Dushanbe and Beijing have launched construction of a key gas pipeline that will turn Tajikistan into a transit country for Central Asian gas supplies to neighboring China, the world’s largest energy consumer.
The pipeline will lock Tajikistan into an energy partnership with its powerful neighbor from which the former Soviet Union’s poorest country will reap millions of dollars every year in transit fees.
The project has “immense political, economic, and historical significance,” Tajik President Emomali Rakhmon said at the groundbreaking ceremony on September 13. His visiting Chinese counterpart, Xi Jinping, described the pipeline as a “symbol of China-Tajikistan friendship.”
The link will supplement the existing Central Asia pipeline running from Turkmenistan to China via Uzbekistan and Kazakhstan. The new section bypassing Kazakhstan and passing through Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan, known as Line D, will increase the pipeline’s overall annual capacity by 30 billion cubic meters, to around 85 billion. Like the other lines, it will also pass through Uzbekistan.
Tajikistan will host the longest section of the new 1,000-kilometer spur, with 400 kilometers passing through its territory. China will pick up the $3.2 billion price tag for that leg.
Beijing is already ramping up gas supplies through the existing Central Asia pipelines. A third line known as Line C started pumping from Turkmenistan in May, almost doubling the pipeline’s overall annual capacity to 55 billion cubic meters.
As China has courted the Central Asian states as gas suppliers, they have welcomed the chance to reduce reliance on Russia for getting their fuel to world markets. Turkmenistan is already China’s largest gas supplier, providing over half of China’s gas imports.
Tajikistan’s role on the pipeline will be purely as a transit state. But Dushanbe hopes to reap greater rewards by eventually becoming an oil and gas producer in its own right, which would bring much-needed export revenue to the impoverished country and help it tackle crippling energy shortages.
Rakhmon said he hoped Chinese companies would soon start energy production in Tajikistan, where firms prospecting for oil and gas believe there may be lucrative reserves.
China’s state-run CNPC is one of them: It has a one-third stake in a production-sharing agreement for gas in southern Tajikistan, with France’s Total and offshore-registered Tethys Petroleum as partners.