Building a railroad that would connect China with Europe and Middle East through Central Asia, although theoretically perspective, looks unrealizable in the nearest future due to economical and political challenges. Only for Kyrgyzstan building its part on a very difficult mountainous terrain will cost at least 2 billion US dollars by some estimates. With poor investment climate and 2 billon dollars of external debt, the country is unlikely to fulfill its part of the project, experts say.
The plan of the railroad from China via Kyrgyzstan and Uzbekistan to Europe has been discussed for the past thirteen years. Recently all sides have finalized railroad's route, which will start in Kashgar in Xinjiang autonomous region of China and will go via Torugart, Uzgen, Kara-Suu to Andijan in Uzbekistan.
From Chinese Government Concerned about Hizb ut-Tahrir in Xinjiang July 31, 2008:
In a backstreet of the old Silk Road city of Kashgar, Chinese authorities have been spray-painting signs on dusty mud brick walls to warn against what it says is a new enemy - the Islamic Liberation Party.
Better known as Hizb ut-Tahrir, the group says its goal is to establish a pan-national Muslim state, or Caliphate.
China says Hizb ut-Tahrir are terrorists operating in the far western region of Xinjiang, home to some 8 million Muslim, Turkic-speaking Uighurs, many of whom chafe under Chinese rule.
But the group and some observers say it does not espouse violence and accuse China of playing up the threat as an excuse to further crack down in restive Xinjiang, especially ahead of the Beijing Olympics.
"Strike hard against the Islamic Liberation Party" and "The Islamic Liberation Party is a violent terrorist organization" read the signs in Kashgar, written in red in both Chinese and Uighur's Arabic-based script.
At the beginning of Uighuristan, Part 8, I had recapped:
We ended Part 7 pointing out that, should the Xinjiang Uighur Autonomous Region (XUAR) suddenly become a nation independent of China, the PRC would be cut off from much of its domestic and foreign supplies of fossil fuels, as well as developing overland trade routes. Specifically, I commented "All it would take is a little fanning of the flames of discontent, and China could suddenly become a paper tiger...."
At the end of Uighuristan, Part 10, I finished with this:
Okay, so the government in Beijing is a bunch of oppressive communists -- we knew that.
And, Uighur leaders in exile in the United States publicly condemn the violence, whether terrorist attack or Communist Chinese response.
Who, then, are responsible for the terrorist acts, and what is their agenda?
Xinjiang means "New Frontier" in English, and, indeed, there is much about Xinjiang that makes it a new frontier today. As we saw in the Uighuristan series, it is a new frontier in China's energy sector, both as a major producer of oil and natural gas, and as the gateway through which still more fossil fuels arrive in China from Central Asia. Along with the imported natural gas, China is expanding its presence, both political and economic, into Central Asia, and that carries with it certain military imperatives for Beijing.
The increased presence of ethnic Han Chinese in the XUAR and beyond, into the Central Asian republics, also makes this region a new frontier socially, as Beijing, in a program that recalls the development of North America from two centuries ago, encourages its people to "go west" -- into Xinjiang.
The region has long been a place of local discontent with interference and even oppression from Beijing, but with the increase in terrorism, it appears Xinjiang is also becoming a new frontier in the global battle against Islamist terrorism, as militant and extremist Muslims appear to be spreading a jihad to establish a global caliphate to a region known as "East Turkestan" (as opposed to "West Turkestan", the Central Asian republics).
Xinjiang is also a new frontier in China's battle against heroin trafficking, heroin addiction, and HIV and AIDS that spread with heroin's needles; indeed, Xinjiang seems to be superseding China's frontier with the Golden Triangle in the struggle against narcotics.
In this series, we shall consider how all these issues interact, and we shall look at who might be responsible for the rejuvenated and intensifying insurgency that Beijing faces in the XUAR, an insurgency which, if successful, could result in Xinjiang becoming an independent nation -- "Uighuristan" or "East Turkestan" -- thus beginning the dismemberment and likely collapse of the People's Republic of China, and possibly taking Communist China from being a developing superpower and replacing it with a weakened regional power.
As we proceed, we first finish our review of China-Central Asia Railroad Faces Economic, Political Risks August 11, 2008:
Kanatbek Abdykerimov, head of Department for railroad management and designing at the national railway company Kyrgyz Temir Jolu said to the Reporter Bishkek newspaper that the biggest achievement has been agreement to speed intergovernmental negotiations that would allow launching road construction.
He said that the railroad project was sent to China and is expected to be signed in September. After that the countries will be able announce international tender and select construction companies.
Abdykerimov noted that country's two billion-dollar external debt should not hinder the project. "The government will find funds, the project is essential to our country," he said.
First President of Kyrgyzstan Askar Akaev said in 2004 that the railroad could improve economic condition of one million Kyrgyz citizens and provide for 60 percent annual GDP growth. Kyrgyzstan might also find new markets for the coal produced in Kara-Keche mine in Naryn region.
Orozbek Moldaliev, Director of the Center for international relations studies in Kyrgyzstan says that slow economic growth, poor investment climate and political instability scares investors away. Besides that, Kyrgyzstan has very few products to export which might pose difficulties for the project’s payback.
"Our economic climate scares away investors. Even in politically unstable Afghanistan investments are pouring into the country by billions," Moldaliev says.
"We do not have war like Afghanistan does, but we have flourishing red tape, which is a bureaucratic war," Moldaliev continues.
He points out investors are not lining up for the project, which means that theoretical benefits of the railroad might not be very convincing to investors.
Some of the experts also suggest that connecting China's unstable Xinjiang province with volatile Central Asian states might be too politically risky for Beijing. Moreover, building the route to Middle East via Iran might end up being too costly.
Of course, there currently is the Karakoram Highway that leads from Pakistan into China.
A railroad, however, connecting China to Central Asia would be far more useful for commerce.
And, indeed, as the article points out, there are some political risks to this -- first and foremost on the minds of many of my readers might be the increased economic and thus cultural intercourse with a region where the world's Islamist extremists have so much influence, and from where they are trying to spread their jihad for a global caliphate.
But, then, what other risks are in store for China as interaction with Central and South Asian countries increases?
We now return to the other article we began, Chinese Government Concerned about Hizb ut-Tahrir in Xinjiang, July 31, 2008:
Residents passing by appear to pay little heed to the notices, accustomed to barrages of government propaganda denouncing "splittism," "illegal religious activities" and calling for ethnic unity and harmony.
"I don't know what that group is," said one Uighur, who declined to give his name, shaking his head and scurrying away.
As in another strife-hit Chinese region, Tibet, many Uighurs resent the growing economic and cultural impact of Han Chinese who have in some cases been encouraged by the government to move to far-flung and under-populated parts of the country.
Beijing accuses militant Uighurs of working with al Qaeda to use terror to bring about an independent state called East Turkestan.
The government says it has foiled several Xinjiang-based plots this year to launch attacks during or in the run-up to the Games, including one which apparently would see athletes targeted by suicide bombers or be kidnapped.
But the emergence of Hizb ut-Tahrir is a recent phenomenon in Xinjiang.
"The organization is extremely resilient and its influence, although limited to southern Xinjiang, seems to be growing," said Nicholas Bequelin of Human Rights Watch.
"The prison authorities are also worried about the influence of Hizbut followers on other inmates," he added.
But it seems unlikely they represent the threat to Xinjiang that China likes to portray, said Dru Gladney, a Uighur expert and president of the Pacific Basin Institute at Pomona College, California.
"For most Uighurs who are activists, though some of them are very religious in their Islam, their main goal is sovereignty for Xinjiang. Hizb ut-Tahrir doesn't support that. They support a worldwide Caliphate, not any one independent region," he said.
Another difference is that many Uighur activists condemn all violence, whether terrorist style attacks on forces loyal to Beijing, or Beijing's forceful response to them.
On the other hand, the violence fits well within the ideology of the world's Islamist jihad movement.
But, who else benefits from increased instability in Xinjiang?
Stay tuned to Stop Islamic Conquest as The New Frontier continues!