kazakhstan-seeks-alternative-energy-markets

Kazakhstan must look beyond the Belt and Road

Analyst warns against Kazakhstan’s overdependence on China, as the two nations increasingly cooperate in implementing Beijing’s Belt and Road Initiative

May 4 — “At Khorgos, the Kazakh border town which is the first stop on the new Silk Road to Europe that Beijing has been building and promoting, China’s presence is overwhelming. Shops and restaurants within the Khorgos trade zone are run almost entirely by Chinese citizens.” READ MORE: https://asia.nikkei.com/Opinion/Kazakhstan-must-look-beyond-the-Belt-and-Road2

KYRGYZSTAN

Central Asia countries to increase exports of halal products

All necessary documents have been adopted and Kyrgyzstan is ready to launch a pilot project of voluntary certification and labeling of products and services for compliance with halal standards

Apr 30 — “Kyrgyzstan is preparing to launch a pilot project of voluntary certification and labeling of products and services for compliance with halal standards. “Kyrgyzstan has a high potential to increase exports of ecologically clean and quality halal products to the countries of the Eurasian Economic Union, the EU and Arab countries.” READ MORE: https://timesca.com/index.php/news/19681-central-asia-countries-to-increase-exports-of-halal-products

Kyrgyzstan: Earth’s Most Exotic Powder Destination

Kyrgyzstan has everything for becoming one of the world’s best skiing and snowboarding destinations

May 1 — “As far as powder skiing destinations go, Kyrgyzstan is probably not the first place that comes to mind. Heck, we’d be surprised if it’s even on the list. But what if we told you that 94 percent of the Central Asian country was covered by mountains, and that those mountains are slammed by snow systems fed by the world’s second-largest alpine lake?” READ MORE: https://www.adventuresportsnetwork.com/travel/kyrgyzstan-earths-exotic-powder-skiing-destination/

Young architect from Romania to enter bikepacking race in Kyrgyzstan mountains

Kyrgyzstan’s virgin nature and mountain landscapes attract more foreign travellers and tourists wishing to experience extreme sports

May 3 — “Bagoly Levente, a young architect from the central Romania city of Sfantu Gheorghe, will take part this year in the Silk Road Mountain Race, in Kyrgyzstan.” READ MORE: https://www.romania-insider.com/bagoly-levente-mountains-kyrgyzstan/

Kyrgyzstan launches project on reconstruction of irrigation system

China has granted $32 million for the project to reconstruct the irrigation system in Kyrgyzstan

May 4 — “President of Kyrgyzstan Sooronbay Jeenbekov kicked off the implementation of the Reconstruction of the Irrigation System of the Kyrgyz Republic project as part of his working trip to Issyk-Kul oblast, the Kyrgyz President’s press service reported.” READ MORE: https://en.trend.az/business/economy/2898313.html

TAJIKISTAN

What To Wear: A Style Guideline For Tajik Women

Tajikistan’s government has released a lengthy guide on how female citizens should dress and will now oversee that compliance is enforced

Apr 28 — “What’s a Tajik woman to do? She wants to step out, but is unsure if her dress is too long — or too short. She wants to wear a head scarf, but what type? And it’s raining. Does she dare wear galoshes?” READ MORE: https://www.rferl.org/a/tajikistan-what-to-wear-a-style-guideline-for-women/29197855.html

Russia deploys teachers to Tajikistan on goodwill mission

Moscow is taking efforts to maintain and increase its cultural and educational influence in Tajikistan, with the ultimate goal to strengthen Russia’s political and economic influence in the country

Apr 29 — “Emil Burkhanov’s pupils call him ustod, the Tajik word for teacher, a small concession in a class conducted rigorously in Russian. The 37-year-old was one of 28 teachers dispatched to Tajikistan by the Russian government at the start of this academic year, part of a pilot project to assist a struggling, cash-strapped education system. It is the first initiative of its kind in Tajikistan since the fall of the Soviet Union.” READ MORE: https://timesca.com/index.php/news/19676-russia-deploys-teachers-to-tajikistan-on-goodwill-mission

Tajikistan may give green light to Chinese company to explore another gold deposit

China, the holder of the largest portion of Tajikistan’s foreign debt, expanding its economic presence in the impoverished Central Asian country

May 1 — “The Tajik government has reportedly agreed to give Xinjiang Tebian Electric Apparatus Stock Co. Ltd (TBEA) the rights to further mining deposits if the profit made from two gold deposits doesn’t cover the cost of building the Dushanbe-2 combined heat and power (CHP) plant” READ MORE: https://en.trend.az/business/economy/2896571.html

TURKMENISTAN

Iran Offers Turkmenistan New Gas-Swap Deal To Pakistan

Turkmenistan has been desperately seeking new export routes for its major export item — natural gas, and Iran’s offer may prove too tempting for Ashgabat, while jeopardizing the TAPI gas pipeline project

Apr 30 — “Iran has made a surprise offer to Turkmenistan that officials in Ashgabat might find difficult to reject. The head the National Iranian Oil Company, Hamidreza Araqi, said on April 29 that Iran was prepared enter into a gas-swap deal that would transfer Turkmen gas to Pakistan.” READ MORE: https://www.rferl.org/a/iran-offers-turkmenistan-new-gas-swap-deal-to-pakistan-tapi/29201086.html

Turkmenistan: Taking in the dirty laundry

Turkmenistan’s efforts to seal itself off from the world fail to stem tales of weirdness and arbitrary rules in the authoritarian country

May 1 — “It was all smiles during Turkmenistan President Gurbanguly Berdymukhamedov’s visit to Uzbekistan last week. The two-day trip, which began on April 23, was another effort by the Turkmen leader to drum up interest in the critical Turkmenistan-Afghanistan-Pakistan-India (TAPI) pipeline project his government is supposed to be implementing.” READ MORE: https://eurasianet.org/s/turkmenistan-taking-in-the-dirty-laundry

Energy, transportation dominate Turkmenistan president’s visit to Tashkent

In terms of cooperation in energy, transportation and transit spheres, Turkmenistan and Uzbekistan are perhaps the most interdependent countries in Central Asia

May 3 — “Uzbekistani President Shavkat Mirziyaev’s first foreign trip, in March 2017, nearly seven months after coming to power, took him to Turkmenistan. The salient point of the visit was the opening of a mile-long rail-and-car bridge connecting both countries over the Amudarya river and the signing of a strategic agreement, one of only two Uzbekistan ever signed with its Central Asian neighbors” READ MORE: https://timesca.com/index.php/news/19696-energy-transportation-dominate-turkmenistan-president-s-visit-to-tashkent

Turkmenistan’s new $1.5 billion port: Show over substance?

The Turkmen government hopes the new port will turn the deeply isolated country into a logistics hub on the Caspian Sea and in Central Asia-Caucasus region

May 3 — “Accolades are rolling in for cash-strapped, cut-off Turkmenistan’s newly opened $1.5 billion port on the Caspian Sea, although nobody quite seems able to say how it will be put to use. The Turkmenbashi Sea Port – opened on May 2 – is yet another major outlay that the country’s government committed to in the boom years of high gas prices.” READ MORE: https://eurasianet.org/s/turkmenistans-new-15-billion-port-show-over-substance

UZBEKISTAN

Uzbekistan taps Tourism Police as Silk Road visitor boom tests its thaw

Uzbekistan is opening up to the outside world and taking maximum efforts to attract foreign tourists

Apr 30 — “Coiffed, cheerful and multilingual, identical twins Fatima and Zukhra Rakhmatova do not immediately resemble agents of ex-Soviet Uzbekistan’s long-feared security apparatus. But the photogenic 30-year-old pair are front-line members of a newly formed, user-friendly Tourist Police deployed in the famed Silk Road city of Samarkand and other hot-spots as a visitor boom sweeps the Central Asian country.” READ MORE: https://www.japantimes.co.jp/news/2018/04/30/business/uzbekistan-taps-tourism-police-silk-road-visitor-boom-tests-thaw/#.Wumz1x9Wr58

Uzbekistan: Turkish president’s visit generates billions in deals

Uzbekistan has improved relations with next-door Central Asian neighbors and has now expanded this policy towards a more remote but also fraternal Turkic-speaking nation — Turkey

May 1 — “The renewed friendship between Turkey and Uzbekistan has generated a few more billions of dollars in deals and the promise of an imminent major increase in trade between the countries. Speaking during his three-day state visit to Uzbekistan, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said on April 30 that annual trade turnover could be pushed up to $5 billion “in the coming years.” READ MORE: https://eurasianet.org/s/uzbekistan-turkish-presidents-visit-generates-billions-in-deals

Uzbekistan takes reform story to bond investors

Following Tajikistan’s example, the Uzbek government is preparing to make its debut on the international bond market with a $1 billion debt issue

May 1 — “Interest in the opening up of Uzbekistan, the Central Asian state that was long one of the world’s most isolated nations, has been growing amid a flurry of announced reforms. Soon investors will get a chance to take their own view on its economic prospects.” READ MORE: https://asia.nikkei.com/Business/Markets/Capital-Markets/Uzbekistan-takes-reform-story-to-bond-investors

In Uzbekistan, it feels like being at home in Kashmir, but with exceptions

Uzbekistan and India’s Kashmir have a lot of similarities in the fields of art, culture, and architecture

May 4 — “Uzbekistan and Kashmir appear like separated siblings living thousands of miles apart and still bearing striking similarities in more ways than one – cultural, linguistic, architectural, culinary and music. And, yes, there is a chance that a security man may stop you and scan your phone for any pictures of sensitive places!” READ MORE: https://www.hindustantimes.com/travel/in-uzbekistan-feels-like-being-at-home-in-kashmir-with-exceptions/story-N1xAKVlpH0qr59OAlpaOuJ.html

AFGHANISTAN

How Far Can Sino-India Joint Economic Cooperation in Afghanistan Go?

China and India have some overlapping geopolitical interest in Afghanistan’s stability, which may lay a foundation for their joint economic projects in the war-torn country

May 1 — “Commentators here at The Diplomat and elsewherehave offered extensive analysis on the implications of the recently concluded informal summit between Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Chinese President Xi Jinping in Wuhan, China.” READ MORE: https://thediplomat.com/2018/05/how-far-can-sino-india-joint-economic-cooperation-in-afghanistan-go/

The US and Afghanistan: can’t win the war, can’t stop it, can’t leave

The Trump administration’s efforts to stabilize Afghanistan are continuously failing, an analyst believes

May 1 — “The latest, dreadful suicide bombings in Kabul and Kandahar, which killed more than 50 people on Monday, have again focused attention on the continuing failure of American-led efforts to stabilise the country. After 16 years of conflict, critics say, the US is in a triple bind: it cannot win the war, it cannot halt the war, and it cannot leave.” READ MORE: https://www.theguardian.com/world/2018/may/01/the-us-and-afghanistan-cant-win-the-war-cant-stop-it-cant-leave

Afghanistan presents a perfect location for ISIS to regroup and continue its bloodshed

Analyst says that the lawlessness affecting large parts of Afghanistan, where security forces are struggling to deal with the Taliban, provides a fertile ground for ISIS

May 3 — “The latest wave of terror attacks carried out in Afghanistan by ISIS demonstrates that, for all the recent setbacks it has suffered, the organisation has lost none of its ability to wreak carnage around the world. ISIS was quick to claim responsibility for the twin bombings in Kabul earlier this week which killed 25 people, including nine reporters, saying that they were directed at Afghanistan’s intelligence headquarters.” READ MORE: https://www.thenational.ae/opinion/comment/afghanistan-presents-a-perfect-location-for-isis-to-regroup-and-continue-its-bloodshed-1.727156

Trump’s Afghanistan strategy stymied by vetting of local troops

The U.S. Army’s 1st Security Force Assistance Brigade arrived in Afghanistan in March and assumed its mission last month, but it has not yet been able to link up with Afghan army battalions across the country

May 4 — “The plan to turn around the war in Afghanistan may already be running into quicksand. An extensive effort aimed at weeding out Taliban sympathizers and terrorist infiltrators from the Afghan army has slowed the work of a new unit of 1,000 military advisers, whose deployment was billed as a key part of the strategy President Donald Trump authorized in August.” READ MORE: https://www.politico.com/story/2018/05/04/trumps-afghanistan-strategy-local-troops-vetting-518181

WORLD

New Sanctions Against Russia Weigh on Its Closest Trade Partners

Russia’s neighbors and partners in the Eurasian Economic Union are worried about potential spillover effects of US sanctions for their economies and domestic stability

Apr 26 — “The United States Treasury’s Office of Foreign Asset Control (OFAC), whose responsibility is to enforce US sanctions against foreign countries and nationals, rolled out a new package of economic restrictions against Russia, on April 6.” READ MORE: https://jamestown.org/program/new-sanctions-against-russia-weigh-on-its-closest-trade-partners/

Central Asia after Astana: from integration to cooperation

As the geopolitical significance of Central Asia is declining, the region’s states now have to take their fate into their own hands — with less attention to Russia and China

May 2 — “After the March 15 meeting of Central Asian leaders in Astana, analyses, news and reports increasingly use words such as “integration” or “new beginning” to describe political developments in Central Asia. Some Russian media have speculated in the beginning of the next phase of separation from Moscow.” READ MORE: https://timesca.com/index.php/news/19691-central-asia-after-astana-from-integration-to-cooperation

Europe’s Pivot to Central Asia

Researcher believes that Central Asia has started to assert its interests and identity, and European powers should seize the initiative and bolster these trends

May 2 — “The catalyst for change in Central Asia has been the death of Uzbek President Islam Karimov. The change in Tashkent has brought Shavkat Mirzioyoev to power, a former regime apparatchik who has shown an impressive ability to stimulate change and transformation throughout the Uzbek system.” READ MORE: https://rusi.org/commentary/europe’s-pivot-central-asia

Sergey Kwan

TCA