The official visit of the Turkmenistan’s President Serdar Berdymukhamedov in Beijing on January 6 clearly reflects the high-level relevance of the Sino-Turkmen cooperation, also cemented in this symbolic occasion of the 31st anniversary of the establishment of bilateral diplomatic relations. Furthermore, Xi Jinping and Berdymukhamedov have further upgraded their strategic partnership signed on September 2013, looking beyond the traditional cooperation in energy issues so promoting a wider and inclusive framework to work together in a more qualitative way and achieving national interests of each of the parties (Turkmenistan, Mister Berdymukhamedow goes to Beijing, Akhal-Teke. A Turkmenistan Bulletin, Eurasianet, January 10, 2023).
Energy cooperation remains a key component in the Sino-Turkmen cooperation: in 2009 (after two years in power) Gurbanguly Berdymukhamedov (the former president and father of the incumbent) successfully completed its project to develop an alternative pipeline aimed at reducing the dependence on Russian pipeline system of gas exports, thanks to the Chinese economic and technical support. The launch of the China-Central Asia gas pipeline (CAGP) realized his ambition.
Turkmenistan is the main supplier of this infrastructure – 34 billion cubic metres of natural gas (bcm) in 2021, out of a total of 42,5 bcm -, which also delivered gas from Uzbekistan and Kazakhstan (which play the role of both suppliers and transit countries between Turkmenistan and China). According to Turkmen President, since 2009 Turkmenistan supplied China with more than 350 bcm of natural gas (Turkmenistan Supplied 350 bcm of Gas to China: President Berdimuhamedov, Business Turkmenistan, January 8, 2023).
However, the development of the fourth strand of the CAGP system (the Line D) represents an urgent priority for Ashgabat, because it has been conceived to deliver additional 30 bcm of Turkmen gas to China, following a different geographic export corridor, from Turkmenistan crossing Uzbekistan, Tajikistan, Kyrgyzstan and then reaching Xinjiang energy gateway. Even if it does not allow to diversify export markets, increasing exports to China will mean additional energy revenues for Turkmenistan’s national budget, considering the delays on the implementation of the EU Southern energy corridor as well as TAPI Pipeline (Turkmenistan-Afghanistan-Pakistan-India gas pipeline).
In addition to energy issues, Turkmenistan has invited Chinese investors to support the development of new infrastructural project across the country, mainly railroads and highways. Significantly, both sides signed a memorandum of understanding to integrate China’s Belt and Road Initiative and Turkmenistan’s New Silk Road initiative, allowing China to implement additional and alternative trade corridors to deliver goods to the Caspian Sea and then to Europe (Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Turkmenistan, Documents aimed at strengthening the Turkmen-Chinese Strategic Partnership were signed, January 7, 2023). This decision reflects Chinese urgent need to reduce its reliance on BRI-trade corridors crossing Russian territory, which appears now unreliable and unsafe: at the same time, as a champion of a diversification’s strategy, Beijing also aimed to avoid its exclusive dependence on Kazakhstan for the BRI-westward route, implementing new corridors which will compose the Middle Corridor route. Turkmenistan warmly welcomes Chinese investments and interests to develop the country, which could lead this post-Soviet country to successfully play the role of intermodal bridge between East and West, also diversifying national economy and reducing the unbalanced dependence on hydrocarbon sector.
PhD in Geopolitics. He is non-resident researcher at the Center for Energy Governance and Security (EGS South Korea) and analyst at the Observatory for Central Asia and Caspian. He is research fellow at the University of Siena.