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Silk Road Development Weekly

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All the latest from China’s Belt & Road And Beyond

Analysis & Opinion

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Silk Road Development Weekly

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All the latest opinion and analysis from the Belt and Road and beyond.

Opinion & Analysis

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Uzbekistan Re-Energizing as Central Asia’s Traditional Hub for the Silk Belt and Road

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Tashkent, Uzbekistan’s Capital City

Back in 2013, while based in the Dezan Shira & Associates Singapore office, I applied for a visa to visit Uzbekistan. The country had an Embassy in the city and I was intrigued to find out what was going on in the country, prompted in part, by Chinese President Xi Jinping’s state visit there in September that year. At the time, Uzbekistan was ruled by President Islam Karimov, who by then had ruled the country for 24 years. It had been a fractious rule, Uzbekistan constantly quarreled with its neighbors, with Karimov essentially ruling with an iron fist. Although he retained warm relations with Beijing, he was a throwback to the old Soviet era – trust no-one, and while you’re doing that, mess them about as much as you can for good measure.

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Aqtau Port, Kazakhstan’s Caspian Sea Belt and Road Window to Europe

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Aqtau Port

While Kazkahstan’s Khorgos Inland Port has generated the majority of media attention concerning Kazakhstan’s Belt and Road connectivity, it is the nation’s recently upgraded Aqtau Port (also known as Aktau) that is really the strategically placed vital component.

Khorgos generates much of its attention by having sprung up from nowhere, in the middle of what amounts to little more than a gritty backyard of the Taklimakan Desert, to become the world’s largest inland port, almost exclusively fed by the need for oil and gas pipeline maintenance and the rail transport of Chinese goods heading across Eurasia. In doing so, it effectively serves as a transport hub for China’s Xinjiang, Gansu, Ningxia, and Sichuan provinces, as well as serving China’s national rail network heading all points West. That includes freight trains arriving from as far away as Yiwu and Shanghai on China’s eastern seaboard, among many others.

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Turkmenbashi’s Caspian Window and the Turkmenistan Belt and Road

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Turkmenbashi SeaPort

It remains unknown whether any Chinese official, upon hearing of the One Belt, One Road idea asked the Chinese President Xi Jinping what to call the Caspian Sea part. The Belt refers to the maritime section of the project, encompassing much of South-East Asia, then eventually washing up at Piraeus Port in Athens, while the Road follows the overland route. This means the Caspian section is to some extent an anomaly, in that it is part of the “road” yet needs to be navigated by ship. Which is a bit of an issue when you are a Chinese freight train.

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Armenia’s North-South Highway Linking Europe with Iran, Dubai, and India

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Last week, I discussed how China and Turkey were developing the latter’s “Middle Corridor” to allow high speed rail access from Kazakhstan, to Baku and then across Azerbaijan, Georgia and Turkey – the so-called BTK (Baku/Tbilisi/Kars) route. In doing so, I pointed out how regional tensions had left Armenia largely out of the picture, as the country has disagreements with both Azerbaijan to the north, leaving it unable to connect meaningfully with Baku, and with Turkey to the south. In fact, the BTK Route avoids Armenia altogether.

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Silk Road Development Weekly

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All the latest opinion, and analysis from China’s Belt and Road and beyond.

Opinion & Analysis

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The Case for Leaving the EU and Joining the Eurasian Economic Union

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With the Moscow supported Eurasian Economic Union is gaining increasing traction throughout Eurasia and beyond, it is only going to be a matter of time before countries who are currently part of the European Union begin to assess the benefits of changing alliances.

Although membership of the EU comes with membership of NATO – a decision made to “protect” EU nations from Russian military might over fears Moscow could attempt to grab back some of the ex-Soviet states it lost during the break up of the Soviet Union in 1992 – there has been disquiet about the arrangements. Donald Trump has repeatedly stated that EU nations must contribute 2 percent of their GDP to pay for American support through NATO in Europe. Very few nations currently do, a situation that when and if the US President decides needs to be addressed is likely to cause financial friction between the EU and NATO. The EU is supposed to be in compliance with this target by 2024. Trump will be doing his best to make sure that is on track – and especially if he obtains a second term.

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Baku, the City to Watch as China’s Belt and Road Divides the Caucasus

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China’s strategic interest in the Caucasus is focusing on Baku, Azerbaijan as it seeks to develop a southern rail route from China through to Europe. However, this means losing influence in Armenia as regional politics kick into play. The country has long standing issues with Turkey and serious territorial disputes with Azerbaijan, leading to Beijing essentially omitting the entire nation from its Belt and Road plans, despite the country being China-friendly and wanting to be involved. China, for its part, essentially eyes Armenia as geographically unimportant and politically awkward. That’s rather unfortunate for Yerevan, to say the least, which instead retains closer ties with Moscow than Beijing. That is a reverse policy to Georgia, which when contemplating membership of the EU and NATO in 2008, coupled with disturbances in Muslim-ruled parts of the Caucasus in Abkhazia and Ossetia, endured a brief war with Russia. Georgia’s capital, Tbilisi was bombed, and the Russian army generally trashed the place. That conflict continues to upset the Georgians, although Moscow made its point about NATO. Georgian relations with Moscow remain cool, but EU membership, although still discussed in bars, is proving a step too far from Moscow’s perspective. As can be perceived, with just three nations regarded as being Caucasia, yet with Russia bordering the same mountain range to the North, breakaway republics in Abhkazia, South Ossetia and Nagorno-Karabakh, China’s dealing with this volatile region requires both stealth, patience, and sacrifice. It is a region increasingly dominated by political nuances from Moscow, Ankara, Beijing, and to a lesser degree, Tehran and Delhi. The EU is losing regional influence.

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Silk Road Development Weekly

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All the latest news, opinion, and analysis from China’s Belt and Road and beyond.

Opinion & Analysis

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