China, Uzbekistan, and Kyrgyzstan Sign Landmark Railway Construction Agreement

China, Uzbekistan, and Kyrgyzstan have signed an agreement to construct a railway connecting the three countries. The agreement, finalized on June 6 during an online ceremony, details financing, the route, and the operation and maintenance of the railway. Construction is set to begin in October.

The agreement establishes the legal framework for the China-Kyrgyzstan-Uzbekistan (CKU) railway, which will have an annual throughput capacity of 15 million tonnes. The railway is expected to reduce travel distances from China to Europe by 900 kilometers, significantly shortening travel times. Kyrgyz President Sadyr Japarov confirmed the construction start date in October.

Kyrgyzstan, being landlocked, views the CKU railway as a crucial development for improving its international connectivity and easing access to foreign markets. Uzbek President Shavkat Mirziyoyev echoed this sentiment, highlighting the railway’s potential to open routes to South Asia and the Middle East via the Trans-Afghan Corridor.

The agreement follows prolonged funding challenges, particularly for the costly Kyrgyz section through mountainous terrain. In April, a Kyrgyz official estimated the country’s funding needs at eight billion dollars. Kyrgyzstan faces limitations on borrowing due to its large national debt and legal restrictions on the proportion of debt from a single foreign source. Despite already owing 42% of its debt to China, Kyrgyzstan would likely need to borrow more from China for the CKU line, a move it has been hesitant to make. While the countries have reached a solution, they have not disclosed the funding details.

The 523-kilometer rail line will begin in Kashgar, China, cross Kyrgyzstan’s southern border, pass through Jalal-Abad, and terminate in Andijan, Uzbekistan’s Ferghana valley. Despite Kyrgyzstan’s appeal for the route to include its northern capital, Bishkek, the final route does not include this stop.

The operation and maintenance of the railway will be managed through a joint venture proposed by Uzbekistan and positively received by China and Kyrgyzstan. However, the specifics of this joint venture remain unspecified.

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