The Missing Ring of the Middle Line and the Belt-Road is Kyrgyzstan

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The Middle Line is the corridor that runs along the Caucasus-Caspian Sea-Central Asia route starting from Turkey, which is the gateway of Europe to Asia, and ending in China. This corridor is divided into two sections, which can be defined as South and North in the Caspian Sea. The “Northern Section” starts from the Port of Aktau in Kazakhstan and again reaches China through Kazakh territory. The “Southern Section” starts from the Turkmenbashi Port of Turkmenistan and extends to the Chinese border through Uzbekistan and Kyrgyzstan. Also included in the South Arm is the Lapis Lazuli Corridor. The corridor in question extends from Turkmenistan to Afghanistan. In the following periods, it has the potential to cover Pakistan and India.

China, on the other hand, wants to reach Europe through the Belt-Road Project, which was announced to the world in 2013. The project is based on six main routes, but China is either building a variety of alternative routes or effectively taking advantage of existing routes. One of the most prominent routes at this point is the Middle Line.

As is known, Central Asia is one of the main routes for China to reach the West. The Beijing administration was planning to build a new line through Tajikistan, including this country in the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC), if stability is achieved in Afghanistan. However, both the difficult structure of geography and the continuing instability and security threats in the region push China to prioritize different options. In this context, the Middle Line, which is relatively more stable and more cost-free, has gained importance and is gaining importance. However, it is impossible to mention the railway route in Kyrgyzstan on this route. Already Kyrgyzstan does not have any infrastructure in this regard, and the construction of a railway line in the north of the country has just begun. This, in turn, attracts attention as an important shortcoming in ensuring China-Kyrgyzstan-Uzbekistan connectivity.

The line was originally intended to be built on the route prior to the Belt-Road Project. The line, intended to be built between the three countries, was incomplete and unimplemented due to social events in Kyrgyzstan. In 2012, Kyrgyzstan moved to build the line. In 2016, Uzbekistan provided financial resources from China to complete the Angren Pab Railway Tunnel. The 4,380 km long line will connect Tashkent and Lanzhou cities via the railway from the shortest route after an estimated 260 km of traffic in Kyrgyzstan is completed.[1]

Currently, the above-mentioned line is being used. Goods brought from China to the border with Kyrgyzstan are loaded onto trains that will go to Uzbekistan after being transported to the city of Osh by trucks. This leads to a loss of time and increased costs. In the event that the railway track is built, the Southern Section of the Middle Line will operate more actively. For this reason, the parties see the line as a valuable project shaped by win-win logic, hence giving priority to mutual interests. Completion of this project will allow China to reach Europe in less time; Kyrgyzstan and Uzbekistan will also become a strategic hub for international shipping.[2]

Considering the mentioned achievements, it can be suggested that the opening of Kyrgyzstan, which stands out as the missing link of the Middle Line, to the world and, accordingly, strengthening regional integration, will serve regional development. Because the shortest distance between Europe and China is the Middle Line. No doubt the active use of this line will encourage Bishkek’s economic development. Thus, it can be said that Kyrgyzstan, which is developing economically, can ensure its internal and external security. At the same time, this will contribute to the creation of a much more stable Central Asia. On the other hand, the project will contribute to the improvement of infrastructure in Kyrgyzstan and become a transportation and transfer center of the country on the occasion of new projects.

Once Uzbekistan, Kyrgyzstan, and China are connected, the South Branch of the Middle Line will become an important route in tOnce Uzbekistan, Kyrgyzstan, and China are connected, the South Branch of the Middle Line will become an important route in the south-north transportation process. As it is known, Uzbekistan wants to implement the Trans Afghan Transport Corridor along the Tirmiz-Mazar-e-Sharif-Kabul-Peshawar route so that it can reach Pakistani ports. Should the corridor take effect, Central Asian countries as well as countries such as China, which are also part of the Central Line, will be able to access Pakistani ports on an alternate route. Completion of this line would thus make Uzbekistan a hub for transportation and transfer. Also, the construction of a railway in Kyrgyzstan means strengthening transportation between Uzbekistan and China, China sending goods to Europe in seven to eight days less, and reaching the Middle East.Because the completion of the line in Kyrgyzstan would shorten the distance between China and Europe by 900 kilometers.

It is also possible to mention that there are various obstacles to the completion of the track in Kyrgyzstan. Social events in the country and the frequent change of administrations pose an obstacle to the incomplete completion of the missing part, the implementation of new projects and the transformation of Kyrgyzstan into an effective actor. However, the stability achieved today and the railway construction started in some regions of Kyrgyzstan strengthen the possibility of completing the missing part. The most important difficulties that stand out at this point are the availability of material resources, the difficult geographical structure of Kyrgyzstan and the size of the rails used.

However, there is also a difference between the parties regarding the railway route. Decision-makers in Bishkek want the railway to pass through some cities, thereby making their gains to the maximum. The Beijing administration, however, opposes Kyrgyzstan’s demands for shorter distances and faster transfer.[3]

Despite all the disagreements, according to a recent statement in Kyrgyzstan, a feasibility study will be started in 2023 with the participation of China and Uzbekistan. It is noted that the Tashkent administration also confirmed this decision. In this context, it is aimed to build a railway route to Kyrgyzstan. Of course, this means that the most important shortcoming in the Middle Line will be eliminated. Completion of this line would also allow Kyrgyzstan, Uzbekistan and China to make significant gains. Other Central Line countries will also be able to retain their current favorable position through the established connection. In the case of the opening of the Zengezur Corridor in the South Caucasus, it can be argued that the Central Line would become a much more stable and efficient route. Thus the fundamental shortcomings in Eurasian geography will be addressed, integration among the states of the region will be strengthened, and fragilities between the countries through economic gains will be reduced.

[1] Soso Dzamukashvili, “Future of China-Kyrgyzstan-Uzbekistan railway remains uncertain”, Emerging Europe,, (Date of Accession: 20.07.2022).

[2] Dzamukashvili, op cit.

[3] Yunis Sharifli, “China-Kyrgyzstan-Uzbekistan Railway: Opportunities and Challenges for China”, The Diplomat,, (Date of Accession: 20.07.2022).

Dr. Emrah KAYA
ANKASAM Dış Politika Uzmanı Dr. Emrah Kaya, Akdeniz Üniversitesi Uluslararası İlişkiler Bölümü’nden mezundur. Yüksek lisans derecesini 2014 yılında Süleyman Demirel Üniversitesi Uluslararası İlişkiler Bölümü’nde hazırladığı “Latin Amerika'da Sol Liderlerin Yükselişi ve Uluslararası Politikaya Etkisi: Venezuela-Bolivya Örneği” başlıklı teziyle almıştır. Kaya, doktora derecesini de 2022 yılında aynı üniversitede hazırladığı "Terörle Mücadelede Müzakere Yöntemi: ETA-FARC-LTTE-PKK" başlıklı teziyle elde etmiştir. İyi derecede İngilizce bilen Kaya'nın başlıca çalışma alanları; Orta Asya, Latin Amerika, terörizm ve barış süreçleridir.