Olim Abdullayev in Dushanbe -
The construction of a new $3.2bn Chinese gas pipeline through Tajikistan is the most significant investment in the country to date, offering a clear sign that Beijing believes Tajikistan will remain stable following the withdrawal of US-led forces from Afghanistan, despite a likely upswing in cross-border insurgency and crime.
At the heart of the project lies China’s appetite for Central Asian gas, mostly originating in Turkmenistan, which has grown insatiably over the last five years. This followed the inauguration of the first phase of the Central Asia–China gas pipeline (CACGP) in late 2009, a billion-dollar trans-national network. Today, over half of China’s natural gas imports come via this expanding array of pipelines, thousands of kilometres in length, that span Turkmenistan, Uzbekistan and Kazakhstan.
On September 13, the day after the Shanghai Cooperation Organization’s summit in Dushanbe, the president of Tajikistan, Emomali Rahmon, and his Chinese counterpart, Xi Jinping, broke ground on the fourth section of this network. This ceremonial start took place in the Rudaki District, south of Dushanbe, an area adjacent to the Uzbek border where the pipeline’s Tajik section begins.
With a length of only 1,000 kilometres, this Line D will be the shortest section of the CACGP network, an important point raised by Rahmon during the ceremony. As the pipeline originates from the Galkynysh gasfield in Eastern Turkmenistan, the second largest in the world, this route makes it around 1,000km shorter than previous pipelines.
From Galkynish it winds briefly through southern Uzbekistan, north across Tajikistan and then eastwards through Kyrgyzstan to China – a far more direct route than other sections of the network crisscrossing the region and its vast deserts. It will be capable of transporting 30bn cubic metres of gas per year (cm/y), approximately equaling the production capacity of phase 1 of the development of Galkynysh, which began last year. Once completed, this will raise CACGP’s gas exports to China to a total of 85bn cm/y.
However, the mountainous terrain of Tajikistan, where the longest section of Line D (410km) is being built, presents an expensive and difficult undertaking for project planners and engineers. It will not simply mean installing pipeline along relatively flat steppe and desert, as was the case with early phases of CACGP, but will instead necessitate costly and sophisticated engineering. These challenges include “the creation of 47 tunnels with a total length of 76km. In 24 of these cases, the tunnels will be underwater”, as President Rahmon himself highlighted, during the ceremony.
Construction time is expected to exceed three years, with project costs amounting to an estimated $3.2bn. This will create approximately 3,000 jobs and provide a ‘‘significant contribution to the national budget,’’ according to Rahmon (an exact figure has not been made public). Tajikistan will not receive any of the gas being transported, but will instead be provided with transit revenues. At the time of writing, Tajikistan has no major exploited gas reserves of its own, however exploration is being undertaken by several multinationals across its territory, including China National Petroleum Corporation (CNPC), the initiator of Line D.
This state-owned energy colossus is the driving force and source of funding for the pipeline. Its management has signed an agreement to work in cooperation with Tojiktransgaz, Tajikistan’s government-owned natural gas distribution company. The latter has been largely without a significant source of gas to transport since the disconnection of major Uzbek gas pipelines feeding into Tajikistan. A specially created subsidiary of CNPC, Trans-Asia Gas Pipeline Company, is overseeing the construction and subsequent operation of the project, together with Tojiktransgaz.
This project represents the largest foreign direct investment in Tajikistan since the country received independence from the USSR. According to the World Bank, Tajikistan’s GDP in 2013 amounted to $8.5bn, which when compared with China’s state-led $3.2bn investment in Line D demonstrates just how significant this project is for the country. Comparatively, the US government has provided around $1bn to the country through aid projects over the 23 years following Tajikistan’s declaration of independence.
Together with the upcoming CASA-1000 project and trans-national rail connections, Line D is a mega-infrastructure project that is creating strong links between Tajikistan and its neighbours, bucking the previously seen trend of lacklustre inter-regional cooperation, and outright economic isolation of the country.
Line D is also a project of shared interest with Uzbekistan, as it crosses its territory and will provide its government with transit fees as well. However Uzbekistan’s economic blockade of Tajikistan still remains in effect – a move which severed Tajikistan’s international road, rail and energy connections. Mutual economic interest in realizing the Line D project certainly provides incentives for Tashkent and Dushanbe to resolve their longstanding diplomatic disagreement.
This investment also flies in the face of those who believe Tajikistan will be destabilized by the withdrawal of ISAF forces from its southern neighbour Afghanistan. A 1,300km border is difficult to guard and an upsurge in insurgent activity from this direction contributed significantly to the Tajik civil war of the 1990s. That China is embarking on a project of this magnitude at such a sensitive time in Central Asian geopolitics is a resounding vote of confidence in the government of Tajikistan to maintain stability during difficult times.
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