The China-Kyrgyzstan-Uzbekistan (CKU) railway, which has been in the planning stage for two decades, has finally received the go-ahead.
When completed, the railway will be the shortest route to transport goods from China to Europe and the Middle East, cutting the freight journey by 900 kilometers and saving seven to eight days in shipping time.
The project to connect the three countries by railway goes back to 1997 and thus predates the Belt and Rod Initiative. The project did not proceed at that time in part due to internal political instability in Kyrgyzstan between 2005 and 2010.
However, after the then Kyrgyz President made an official visit to Beijing in June 2012, the project was revitalised, and at that time Uzbekistan also reaffirmed its interest in seeing the project implemented. The launch of the Belt and Road Initiative in 2013 by China’s President Xi Jinping gave the project further impetus. From the perspective of the Belt and Road Initiative the project will open a corridor from Central Asia to the Persian Gulf, enabling expansion of commercial and trade routes for all.
The CKU route, which will become the southern part of China-Europe freight rail, will link China, Kyrgyzstan and Uzbekistan to Central and Eastern Europe via Iran and Turkey. China has already been running more than 1,000 China-Europe Railway Express trains for 24 months.
An online meeting took place between China, Kyrgyzstan, and Uzbekistan recently and, according to their announcement, feasibility studies will be finished this year. Kyrgyz President Sadyr Japarov said construction will begin in 2023.
According to plan, the total length of the CKU railway is about 523 kilometers, including 213 kilometers in China, 260 kilometers in Kyrgyzstan and about 50 kilometers in Uzbekistan.
The railway has been planned for at least 25 years. As early as 1997, China, Kyrgyzstan and Uzbekistan signed a memorandum of understanding on the construction of a railway linking the three countries, but the construction of the CKU railroad will begin next year, Kyrgyz President Sadyr Zhaparov told Kabar Agency on Monday.
“We will start in 2023 after the feasibility study is completed this year. The feasibility study is being prepared with the participation of three parties. There will be jobs. Our economy will boom,” said Zhaparov, noting that it has been 20 years since Kyrgyzstan wanted to build this railway.
Shavkat Mirziyoyev, President of Uzbekistan, also said that the construction of the CKU railway will begin soon.
Mirziyoyev made the remarks at the summit of the Supreme Eurasian Economic Council on Friday, according to media reports.
“Development of the railway network is one of the priorities of the cabinet. In autumn, it is planned to begin construction of the largest project in the history of our independence – the CKU railway. It is necessary to support this project,” said Akylbek Japarov, Prime Minister of Kyrgyzstan, on May 20, during a cabinet meeting, which approved the country’s main directions of development of railway transport for 2022-2026.
Agreements with all interested countries have been completed. We expect that during the summit of the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation in September, the leaders of the three countries will sign a document to begin construction of the railway. The Kyrgyz government, the Uzbek government and the Chinese government are jointly preparing for the document.
The CKU To Kazakhstan & Russia
Russian President Vladamir Putin is reported to have given support to the project and Russia has contributed over $3 million for preparation of CKU railway feasibility study, even though the project does not go through Russia. However, from Uzbekistan, the CKU can connect with existing freight road, rail and air to Kazakhstan, and on to Russia. Russia’s break with Western Europe in favour of trade to the East is undoubtedly a factor in play here. Russian investors very much see Uzbekistan as a potential trade partner and are looking to relocate some Russian manufacturing to Uzbekistan.
Uzbekistan is an observer member of the Eurasian Economic Union (EAEU) and is expected to join the EAEU in the new future. The project of construction of China-Kyrgyzstan-Uzbekistan railway has been included into the list of priority integration infrastructure projects in transport sector of the Eurasian Economic Union member states. The EAEU includes Armenia, Belarus, Kyrgyzstan, Kazakhstan, and Russia. It has Free Trade Agreements with Iran and Vietnam and is in negotiations with, amongst others, Egypt, the UAE, India and numerous other ASEAN and some African nations.
Uzbekistan and Kyrgyzstan have been discussing increased bilateral trade, while its foreign trade increased by 34.4% last year, with China being its largest trade partner. Uzbekistan and Russia have also been discussing improvements in bilateral trade.
Asia Today, July 07, 2022. https://theasiatoday.org/editorials/importance-of-china-kyrgyzstan-uzbekistan-railway/
Silk Road Briefing, June 07, 2022. https://www.silkroadbriefing.com/news/2022/06/07/uzbekistan-the-big-winner-in-chinas-new-central-asian-cku-railway/
Global Times, June 02, 2022 . https://www.globaltimes.cn/page/202206/1267203.shtml