Spanning from Turkmenistan to China, Line D of the Central Asia–China Gas Pipeline starkly illustrates the importance of energy in strategic interests over Central Asian resources. It is considerably shorter than the other three pipelines, yet it is as expensive and challenging as the rest of the network. Upon successful completion, Line D will bring the overall annual capacity of the Central Asia–China Gas Pipeline to 85 billion cubic metres of gas, making it the largest gas transmission system in Central Asia.
Chinese Name: 中亚天然气管道D线 Location: Turkmenistan, Uzbekistan, Tajikistan, Kyrgyzstan, and China Type of Project: Energy Project Developer(s): Sino-pipeline International Company Limited (subsidiary of China National Petroleum Corporation) Main Contractor(s): n/a Known Financiers: China Development Bank Cost: 6.7 billion USD (estimated) Project Status: Under construction
In its international energy policy, the Chinese authorities have been trying to avoid excessive dependence on a single supplier or a single transit country. With all currently functioning oil and gas pipelines from Central Asia passing through Kazakhstan, Line D will allow Beijing to bypass the Kazakh territory, thus enhancing its bargaining power vis-à-vis Kazakhstan. While part of the Central Asia–China Gas Pipelines, Line D is significantly different from the other three lines for at least two reasons. First, the gas supplied to China via Line D will be extracted from the Galkynish gas field, which happens to be the second-largest gas field in the world after South Pars in Iran. The other three lines extract from the gas fields at Amu Darya Right Bankas in Turkmenistan. The development of Galkynish is an indicator of Beijing’s long-term strategic interests in extracting Turkmen gas. Second, Line D is not parallel to the already operational Line A, Line B, and Line C pipelines but follows an entirely different route that sidesteps Kazakhstan.
The groundwork for the new line was laid in 2013, when Beijing enticed Turkmen, Uzbek, Tajik, and Kyrgyz authorities to sign agreements on building another major gas pipeline across Central Asia to deliver additional 30 billion cubic metres of Turkmen gas to the southern and central parts of the Xinjiang Uygur Autonomous Region of China. The total length of the pipeline is 966 kilometres, with 840 kilometres of it within Central Asia. The total cost of the project is estimated to be 6.7 billion USD. Unlike the other three lines that bypass Tajik and Kyrgyz territories, the two longest sections of Line D lie in Tajikistan (410 kilometres) and Kyrgyzstan (215 kilometres). Financial resources, qualified personnel, and equipment are primarily supplied by the Chinese side.
Because the Tajik section is the longest and the most challenging segment of the pipeline, in 2014 stakeholders decided to start the construction process from Tajikistan. Running the pipeline through Tajikistan’s mountain range will require the construction of 42 tunnels with a total length of 64 kilometres. In 2016, Uzbekistan’s national oil and gas company Uzbekneftegaz announced that construction was suspended due to technical reasons. Work partially resumed two years later, and in January 2020 a Chinese company contracted for the tunnel-digging reported completion of the first tunnel. No completion date has yet been announced by the stakeholders.
Over-dependence: The existing gas supply infrastructure has already turned Beijing into almost the only customer for Turkmen gas exports. Once fully operational, Line D will almost double Turkmenistan’s current obligations of gas supplies to China, from the current 40 billion to 65-70 billion cubic metres per year. This will make it impossible for the Turkmen authorities to even consider diversifying energy exports without prior negotiations with their Chinese counterparts in the short to medium term. There are also concerns about the feasibility of this increase, as Turkmenistan only managed to deliver 33 billion cubic metres of gas to China in 2018.
Competing gas markets: The energy sectors of all five Central Asian countries were initially designed to operate within a resource-sharing mechanism, in which the downstream countries of Turkmenistan and Uzbekistan supplied gas and thermal electricity to upstream Tajikistan and Kyrgyzstan and, in return, received hydroelectricity and water for irrigation purposes. Increasing gas export to China may affect the recently revived intra-Central Asian energy trade and, as a consequence, the energy security of Tajikistan and Kyrgyzstan. So far, there is no news about talks on using the pipeline to supply even a small amount of Turkmen gas to Tajikistan or Kyrgyzstan.
Energy as a ‘weapon’: Line D pulls together Central Asian upstream (Tajikistan and Kyrgyzstan) and downstream (Uzbekistan) countries, which until recently were political rivals. Challenges to increasing the production of gas in Turkmenistan and political tensions between Tajikistan and Uzbekistan have resulted in the suspension of the construction process, which was partially resumed in 2018. In March 2017, it was reported that Uzbekneftegaz had agreed with CNPC to postpone the construction of the Uzbek section. Political disagreements between Uzbekistan and upstream Central Asian states and the desire to use their transit status to gain political leverage may threaten the reliability of gas supplies via Line D in the future.
Sovereign debt: Beijing’s commitment to providing financial and technical support is a determinant factor for the interest of the participating parties in the energy project. China is the single largest creditor for a number of Central Asian states, and some of these countries have already reached unprecedented levels of indebtedness to international creditors. For instance, Tajikistan’s debt-to-GDP ratio has risen from 33.4% in 2015 to an estimated 56.8% in 2018. The cost of the Tajik section of Line D is 3.2 billion USD. Considering the fact that the share of Tajiktransgaz, Tajikistan’s state-owned gas company, in the joint venture with CNPC’s subsidiary for Line D is financed by loans provided by China Development Bank, the project will further add to the country’s external debt. With Tajikistan already in the highest risk category, growing indebtedness might trigger domestic public discontent.
Aminjonov, Farkhod. 2017. ‘Re-thinking Central Asian Energy Security: Pitfalls of Export Diversification Policies.’ Central Asia Institute for Strategic Studies. Link
Aminjonov, Farkhod. 2018. ‘Central Asian Gas Exports Dependency: Swapping Russian Patronage for Chinese.’ The RUSI Journal 163, no. 2 : 66–77.
Aminjonov, Farkhod, Alina Abylkasymova, Anna Aimée, Bahtiyor Eshchanov, Daniyar Moldokanov, Indra Overland, and Roman Vakulchuk. 2019. ‘BRI in Central Asia: Energy Connectivity Projects’. Central Asia Regional Data Review, no. 22: 1–14.
Hess, Maximilian. 2020. ‘Central Asia’s Force Majeure Fears: Impact of COVID-19 Outbreak on China’s Natural Gas Supply Demands.’ Foreign Policy Research Institute. Link.
Updated on 8 April 2021.
Farkhod Aminjonov is an Assistant Professor at Zayed University in the United Arab Emirates. Energy security, pipeline politics and sustainable development with a particular focus on the Eurasian region lie at the center of his research interests. Recently, he has also been working on a broader context of Central Asia–China relations within the Belt and Road Initiative.
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