Dec 14

An 1833km pipeline for regional peace

Written by dewang on Monday, December 14th, 2009 at 9:26 pm
Filed under:-mini-posts, economy, General, News, Opinion |
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A theory often taught in foreign policy courses is that heavily interdependent states tend to want peace and stability between them. I was very encourage to read that a massive gas pipeline, 1,833-kilometers in length, has been constructed, linking Turkmenistan through central Uzbekistan, southern Kazakhstan, and into China through northwestern Xinjiang province.

Xinhua has this story, carried on China Daily: “Chinese, Turkmen, Kazakh, Uzbek presidents unveil gas pipeline.”

“President Hu said at the inauguration ceremony that the China-Central Asia natural gas pipeline is a major cooperative project and of great significance to the four countries.

He said China is ready to continue to maintain close communication and step up coordination with Turkmenistan, Kazakhstan and Uzbekistan to build the second line of the project and secure safety and efficiency in the pipeline’s operation. He said China is ready to advance energy collaboration among the four countries in an all-round way and to establish a long-term, stable, secured and reliable partnership of energy cooperation.”

With the end of the Cold War and the break up of the Soviet Union, Central Asia is slowly re-establishing themselves.

This pipeline is one of the largest physical sign one can see of this linkage between these four nations. Natural gas produced in Turkmenistan will be carried through it to major cities like Shanghai and Guangzhou. The more linkages there are between China and her neighbors, the more stable the region will be.

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27 Responses to “An 1833km pipeline for regional peace”

  1. TonyP4 Says:

    Dewang, interesting.

    * Guangzhou is a long way. They must already have a pipeline linking Shanghai to Guangzhou. I wonder why it is not connected to BJ.

    * We do not use it for heat (except for the rich folks during winter) in S.China. I assume it is for cooking.

    * Hope will not have the same problem that Russia accused one of the countries of sipping the gas on its way to Europe.

    * Does anyone know who finances the project. I guess it is Chinese.

    * Hope it is not a target for terrorists.

    It is a good project that all the four countries benefit and the richer China needs the resources it cannot provide enough by herself.

  2. hzzz Says:

    I can see the usual group of China bashers getting upset at this news but this is a good development for Chinese people. It’s in China’s best interest to secure critical resources for its future generations. Agreed this will also bring more stability to the region.

  3. TonyP4 Says:

    Hi Hzzz, I hope you do not refer me as one of the China bashers. I’m a overseas Chinese and I enjoy the success of China in last 30 years.

    Recently I read the Soong’s empire by a foreigner (American if I remember right). He had little bias than an author belonging to KMT or CCP.

    To conclude, Charles Soong should have more credit on his contribution to the revolution – he did not due to his dislike of Dr Sun marrying his daughter. The second conclusion is for the last 250 years or so, Chinese suffered a lot until the last 30 years. So, I could not be a Chinese basher.

  4. wuming Says:

    Slightly off topics, but here is a very good article on Chinese/US green energy research by Evan Osnos of New Yorker

  5. tanjin Says:


    Gas pipe lines to Shanghai to Guangzhou are already in operation, and not just ONE line.

    The usage is not just cooking, but industrial and transportation …

    There is quite a shortage on gas supply this year … due to a push to cleaner energy sources ?

    This new pipeline from Central Asia is a definitely good news for all countries involved, except Russia, I guess.

  6. justkeeper Says:

    @tanjin: Natural gas is one kind of clean energy, if all of our electricity is generated by gas rather than coal, we can forget about carbon reduction for 100 years.

  7. TonyP4 Says:

    Hi justkeeper,

    Gas is the cleanest for sure. Unfortunately carbon will still be the major one for at least 20 years in China due to its abundance. China is leading research to reduce global warming in a process making carbon a gas before it is converted into energy. It is still a long way to see the result but it seems to be in the right direction.

    China is about 0 to 10 years (depending on which technology) behind modern technologies in green energy. However, via the large scale of economy, licensing of foreign technology and the huge number of scientists/graduates, most wind and solar gears are about 30% cheaper than other countries according to Wall Street Journal. Now, some of the exports are more political than economical like the potentially largest wind farm in US using China’s turbines. It is being objected for using stimulus money.

  8. Steve Says:

    I think it’s great that this pipeline has come into being and China is able to buy gas from these countries. It helps break up the “Russia monopoly” of foreign natural gas delivery and gives them competition, insuring competitive rates for the Chinese people. Though oil and especially coal will continue to be used for energy production, the larger the percentage of gas used, the lower the overall pollution numbers for the Chinese people. That, along with an aggressive nuclear program, is the best way China can add to her energy supplies while holding her pollution increase down as much as possible. In fact, the NYT wrote about China’s nuclear industry in today’s issue.

    Not meaning to be a spoil sport, but increased trade dependence hasn’t historically contributed to peace and stability but rather gone the other way. Historically, trade friction tends to be a cause of war. Hopefully in modern times, this dynamic has changed but there’s no way to know until a few more decades have passed.

  9. TonyP4 Says:

    Steve, the NYT article pointed out the safety problem of China and many other maintenance issues.

    The problem exists for a long while in many other areas and I hope they will pay more attention. It sounds great on paper on how many new miles of rail or highway built, but it is not glorious to say how well they’re maintained or how safe they are.

    The best roads will be useless if they’re not plowed after a big snow storm for example. Hope they learn from experience and commit resources on maintenance esp. on safety.

    With all the green alternatives, coal is still the major fuel for years to come for China. I bet US will tap into its abundant supply of gas more in coming years.

  10. Steve Says:

    TonyP4, what you wrote was correct in that there is a concern about having enough well trained operators nuclear safety inspectors, but the government has made this a priority and so far seems to be handling it well. I think the Chinese people will insist on roads being plowed in a timely manner, etc. and the government will need to respond or lose credibility. Coal will be around but more efficient coal scrubbers can help to mitigate this problem, and the mothballing of inefficient and heavily polluting coal fired power plants in favor of newer, more efficient and less polluting plants will also help to keep those numbers down. The Chinese people are concerned about pollution as it affects their quality of life, and the government is responding positively. Remember, pollution doesn’t affect just the poor but affects everyone relatively equally.

  11. TonyP4 Says:

    Steve, unfortunately the reality is for every old coal generator they take down, they have two new ones on-line that generate same pollution. Progress? Yes for business men but no for the common folks.

    I like to side with business to some extend, as they provide jobs that are needed. There has to be a balance on jobs and environment.

    Who has more political power: the people or the business men? If you said the people in China, you’re wrong. Opposite for US, so you cannot really tell who is capitalist and who is communist. 🙂

  12. justkeeper Says:

    @TonyP4: The reality is China’s appetite for energy couldn’t be satisified even if we are able to make maximum use of all kinds of clean energy resource we currently can use, and I believe this problem could only be tackled when we physicists get confined fusion to work.

  13. dewang Says:

    Thx for chiming in, all.

    Steve: “Not meaning to be a spoil sport, but increased trade dependence hasn’t historically contributed to peace and stability but rather gone the other way.”

    Ha, that would mean a lot of Foreign Policy 101 text books would need to be changed.

    I think the prevailing view is that trade helps with peace and stability. Obviously it would have to be trade that is of mutually beneficial – not one that is of one exploiting the other. When people have stake and have lots to loose, they think more rationally.

    In my view, China and Japan’s trade volume has grown a lot, and for that reason, the leaders on both sides are then interested in ensuring that trade continues in a stable way to further benefit their citizens.

    I’d bet if North Korea has a huge trade volume with Japan, their posture towards each other would be much more tame compared to that exists today.

  14. Steve Says:

    Hi DeWang~

    What I was referring to was the classic debate of liberal vs. realist views on this issue. I’m not sure what foreign policy textbooks you’ve been reading but I’d guess they supported the liberal viewpoint. For a look at the debate, here are a couple of articles as reference:

    Economic Interdependence and War: A Theory of Trade Expectations

    Operation Twentieth Century

    an excerpt from Theories of War and Peace: An International Security Reader

  15. Allen Says:

    I never did well in discussions of liberal vs. realist perspectives in class. Neither seems intuitive to me.

    But I do tend to believe that integration – not necessarily interaction per se – decreases chance of war.

    If all China want from Central Asia is oil and the oil pipe is the only “interaction” between Central Asia and China, then yeh, I suppose there could be war in the future if when China becomes strong enough and thinks – why don’t I just take over Central Asia? This could occur especially if China feels the supply of oil/gas there can be turned off due to political calculations.

    But if there develops deep integration between the Chinese and Central Asian economies in the future – what would be the purpose of war – the region would be deeply linked already. What is good for one would be good for the other. The chance for political differences would be decreased. The chance for war would be decreased.

  16. Charles Liu Says:

    Allen, a perfect example of pipeline and war would be Afghanistan.

    Starting with Hamid Karzai when he worked for Unocal then, who lost the Afghan pipeline deal to the Russians, to Ronald Regan’s material support of Osama Bin Ladin and his Mujahadeem “freedom fighters”, to the Afghan civil war post Soviet withdraw, to the invasion/occupation by GW Bush, and continued occupation by Barak Bush, while Hamid Karzai, now president of Afghanistan, continues his unfinished pipeline 30 years ago.

  17. Wukailong Says:

    @Charles Liu: I actually agree completely with you.

    On the other hand, I don’t believe the best thing for “Barak Bush” to do at this moment would be to pull out all the troops instantly. I believe in “current state realism,” which means that you should always try to find the best options available with what you have. Last time I tried this line of thought with Allen I did it with too touchy a subject – Tibet – and suddenly nobody wanted to discuss it anymore. So let me restate: I don’t think about these things in moral terms (that is, not any sort of moral code), but rather what would be the best action at this time.

    Before the war in Iraq, I was against occupation. But when you have occupation, you need to get out of it in the best way possible, so I reject calls like “US out of Iraq now.” The US seriously messed up the country, so at least they have a responsibility to prop it up before they go. With Vietnam it was different because there actually was a force that could govern the country – the Communists.

  18. Wukailong Says:

    Btw, look at this timeline:


    Especially 1996:

    September: Unocal says it will give aid to to Afghan warlords once they agree to form a council to supervise the project. Taliban take Kabul.
    October: Unocal expresses suport for Taliban takover, saying it makes pipeline project easier. Unocal later says it was misquoted.
    November: Bridas signs agreement with Taliban and Gen. Dostum to build pipeline.

  19. dewang Says:

    Interesting take from an “geopolitical” angle from Asia Times Online:
    “China resets terms of engagement in Central Asia”

    Too much geopolitics in my opinion.

    But I suppose China could get all suspicious with timber resources the U.S. is securing from the Canadians.

    I think its simple – if the U.S. is willing to pay at least the same price for the natural gas/oil + shipping cost, then the Kazhaks will think about selling to the U.S. or whom ever else.

    Likewise, if the Chinese are willing to offer the Canadians a better deal on natural resources, we’d see more go to China (shipping costs included, obviously).

  20. Steve Says:

    Hi DeWang~

    I also wasn’t too impressed with that article; sounds like a retired diplomat who still possesses cold war thinking. He made some huge assumptions, and all of them negative.

    All countries want to diversify their critical imports so they are not overly dependent on any one source of supply. So from China’s POV, building a pipeline from central Asia makes perfect sense. It’s another major source of supply from a neighboring country that can be protected relatively easily.

    From central Asia’s POV, they have two major potential markets for their natural gas and oil, China and Europe. Their major competitor for both markets is Russia. Russia already has a lock on Europe’s natural gas market and wants to keep it that way. By letting central Asia focus on China’s market rather than Europe’s, Russia wins. Central Asia would prefer to sell to both China and Europe but since China is much closer and much easier politically to connect with, it made sense to start selling to China first. In the long run, they’ll want to diversify their own market by building a pipeline to Europe so they won’t be overly dependent on either market.

    Sure, Russia would like China’s natural gas market all to itself but that market is potentially so huge that there’s plenty of room for both.

    I don’t think the USA is concerned about a pipeline between central Asia and China. No natural gas is ever going to be transported from there to the USA; their only interest is finding a second source for their European allies. The USA is more concerned with terrorist threats from those countries, and China feels the same way.

    Canada is aggressively pursuing timber sales to China. The country that stands to lose is Russia, who currently has most of the business. If Canada is successful, the two winners will be China (pays lower prices) and Canada (has higher sales).

  21. S.K. Cheung Says:

    …and we have lots of timber to sell, since the US isn’t buying much lately.

    About the only thing in that article that seemed “neutral” was that the pipeline might be a target for sabotage. But that’s true of any pipeline, even in Canada.

  22. Allen Says:

    Slightly off topic – on the issue whether economic interaction will promote peace or friction – this author thinks it will promote peace – at least between China and India…


  23. Steve Says:

    Since 2001 trade between the two countries has increased from 3 to 60 billion, yet tensions have increased. I hope tensions calm down through greater trade but I don’t think it’s guaranteed. Good article, Allen.

  24. S.K. Cheung Says:

    Poignant angle about how the little guy loses out in a spat between 2 countries, even in a non-violent setting. And it’s over something as mundane as staples vs glue.

    Greater trade will hopefully distract them from the sources of their friction. As for whether it eliminates or overcomes said sources, time will tell.

  25. dewang Says:

    Hi Steve, #23,

    I agree its not guaranteed, because other priorities obviously could easily over-ride trade.

    I am guessing you think relationship between India and China has gone worse since 2001 til now. I am not so sure. For one, India and China banded together on the recent global climate talks. As far as I know, they continue to vote together as a developing nation block.

    I think if the trade hasn’t reached 60 billion and stuck at 3 billion, then relationship could be a lot worse.

  26. TonyP4 Says:

    Besides Taiwan, China and other Asian countries have a lot of conflicts.

    * India will object how water is directed to the north.

    * Vietnam has better claim on the drilling right in S. China Sea as it is closer to their territory than China.

    * S. E Asia blame China on the water problem with dams built by Chinese – the blame has no merit.

    * The Chinese nationalism against Japanese and their products.

    * Always have trade wars with Korea, and most have settled down in the past after both sides declare victory and ‘save face’.

    Hope most conflicts will be settled diplomatically and peacefully.

  27. Steve Says:

    Hi DeWang~

    I don’t think relations between China and India have necessarily gotten worse but I do feel that the situation on AP is much worse over that time. Based on Allen’s linked article, both sides having what appears to be 100,000+ combined troops near each other doesn’t give me a warm and fuzzy feeling, if you know what I mean. My guess is that they’ll stick together on issues they have in common, and get their dander up on issues where they disagree. I agree with you when you wrote, “other priorities obviously could easily over-ride trade.” How much importance each side gives to this particular issue will determine whether trade can trump potential conflict.

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