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Eurasianet is an independent news organization that covers news from and about the South Caucasus and Central Asia, providing on-the-ground reporting and critical perspectives on…

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China's Innovative Inroads Into Central Asia

  • Kazakhstan and China are exploring partnerships in science and higher education, including joint laboratories, scientific projects, and educational programs.
  • Freight traffic between China and Kazakhstan has increased significantly, with growth driven by commodities such as grain, vegetable oils, and non-ferrous metals.
  • Uzbekistan is engaging in discussions with China on a range of projects, including auto manufacturing, military education cooperation, and China's sponsorship for the construction of a training center for the Uzbek Interior Ministry.

Kazakhstan and China are looking to boost joint scientific research. Kazakhstan’s science and higher education minister, Sayasat Nurbek, met with top officials of the China-based Center for Technology Transfer of the SCO Member States (SCO CTTC), the ministry’s press service reported July 24. The parties discussed potential partnerships “in the fields of science and higher education," including "creating joint laboratories, scientific and technological projects and educational programs." The meeting did not produce any concrete agreements.  SCO CTTC representatives also held talks with leaders of the Kazakh Science Foundation. Those talks focused on the development of technologies and pharmaceuticals that can “commercialized,” including vaccines against brucellosis in farm animals, unmanned aerial systems, charging stations for electric vehicles, anti-corrosion phosphate materials for oilfield equipment, and fermented milk products for children. SCO CTTC representatives additionally signed a memorandum of understanding with officials at Kazakhstan’s Satbayev University to explore “mutually beneficial opportunities … in the technological, educational and industrial fields.”

The volume of freight traffic between China and Kazakhstan during the first half of 2023 rose by 26 percent to 13.7 million tons, Kazakhstan Railways reports. The export of goods from Kazakhstan to China increased by 37 percent to 8.3 million tons. Commodities acted as the main drivers of growth. China-bound cross-border shipments of grain jumped by 200 percent, vegetable oils by 70 percent, non-ferrous metals by 55 percent and metal ore by 15 percent, according to Kazakhstan Railways. Imports from China increased by 13 percent to 5.4 million tons, with autos and construction materials leading the way.

Kazakhstan and Russia are apparently still haggling over a 10-year extension for an agreement covering the transit of Russian oil exports to China via Kazakh routes. It was earlier reported that an extension deal had been finalized. But a protocol published by the Open NLA website indicates that the two sides have yet to settle on “on transit volumes, tariffs and settlements for oil transit.” The protocol’s wording suggests that one of the negotiating parties may have decided to unilaterally revise the terms of a handshake agreement.


An Uzbek delegation led by the governor of the Kashkadarya region, Murotjon Azimov, visited China in mid-July, holding talks with top executives at JAC Motors. The discussions focused on a venture to build autos at an Uzbek plant in the regional city of Karshi. Uzbek officials bill the pending project as a “calling card of the [Kashkadarya] region.” There was no indication that JAC Motors is ready to move forward with the deal, however. Chinese-designed Chery brand cars are already being assembled in Uzbekistan, and another Chinese manufacturer, Great Wall, recently signed an assembly deal with an Uzbek plant. 

China is pursuing closer military ties with Uzbekistan. A delegation of China’s National Defense Academy visited Uzbekistan in mid-July for talks aimed at enhancing “cooperation in the field of military education,” the Uzbek Defense Ministry reported. At the May China-Central Asia summit in Xi'an, Chinese leader Xi Jinping highlighted China's readiness to expand cooperation with Central Asian security forces. China also is reportedly sponsoring the construction of a training center for the Uzbek Interior Ministry. 


Kyrgyzstan continues to cast about for financing to build its part of the China-Kyrgyzstan-Uzbekistan railway. At a mid-July event, Kyrgyz President Sadyr Japarov made a pitch to Gulf states representatives to invest in the project. Japarov portrayed the railway project as a “sure-thing” investment opportunity, saying "the expansion of transport and logistics links, including rail and air, will facilitate the movement of goods, capital and people between our regions.”

By Eurasianet.org


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