Central Asia: Uzbekistan and China Moving Forward on Electric Vehicle Joint Venture

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An update on recent developments in Chinese-Russian-Central Asian affairs.

Uzbekistan

China and Uzbekistan are making progress on an Uzbek-based joint venture to produce electric and hybrid vehicles. While all the pieces appear to be in place, a firm production timetable has yet to be established. The venture involves BYD Auto, the Chinese entity that surpassed Tesla in 2022 as the leading seller of electric vehicles, and Uzavtosanoat JSC. The construction of an assembly facility in Uzbekistan’s Jizzakh Region is well underway. BYD CEO Wang Chuanfu traveled to Tashkent for the JV’s signing ceremony: the agreement “provides for foreign direct investment by the Chinese company in the ongoing project,” a local media outlet, repost.uz, reported. No details were disclosed on when vehicles will start rolling off the assembly line. An initial annual production target is 50,000 vehicles per year. Output is expected to reach 300,000 per year at the conclusion of the venture’s start-up phase, Uzbekistan’s Ministry of Investment said in a statement. While in Uzbekistan, Wang met with Uzbek President Shavkat Mirziyoyev; discussions focused on expanding the scope of the JV’s operations, including parts localization and boosting export.  The Uzbek JV appears to be part of an ambitious plan to turn BYD into a global powerhouse. “It’s time for Chinese automakers to upend the order of the global auto industry and chart a course into a new vast territory,” the South China Morning Post quoted Wang as saying in August. 

Transport ministers from all five Central Asian states and China huddled on the sidelines of the Global Forum on Sustainable Transport, held in Beijing in late September. “Issues of developing transport and communications cooperation between China and the states of Central Asia, creating short and convenient transport corridors, and increasing transit traffic were discussed,” according to a statement released by the Uzbek Transport Ministry. The meeting produced a memorandum of understanding, but the details of its contents were not immediately publicized. 

Kazakhstan

In a trade twist, Kazakhstan intends to purchase large volumes of jet fuel from China. Kazakh Transport Minister Marat Karabaev recently announced that Kazakhstan wants to develop its capacity as an air cargo transit hub, but lacks refueling capacity. The Central Asian state currently sources most of its jet fuel from Russia, but with the war in Ukraine dragging on, Moscow’s reliability as a supplier is questionable. Kazakhstan is now looking to obtain up to 1.35 million tons of jet fuel from China. Representatives of three refineries in China’s western Xinjiang Province are expected to visit Kazakhstan soon to conduct a feasibility assessment.

Kazakhstan is strengthening educational contacts with a variety of Chinese institutions. Al-Farabi Kazakhstan National University (KazNU) signed a deal with China’s Fudan University to create a double-degree program and facilitate student and faculty exchanges between the two schools, the Business Kazakhstan website reported. The pact also provides for joint research. KazNU also discussed a research initiative involving the Chinese Center for Technology Transfer of the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO) member states, the university’s press service reported.  Such a deal would pave the way for Chinese companies’ involvement in research laboratories operated by KazNU. Elsewhere, Kazakhstan’s Academy of Logistics and Transport and the Nanjing Professional Institute of Transport Technologies have signed an agreement providing for the “joint training of specialists for the transport and logistics industry.” The agreement additionally envisages academic exchanges and the facilitation of technology transfers concerning transport and railway engineering,” Forbes.kz reported.

Kyrgyzstan

When it comes to Kyrgyz beer, it seems Latvia is drinking everyone else, including China, under the table. Data released by Kyrgyzstan’s National Statistics Committee shows that during the first seven months of 2023, the Central Asian nation exported 1.18 million liters of beer to Latvia, making the Baltic state the top international destination for Kyrgyz suds. China ranked a distant second, importing 774,000 liters of Kyrgyz beer. Riga, the Latvian capital, has emerged as a party/binge-drinking destination for young EU citizens. The Daily Mail, a British tabloid, describes Latvia as the “boozing capital” of Europe.

Top Kyrgyz government officials have visited China in recent weeks, seeking to drum up more trade and investment. Their efforts have yielded modest results, with various deals worth $150 million being announced. Two cabinet deputy chairmen, Bakyt Torobaev and Edil Baisalov, made separate visits to China, during which both lobbied for fresh Chinese investment in a variety of spheres, including industry, energy, education and culture. A Kyrgyz government statement did not provide specifics on the investment deals outlined in a memorandum of understanding.

Tajikistan

Tajikistan is open to enhancing cooperation with China in the area of traditional medicine. Tajikistan’s Deputy Health Minister, Abduholik Amirzoda, recently met with a Chinese delegation led by representatives of the Chengdu University of Traditional Chinese Medicine, according to the Sputnik Tajikistan media outlet. No specific results from the meeting were reported.

Source : Eurasianet