Chinese imports from the Caspian area

Among the Caspian Sea littoral countries, China has relations of growing strategic importance mainly with those of the eastern shore, Kazakhstan and Turkmenistan.[1] [2] For the purposes of our topic, which focuses on the Caspian Sea basin, it is necessary to specify, however, that in Turkmenistan China is already exploiting gas fields and plans building new pipelines on shore, in the Amu Daria area, while only in Kazakhstan, Chinese companies are very active in fields located offshore in the Caspian Sea. Similarly, Beijing is also active in the import of gas from Uzbekistan, a landlocked country which, although not being a Caspian littoral state, nevertheless may be included in the Caspian energy area, due to its relevance for all the regional infrastructural projects.

With Azerbaijan, China has not yet developed specific partnerships for the exploitation of energy resources. Joining the regional energy market during the Nineties, China has come after other Western companies, and could only reach modest agreements concerning onshore fields (Garachukur, June 2004). However, China was the first country in the Far East to recognize the territorial integrity of Azerbaijan and to open an embassy in Baku in 1992. A cooling in bilateral relations had been felt in 1999, following the news of the sale by Chinese Typhoon 8 multiple rocket systems to Armenia.11

Whatever the location of the oil fields (offshore or onshore), it must be kept in mind that the energy resources of the Caspian area exported eastwards belong to a single system of exploitation and distribution that favors only one importer - China - and distracts those resources from other possible destinations. In this way, the picture of the exploitation of the regional resources is certainly complicated by the comparative advantage of the energy-political strategy implemented by China to ensure the political loyalty of the eastern shore producing countries of the Caspian Sea and, therefore, a privilege in trade agreements.

From a purely chronological point of view, in 1997, the Chinese National Petroleum Company signed an agreement with the Kazakh authorities for the construction of a pipeline that would pass through Kazakhstan to the mountains of the Tienshan and from there would enter Chinese territory in Xinjiang. Securing funds for investment and solving some logistical problems related to the nationality of the workers who were employed in the project has partially delayed the realization of the investment. At the same time, the Chinese attempts to enter the British-led consortium for the exploitation of the immense Kashagan oil field had failed, due to obstructionism practiced by Western companies such as Shell, Total, and ExxonMobil.[3]

Just since 2003, the Chinese presence, which was less evident in the first decade of the independence of the former Soviet Republics of the Caspian Sea area, has become more incisive and determined.

  • [1] With the other littoral countries, China has no specific partnership for the exploitation of the Caspian Searesources. However, China imports oil from Iran (via maritime routes that originate in the Persian Gulf) andfrom Russian Siberia (in perspective, also gas).
  • [2] F. Ismailzade, “China’s Relations with Azerbaijan”, China and Eurasia Forum Quarterly, vol. 5, no I, 2007, pp.29-34.
  • [3] S. Peyrouse, Economic Aspects of the Chinese-Central Asia Rapprochement, Silk Roas Paper, September2007.
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