Chinese President Xi Jinping, who has opened his wallet to the tune of tens of billions of dollars on his four-nation tour of Central Asia this month, didn’t run out of money before he arrived in Kyrgyzstan. Beijing has offered Bishkek a much-needed cash infusion reportedly totaling about $3 billion.
During his trip, Xi helped inaugurate the world’s second-biggest natural gas field, in Turkmenistan, which will help triple China’s imports from what is already its largest foreign supplier. In Kazakhstan, he reportedly signed energy deals worth $30 billion. In Uzbekistan, AFP reported $15 billion in vague energy and mining deals.
In resource-poor Kyrgyzstan, Economics Minister Temir Sariev said Beijing’s credits and investments would total $3 billion. About half will be used to build a 225-kilometer pipeline across the country for the Turkmen gas, from which Kyrgyzstan will eventually receive transit fees.
The package announced on September 11 includes a loan to build a new highway connecting Kyrgyzstan’s north and south, KyrTAG reports, citing Sariev, a $400 million loan to modernize the ailing Bishkek heating plant, and $400 million toward a long-delayed Chinese-built oil refinery. There’s even a promise to open a hospital specializing in Chinese medicine.
Kyrgyzstan’s largest investor has announced a tentative deal that would end months of gridlock over one of the country’s most valuable assets.
In a statement posted on its website September 9, Toronto-based Centerra Gold said
it had entered a “non-binding memorandum of understanding” with Bishkek that would see the Kyrgyz government trade its 32.7 percent interest in Centerra, plus $100 million in future profits, for a 50 percent stake in a joint venture that would own and operate the Kumtor gold mine. Kumtor, which has yielded about 270 tons of gold since 1997, is Centerra’s most productive mine.
In February, Kyrgyzstan’s parliament passed a resolution that required the government to negotiate a more lucrative deal with Centerra or unilaterally revoke the 2009 operating agreement. That resolution came on the back of efforts by some opposition figures to nationalize the mine.
For years industry observers have asserted that environmental protests outside the Canadian-run Kumtor Gold Mine in Kyrgyzstan’s eastern mountains were part of an elaborate shakedown scheme. Now a video has emerged that appears to substantiate this view.
Kyrgyzstan’s Health Ministry has denied any new cases of bubonic plague after a 15-year-old boy died of the disease last week.
Citing an unnamed government source, AFP reported on August 27 that three more people who had had contact with the deceased were exhibiting signs of the disease and had been hospitalized.
The Health Ministry denies the three have contracted the disease. "Preliminary results are negative,” Health Ministry spokeswoman Elena Bayalinova told EurasiaNet.org on August 28.
A total of 148 people believed to have had contact with 15-year-old Temirbek Isakunov
shortly before his death on August 22 in northeastern Ak-Suu district have been quarantined and are receiving prophylactic antibiotics, the Health Ministry said in a statement. The ministry says an epidemic is unlikely and authorities are said to be controlling movement in and out of the district.
A boy tries to sell a dead marmot in Tajikistan. Marmots are often hunted for their meat in mountainous parts of Central Asia. But in Kyrgyzstan, health officials suspect a teenager died from bubonic plague after coming into contact with a flea that had lived on a marmot.
Kyrgyzstan’s Health Ministry has confirmed the death of a teenager from bubonic plague, an infectious disease most famously known as the Black Death that killed approximately one-third of Europe’s population in the 14th century.
On August 26 the ministry said an autopsy on 15-year-old Temirbek Isakunov had confirmed the boy had contracted the disease. Isakunov died in Issyk-Kul province on August 22 after being admitted to a hospital with a high fever and swollen lymph nodes in his armpits and on his neck. Doctors suspect Isakunov contracted the disease from a flea living on a marmot that his family had cooked. Marmots are common in Central Asia's mountains and are sometimes hunted for their meat.
Kloop.kg quoted Health Minister Dinara Saginbaeva saying at a press conference this morning that the teenager had been buried and 105 people who could have been in contact with him during his last days are being given antibiotics. The Ministry of Emergency Situations says that more than 700 people in Issyk-Kul province have been examined for symptoms, the 24.kg news agency reports.
Central Asian states are becoming entangled in a trade spat involving Russia and Ukraine. Ostensibly, the dispute’s origin can be traced to Russian concerns over the quality of Ukrainian chocolate. But Russia’s real aim, according to some observers, is enhancing the viability of the Kremlin-led Customs Union.
Thousands of men from Central Asia, the South Caucasus, and Russia’s Muslim republics gathered in central Moscow on August 8 to mark the closing of Ramadan.
The Eid al-Fitr prayers, which celebrate the end of the month-long fast, gave Moscow’s estimated million-plus population of Muslims, many of them migrant laborers, a chance to put aside, for a few minutes, growing concerns about the nationalist rhetoric, police roundups, and migrant detention centers that have become a feature of the city’s ongoing mayoral campaign and Russian politics in general.
Some knelt on carpets, some on newspapers. Radio Ekho Moskvy said more than 3,000 police and tens of thousands of worshipers gathered outside Moscow’s four mosques for the 8:00 a.m. prayer. Others estimated well over 100,000 faithful.
Outside the Sobornaya Mechet, Russia’s Chief Mufti, Ravil Gainutdin, relayed messages of peace from President Vladimir Putin, Moscow Mayor Sergey Sobyanin, and Chechen strongman Ramzan Kadyrov, among others. Blessings in several languages including Uzbek and Tajik were broadcast to the men kneeling in the streets before the main prayer.
A circling police helicopter often drowned out the announcements. For several construction workers from Tajikistan, however, that didn’t matter. As the mufti spoke and they waited for the moment to pray in silence, they were absorbed with a mobile phone video of a tracksuited woman in black leather boots dancing on top of a car.
Tajikistan likes to brand itself as the last Central Asian Eldorado, a place that (once the deep-pocketed foreigners get over their corruption concerns) will be swimming in hydrocarbon and mineral wealth – or at least look something like Kazakhstan.
So far though, in its 20-plus years of independence, Tajikistan has enjoyed little foreign investment, even though it boasts over 600 documented mineral stores, including what’s believed to be one of the largest silver deposits in the world.
A new poll has found that nearly half of Tajiks would welcome foreign investment in their mining sector, while more than a fifth were against it. These figures are almost the mirror opposite of sentiments in neighboring Kyrgyzstan. Asked how they “feel about foreign companies developing mineral resources,” 45 percent of Tajiks said they were in favor, while 21 percent said they were opposed. In Kyrgyzstan, only 25 percent responded positively, with 43 percent opposed. (The poll was released on August 5 by regional pollster M-Vector, covering 1,008 respondents across Tajikistan and 2,656 in Kyrgyzstan.)
The pollsters offer no hypotheses about the difference, but why not bounce around some unscientific ideas about the possible reasons that people in two desperately poor, mountainous post-Soviet states bordering China have such different views on outsiders extracting their natural wealth for a fee?
Tajikistan, the country more dependent than any other on labor migrant remittances, will no longer release cash transfer data because the information could be “politicized,” the head of the National Bank says.
The government stopped publishing information on the volume of remittances sent to Tajikistan in May, the Asia-Plus news agency reported this week, citing the head of the National Bank of Tajikistan. "I'd rather not talk about migrants' funds because this issue may be politicized," Abdujabbor Shirinov said.
Tajikistan boasts the world’s most remittance-dependent economy. According to the World Bank, labor migrants abroad, mostly in Russia, transferred the equivalent of 47 percent of GDP back to Tajikistan last year. The Bank expects the amount to rise again this year. And the transfers the Bank measures do not include cash that individuals carry home, so the number in reality is likely higher.
Shirinov insisted that not all cash transfers from individuals are labor migrant remittances, noting that some of the money could be returns from small businesses. Certainly that is also possible, but it doesn’t change the fact that Tajikistan is utterly dependent on Russia.