Chinese Investments

In 2018, Crude Accountability launched a new research project to monitor Chinese investment in the oil and gas sector of Central Asia and to monitor Chinese financial institutions in the region.

About:

China has become one of the key economic forces in the global economy and in international relations. In an effort to increase its economic potential, China is increasingly drawn into global competition for access to raw materials, primarily energy resources. The share of imported oil overall is more than 50 percent and according to specialists, the use of oil and natural gas will continue to grow. This requires the Chinese leadership to find new sources and routes for import of energy resources into the country.

At present, China imports oil and gas from over 30 countries and also participates in the development of overseas oil fields using Chinese technology and capital. China is looking at Central Asia as a strategic source of raw materials as well as a transit route to the oil rich region of the Caspian region, and possibly even the Persian Gulf. Investments in infrastructure projects in Central Asia are important for China; and the lack of developed infrastructure in the region also could help to support one of China’s main goals: to become a main global trading partner.

In the 2010s, China officially declared “The Silk Road Economic Belt” (SREB) strategy to include:

–obtaining access to resource potential by participating in the development of oil and gas fields and other natural resources, as well as the import of electro-energy;

–deepening trade and moving Chinese goods;

–active participation in the development of new trans-continental transportation corridors across Central Asia.

Chinese financial institutions will finance the capital investments into massive infrastructure projects of the SREB. The major financial players in the project are The Silk Road Fund (SRF) and the Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank (AIIB). A number of specialists see the AIIB as a competitor of the IFC, the World Bank, and the Asian Bank for Development in Eastern and South Asia.

Chinese investment in Central Asia is primarily focused on infrastructure and does not include the development of real sectors of the economy.[1] About 90% of exports from Central Asia to China are fuel and raw materials. Vast financial resources allow China to aggressively buy up natural resources of Central Asia.

It is clear that in the future, China will only increase its overall involvement in the countries of the region. Central Asia, and primarily Kazakhstan, Turkmenistan, and Uzbekistan, represent a strategic interest for China’s energy market.

Kazakhstan

Close neighbor and major trade partner for China, Kazakhstan plays a key role in preserving the stability of the strategic source of natural resources for China. The country is a leader in attracting Chinese investment to Central Asia. The overall volume of investment was greater than 70 billion dollars and accounted for 80 percent of Chinese investment in the region. Today, China’s share is about 24% in oil production in Kazakhstan, and about 13% in gas production. In terms of reserves, China controls no more than 6% of oil in the country.

The China National Petroleum Corporation (CNPC) is one of the largest foreign investors in the oil and gas sector in Kazakhstan. CNPC’s activity includes a series of oil and gas projects in various regions of the country, the pipelines “Kazakhstan-China” and “Kenkiyak-Atyrau,” and the gas pipeline “Kazakhstan-China.” In 2013, CNPC obtained an 8.33 percent share in the gigantic Kashagan oilfield.

Within the framework of the SREB, China plans to further spread its involvement into the economy of Kazakhstan and realize multiple industrial and infrastructure projects in the country.

For several years now the government of Kazakhstan has been talking about the so-called 51 projects, that entails a Chinese plan to transfer some of its production facilities – 51 enterprises – to Kazakhstan’s territory.

However, the public does not have a complete picture of these future plans. Crude Accountability, independent journalists, and community members have repeatedly tried to obtain reliable and complete information on the implementation of the 51 Projects.

Public concerns about the environmental aspects of such enterprises remain unanswered.

Turkmenistan

Turkmenistan is in the second place—after Kazakhstan—as a consumer of credit resources of China. China is Turkmenistan’s largest export gas market.

Although the overall amount of Chinese credits to Turkmenistan is not known, according to specialists, it is more than 10 billion dollars. In 2014, Turkmenistan gas was 43.7 percent of the overall amount of imported gas, or 13.6 percent of used natural gas in China.

About 30 billion cubic meters of gas per year go through Turkmenistan-Uzbekistan-Kazakhstan-China gas pipeline. Another gas pipeline is also being built along the route “Turkmenistan – Uzbekistan – Tajikistan – Kyrgyzstan – China.” In accordance with the contract between CNPC and Turkmengaz, by the end of 2021, Turkmenistan will have to supply 65 billion cubic meters of gas to China per year.

In accordance with SREB, Turkmenistan is not only a key source of hydrocarbons for the long term, but also an important transport and transit hub through which China would like to enter the markets of the Persian Gulf. Turkmenistan is one of the most authoritarian countries in the world. The economy is tightly controlled by the state, corruption is flourishing,  and opposition is not tolerated.  In this environment, it is almost impossible to receive complete and credible information about the current hydrocarbon-related projects, the vast majority of which enriches the ruling clan, let alone to scrutinize the environmental and social aspects of such projects.   

Uzbekistan

In Uzbekistan, China is primarily developing cooperation in the transportation of gas and the creation of joint enterprises with a large share of intellectual property.  Although the share of hydrocarbon resources from Uzbekistan to China is not large (2.4 billion cubic meters in 2014), the country plays an important role in the transit of gas from Turkmenistan. In addition to the existing gas pipeline through Kazakhstan, there are plans to build a new section with a length of 210 kilometers of the Turkmenistan-Uzbekistan-Tajikistan-Kyrgyzstan-China gas pipeline. From the perspective of transporting gas, CNPC is not just an importer into China, but also an important regional and local distributor of gas in Central Asia.

However, determining the overall size and level of influence of Chinese investment Uzbekistan is difficult because of the repression of independent media and NGOs in both countries.

Risks and threats

China’s expansion into Central Asia poses several risks such as:

— An absence of public monitoring of Chinese financial institutions, lack of independent socio-economic oversight from media and civil society.

Information about large Chinese projects, information about which is either completely closed or lacks the specifics of project lending, the participation of the parties in its implementation and further operation, the payback, and economic and political significance. Outlined risks are not openly discussed in the media and expert discussions held at academic conferences are not widely distributed and therefore have practically no impact on public opinion.

Among civil society organizations in Central Asia, there are also no experts or existing programs monitoring Chinese investments.

Furthermore, many NGOs prefer not to address the issue of Chinese investments. In Turkmenistan and Uzbekistan, scrutinizing economic projects results in retaliations from the government against activists. In Kazakhstan, harsh pressure on activists following the land protests in the spring of 2016 also had a chilling effect on NGOs.

Public participation is viewed as interfering with economic cooperation with China;

— Support for the established resource economics in the countries of the region threaten the possibilities for more sustainable production in Central Asia.

— High probability of financing economically damaging and environmentally dirty projects in the region;

— Personal enrichment of governing elites and clans with no economic benefits for local communities.

For the last decades, Central Asian states experienced degradation of state institutions, pressure from political elites on civic and economic freedoms, and overwhelming corruption.  Elites exploit natural and human resources in order to enrich themselves and their clans, depriving the people of property rights and benefiting from their exploitation.

This led to a sharp impoverishment of the population, a terrifying social stratification of society, a catastrophic decline in the level of employment, education, health, and environmental problems. The region has been turned into a natural resource source for the developing countries of the west and for China.

— Further lowering of social-environmental demands from all investors in the region, growthof threats to the environment and local residents due to bad and environmentally polluting projects

— Degradation of already existing mechanisms for international rights and social-environmental responsibly businesses and international financial institutions

–Domination of foreign companies in the budgeting process of a country as well as in infrastructure can create a serious threat to national economy security.

— Rapidly growing presence of China in Central Asia’s oil and gas sector (especially in Kazakhstan and Turkmenistan) is creating concern and contributing to the growth in anti-Chinese sentiment among the population and fosters nationalists’ movements in these countries.

Considering the high level of risk of influence of Chinese investment on the social-economic situation within the Central Asian countries, the absence of reliable and full information about Chinese projects on the part of state bodies of Central Asia and China, and also the timely discussion of these questions among the populations of the countries, there is a critical need to create a system of public monitoring of Chinese investment in Central Asia. Oil and gas projects, as well as the infrastructure projects that support them, play an important role in influencing the state of the environment and the well-being of the local population. 

What we do

The overall goal of this project is to conduct an objective analysis of the real social-economic, political, and environmental situation related to Chinese investment in Central Asia.

At Crude Accountability, we collect and analyze information about existing and planned investment projects by China in the oil and gas sector in Central Asia. Gathering information comes from open sources on the Internet and in the media, and from surveying local experts and NGO representatives.

We sent information requests to the state bodies of Kazakhstan and Turkmenistan. We use the provisions of the Aarhus Convention, which both Kazakhstan and Turkmenistan signed. The Aarhus Convention stipulates that information about the impact on the environment of existing and planned oil and gas projects must be open and that the projects must be discussed with the public.

We also gather information from communities in Kazakhstan and Uzbekistan impacted by oil and gas projects involving Chinese investments and get first-hand data on current state of socio-economic and environmental aspects of Chinese projects.

Drawing on many years of experience working with compliance mechanisms of IFIs, we also work with the Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank to engage in the discussion of the policies of the bank for cooperation with civil society.