Central Asian Foreign Ministers Meet in China
A KTJ train winds through the mountains of Kyrgyzstan. Photo: Mateusz Atroszko/Shutterstock
The foreign ministers of China and five Central Asian countries (Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan and Uzbekistan) met on Wednesday, May 12th in Xian, an ancient city and former Chinese capital. The choice of location has been seen as deliberately offering echoes with the historic “Silk Road,” a network of medieval trade routes. China’s ‘Belt and Road Initiative’ is seen as a modern-day reincarnation.
Kyrgyzstan’s representative, Ruslan Kazakbaev, used the meeting as a platform to repeat his country’s calls for the construction of a full China-Kyrgyzstan-Uzbekistan (CKU) rail link on the 920km Kashgar-Tashkent route. Though much discussed since the 1990s, such a project would be massively expensive. Estimates hover around $4.5 billion as it has to cross the 2950m Irkestam Pass and require about 50 tunnels and 90 bridges. Even if funding were forthcoming, there is disagreement as to the railway gauge that should be used.
Other important issues discussed by the six nations’ ministers included cooperation on anti-terrorism, fighting poverty and supporting peace strategies for Afghanistan – a significant concern in the region in advance of the planned US withdrawal of troops scheduled for September 2021.
The meeting came just a month after Kyrgyzstan’s constitutional referendum approved that country’s move from a parliamentary to a presidential system of government and less than two weeks after fatal disturbances on the poorly demarcated Kyrgyz-Tajik border over cross-frontier water resources.