Tajikistan at the heart of Eurasia…
(1) Tajikistan may soon become a node in the wider Eurasian energy trade. Energy trading will become pivotal to Central Asia and Tajikistan.
(2) Energy networks are branching out from Central Asia into China. Tajikistan may be able to benefit from this interconnectedness.
(3) China’s reemergence in Eurasian affairs is a, if not the, driving force for economic growth. This will spur on investment in capital goods and in infrastructure.
(4) Good relations between China and Russia spurt the growth of energy networks in Central Asia.
(5) Tajikistan plays a key role as land bridge between Central Asia and Western China, acting as a conduit for energy deliveries from Central Asia into China’s westernmost regions.
(6) Commodity trading helps build strong economic ties between Central Asian countries, Russia and China. Energy trade more than all else helps finance the infrastructure of the Eurasian plains.
(7) This promotes trade relations and boost trade in basic commodities, commodities which underlie further integration of Eurasia. Without all this energy trade activity, transcontinental exchange would not be feasible.
1. WHY TAJIKISTAN IS THE BOTTLENECK FOR THE EURASIAN POWER GRID
The Eurasian landmass has long been a crossroads of cultures and peoples. This idea was explored with great dedication by (Mackinder, 1904). Trade crosses the supercontinent that includes Europe, the Middle East, Central Asia, South Asia, Southeast and East Asia, and Russia. It was here that new technologies met and new inventions took hold, shaping the destiny of the countries bordering this vast space.
The energy world is at the forefront of this process, connecting regions in all directions, north, south, east and west. Energy is the cornerstone on which Eurasia’s architecture rests. While industrial development in the West, especially in Western Europe but also in Russia, has spurred growth, industry and trade in East Asia, the world’s most important economic center, have gradually regained momentum.
This follows a historical pattern and seems to be a reversal of fortune.
2. TAJIKISTAN’S REEMERGENCE AS AN ENERGY HUB
The struggle for industrial supremacy between East and West disappears in the shadows of the mountain slopes of Central Asia.
Like a dynamo, the two edges of the supercontinent pull on each other. Energy trade has been the main engine of economic growth. This trade has been conducted through the global sea lanes that have helped connect the coasts and economic centers on the periphery of Eurasia.
Energy trade by sea allowed traders to reduce the cost of delivering these energy commodities to world markets. The Middle East was located on the southwestern edge of Eurasia and supplied huge quantities of oil and gas to its western and, soon after, eastern customers.
In the north, Russia influenced the energy development of Eurasia. Central Asia was a key region for every actor on the periphery of the supercontinent.
With the re-emergence of East Asia as a central hub for energy trade movements, overland transportation has regained its role as a facilitator that manages trade across the vastness of the country.
3. TAJIKISTAN, PIPELINES AND THE EURASIAN ENERGY NETWORK
Once in a while movements in energy trade reverse. Just as the pendulum swings between land and sea transport, there are slight, sudden, but accelerating changes that were not foreseen by forecasters. World history is being made – right now – in Central Asia. After 500 years in which maritime transport had the upper hand over land transport, this turnaround is accelerating. About 500 years ago, Atlantic trade networks replaced Hanseatic trade, which previously held sway over much of northern and northeastern Europe. A reversal seemed inevitable.
What place does this give Central Asia in the overall scheme of things? What role does Tajikistan play in this energy transition?
Tajikistan benefits from the newly created nodes of energy trade, the expanding pipeline networks, and the increasingly fine distribution hubs that have sprung up all over the Eurasian landmass. Due to its central location between the eastern part of Eurasia and the westernmost point of the Eurasian landmass, namely Europe, Tajikistan also benefits from economies of scale. As such, Tajikistan connects all these countries and sets the stage for the restoration of ancient trade networks. The Silk Road immediately comes to mind. Tajikistan was the northernmost trade route leading to western China.
The new Silk Roads are being built further north and south, bringing Tajikistan close to the center of trade activity.
4. TAJIKISTAN, CHINESE AND RUSSIAN ENERGY MARKETS
What will be the first steps to build the networks for trading energy commodities and goods of all kinds?
Significant investment is expected to exploit the renewable energy potential in Tajikistan. There is certainly great potential in terms of hydropower, which is relatively abundant in Tajikistan. Potential can be realized in the area of power distribution networks. Electricity producers can connect power supplies throughout Central Asia. These grid interconnections will serve as energy links that connect regional power infrastructure and, given time and place, extend the grid into western China. This would reduce electricity costs through the resulting economies of scale. The expansion of the transcontinental electricity grid could benefit Tajikistan.
Russia cooperates very closely with China in various areas of statecraft. This is important for the development of transportation networks and energy supply chains. Many existing trade links in Central Asia run from north to south. A reversal can be observed, not only in maritime and land trade, but also in the intercontinental trade networks of Eurasia. Trade networks are established in all directions, but the most important ones are longitudinal.
5. TAJIKISTAN’S RENEWABLE ENERGY POTENTIAL
Relations with China and Russia are particularly close. Just as Central Asian countries are positioning themselves as hubs for transcontinental energy trade, energy experts have recognized Tajikistan’s strategic position as a bridgehead north of the mountainous southern cone of the western Himalayas.
Trade networks are only part of the story. Not all parts of Tajikistan are easily accessible. There are obstacles here and there. Sometimes this requires a different approach to delivering resources to far-flung places. Decentralized forms of energy play a big role in this. With decentralized energy sources, Tajikistan can achieve a certain degree of energy independence. Solar energy can play an important role in decentralized energy networks to achieve greater energy independence. Necessary investments will tend to facilitate decentralized grids.
Tajikistan can leverage its ties with other countries with which it shares cultural, economic, and linguistic similarities. What may have prevented some of these developments in building transcontinental energy trade in Central Asia and Tajikistan is the lack of economic growth in East Asia. This bottleneck has now been resolved, and the opening of East Asian energy markets is now in full swing.
6. SUMMARY: TAJIKISTAN AND THE EURASIAN ENERGY GRID
- Due to its central location on the Eurasian continent, Tajikistan can benefit from economies of scale.
- Tajikistan’s location is a bottleneck for international energy trade, through which much of the energy commodities must pass overland before reaching western China.
- Sino-Russian relations are critical to the development of the Silk Road. Both countries have an interest in the development of Central Asia and the integration of Eurasian energy networks.
Halford Mackinder, The Geographical Pivot of History, 1904; Royal Geographical Society. A reading is available at: Mackinder’s Heartland on JSTOR.