The Great Silk Road, the route connecting the East and the West since the Middle Ages, is restoring back to life. Today, the idea of reviving the Great Silk Road is fully embodied in the ambitious Chinese initiative “One Belt – One Road” (OBOR), which shall better connect countries located between China and Europe. The project is not purely economic, but has also a geopolitical side since it pursues Chinese foreign interests. However, economic and trade relations are given a strong emphasis within the project. The idea of OBOR is very attractive for Central Asian countries as it provides them with the opportunity to become an important hub in the international transit between the Europe and Eastern Asia. Currently, the integration of the landlocked region into the global economy is hampered by the lack of sea connections. Therefore, the development of communication channels is very important for the further advancement of economic and trade relations both among Central Asian countries and with neighbouring regions.
For a small landlocked country like Kyrgyzstan without any significant mineral resources and a huge external debt, the OBOR initiative looks like as a ‘lifebuoy’ and a great opportunity for the country’s development. Through active involvement in the project, Kyrgyzstan can receive new perspectives for the development of the economic, political, cultural, humanitarian relations with all participating countries. This is very important for Kyrgyzstan since it is searching for its place in the global community as a country which is attractive for establishing international organizations, hosting international and regional forums, as well as serving as a regional educational and cultural center.
Prior to China, a similar idea has already been implemented by the European Union under the TRACECA programme with the aim to create an international transport corridor from Europe through the Black Sea, the Caucasus and the Caspian Sea with access to Central Asian countries. The programme has buildt trans-Eurasian connections and developed communication channels among the above mentioned regions, but it did not cover the whole Great Silk Road. China has initiated its project with larger investments and more global coverage.
However, there are also some downsides to OBOR. First, China will significantly strengthen its geopolitical domination over Central Asia. Second, the fact that China is the largest creditor of Kyrgyzstan will exclude equal partnership. Third, Chinese immigration is a great problem not only in Kyrgyzstan, but in all Central Asian countries. There is no simple answer to the above mentioned challenges at the moment and only time will show how they can be solved by all parties.
At the same time, advantages from the participation in the project outweigh possible challenges for Kyrgyzstan. The development of transport routes will allow not only Kyrgyzstan, but all countries of the region to intensify trade relations in the future. The implementation of the project can lead to new investments, the development of new technologies, cultural exchange, intensified relations creating more stability, security and multilateral cooperation, and gradually, turning the Great Silk Road region into a new axis in the global economy and politics.
SEnECA Blog Contribution by Nazira Momosheva from Kyrgyz National University