Kyrgyzstan’s Japarov declares start of CKU railroad project, but financing question remains unaddressed

By bne IntelliNews June 6, 2024

Kyrgyzstan’s President Sadyr Japarov has declared the start of the $8bn project to build the China-Kyrgyzstan-Uzbekistan (CKU) railroad, but this is probably a case of critics only believing it when they see it as details of how the mega-investment is to be financed have yet to be announced.

Also not announced are a construction start-date and the selected route the railway—which has been under discussion for 30 years or more—will take.

Japarov on June 6 made a video address to the participants of a Beijing ceremony for the signing of an intergovernmental CKU project cooperation agreement between the governments of China, Kyrgyzstan and Uzbekistan.

Japarov said the signing was an historic event. The CKU, he said, would become an important component of China’s “One Belt, One Road” multi-continental economic infrastructure initiative, opening up new trade transit and transportation options linking through to Europe and the Persian Gulf.

Japarov reiterated that a full feasibility study of the CKU project was finalised by mid-2023.

For implementation, the three participating countries’s state railway compaies are to establish a joint venture.

Russia and Kazakhstan, who would be transit fee rivals to a realised CKU,  are said to be happy with the continuing delays afflicting the undertaking.

As Uzbekistan is already connected to Turkmenistan and Iran by rail, the CKU railway initiative offers the potential to lay on the shortest rail route between China and Europe. Uzbekistan and Kyrgyzstan could then dislodge Russia and Kazakhstan as the central transit partners for Chinese exports.

In the past couple of years, Beijing, Bishkek and Tashkent started to talk up the chances of building the joint railway in the very near future, but lately, China, faced with economic difficulties at home and evolving geopolitical considerations in its relations with Russia and largest Central Asian economy Kazakhstan, appears to have cooled on providing major financing that would make the investment a reality. Bishkek has nevertheless remained upbeat about a project start in the coming months, but has little financing to show for its optimism.

If built, the 454-kilometre (282-mile) CKU would traverse western China and Kyrgyzstan thanks to the construction of at least 50 tunnels and 90 bridges through Kyrgyzstan’s highest mountain range.

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