Western media keeps emphasizing that the President of Kazakhstan Nursultan Nazarbayev gets really excited when it comes to practical realization of the potential within the context of One Belt, One Road. What is particularly important to his nation lies in the possibility of setting up a high-speed transport route that run from China to Europe through Kazakhstan. And one thing: it’s important not for only his own country, because the question at hand is the ongoing shift in global economic power and global economic trends.
In his speech at the VIII Astana Economic Forum on May 22, 2015, President Nazarbayev presented a proposal to promote the land-bridge connecting South East Asia to Europe. According to him, Kazakhstan would be happy to support such an initiative.
“I propose creating a new, high-speed combined transport route – the Eurasian transcontinental corridor”, he said. “This transport line will connect not only China and Kazakhstan, but also Russia and Europe, and it will have access to the Central Asian countries”.
The Kazakh leader stated that the volume of trade between China and the EU amounted to nearly $600 billion and was projected to increase to $800 billion by 2020.
“So there’s great value in a land route to Europe for a growing Asia. Furthermore, this path is much shorter than the sea route by nearly three times”, he noted.
During the three years since then, there have been effective, substantial and visible changes in the situation. The China-promoted Belt and Road initiative is continuing to provide exciting opportunities for the land-locked Central Asian states, used to feel themselves to be on the periphery of the international economic and financial system, marginalized from international trade and confronted with difficulties in establishing transit transport systems. The already ongoing realization of the idea of a “New Silk Road”, an intertwined set of economic integration initiatives seeking to link East Asia and Europe, gave a big boost to the development of a network of roads in Kazakhstan and to the growth in the volume of East-West and West-East shipments through the Kazakhstani corridor. This conclusion flows from the comparative statistics. Let’s give them attention so we can gain some insight into the extent of recent changes in the situation.
As is known, there are two main train routes which can be and are being used by the railroad shipping companies that transport goods from China to Europe.
The northern one goes into Kazakhstan with a crossing at the Chinese city of Khorgos, then continues across its territory to Russia and Belorussia and then into Poland and Germany.
The railway connecting Khorgos to Almaty, the largest rail hub in the nation, was put into commission in 4Q of 2012. Through that project, the train route running from China to Europe via the south-eastern part of Kazakhstan has decreased by about 500 km.
The southern one goes across Kazakhstan to Aktau [a Kazakh city on the Caspian Sea], then crosses the Caspian Sea into Azerbaijan, continuing by rail into Georgia, Turkey and then the EU’s south-eastern part via Bulgaria.
The railway connecting Saksaulskaya in the Southern Kazakhstan to Beineu in Western Kazakhstan was put into commission in 2Q of 2015. Upon the completion of this project, the length of that route has been shortened by about 1000 km. These train routes are being actively used by by shipping companies.
What are the results achieved heretofore in establishing the land-bridge connecting South East Asia to Europe in regard to the part concerning Kazakhstan?
Euractiv, in an article by Georgi Gotev entitled “China’s Belt and Road initiative, explained by Kazakhstan” and published on 4 July 2018, said on the matter the following: “Roman Vassilenko, deputy minister of foreign affairs of Kazakhstan, met on Wednesday (4 July) with a group of international journalists from around the world to field questions about his country’s development and the China-promoted Belt and Road initiative. The diplomat said he had received many questions in advance concerning the Belt and Road initiative, and made use of a map to offer explanations.
A few figures mentioned by Vassilenko illustrate the exponential growth of container transport. In 2010, there were zero Chinese containers shipped via Kazakhstan to Europe. In 2011, 1,200 containers were shipped. In 2017, that number grew to 200,000 containers and this year, almost 400,000 containers are expected to cross Kazakhstan.
He added that the number would double in each of the next two years, reaching 800,000 containers next year and 1.5 million in 2020.
Overall, Kazakhstan expects to transit 2 million containers, including the north-south direction, by 2020. This would bring $5 billion in transit fees.
The advantage for goods companies is that they are able to send their wares from China to Europe in 15 days. In comparison, transport by ship takes between 30 and 45 days, Vassilenko said”
He also explained that shipping by rail is less expensive than by air, but still more expensive than by sea ($2,000 by ship, compared to $6,000 by rail).
The volumes are also telling, as only 1.5 million containers are transported by rail per year compared with 15 million containers via sea link”.
According to China’s statistics, trains running from Xi’an to Central Asia carried 170,000 tons of goods worth 1.3 billion yuan ($210 million) in 2017. About 75 percent of those goods went to Kazakhstan.
It’s noteworthy that much has already been done in the previous years. But more remains to be done.
The works yet to be carried out in the context of One Belt One Road are enormous. The BRI agenda is quickly becoming a reality.
This is an enormous undertaking. Economic and socio-economic dynamics of the BRI are opening up new horizons for reliable and modern investment in Kazakhstan’s economy. The Kazakh leadership is well aware of this. Nursultan Nazarbayev when meeting with visiting Chinese Vice-Premier Zhang Gaoli on 18 April 2017, in Astana, capital of Kazakhstan, said the achievements Kazakhstan scored in recent years could not have been realized without China’s strong support. Kazakhstan firmly supports China’s domestic and international policy and the Belt and Road Initiative, he added.
In a recent interview aired by China’s CCTV-13 channel, Nursultan Nazarbayev stressed the importance of the state visit to Kazakhstan by Xi Jinping in 2013. It was then that the Chinese leader, in a speech at the Nazarbayev University, for the first time announced the global initiative to create the Silk Road Economic Belt.
Kazakhstan’s president said: “Today we can say that it was a great idea. Because in 2012 the world did not get out of the [global economic] crisis and all countries faced difficulties. At that time, this initiative, this idea was a must. It was pitched for all states and they gladly picked it up as an idea that would help them overcome the remnants of the crisis. This stimulated us to adopt our program “Nurly Zhol”, because the way to Europe runs across Kazakhstan, Russia, and beyond”.
The particular importance attached to the development of the transcontinental two-way routes linking Europe to East Asia via Kazakhstan is because it fits into two larger trends: first, that the economical center of the world is quickly shifting towards China, and second, that Central Asia’s economy is heating up.
With regard to the first of these trends, it should also be noted that Central Asia is becoming the core of the differences between the various actors in a globalizing world economy, as rival great powers seek to stamp their forms of economic and political organization on the region and the world. Even India needs Central Asia for accessing European market. As to the second of these trends, Kazakhstan has reached, according to foreign experts, the limits of its development based almost exclusively on oil and raw materials. And now, it is time for the nation to find new incentives for domestic and foreign investments. The Kazakh government understands that the OBOR initiative can provide a lot of opportunities in this respect and generate great potential and create multiplier effects in the Central Asian countries in terms of generating wealth and dynamism.