SEnECA Blog Post: The “New Silk Road” and Kyrgyzstan: problems and perspectives

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