Turkmen President Gurbanguly Berdymukhamedov paid a four-day visit to China last month. In an email interview, Kathleen J. Hancock, an associate professor of political science at the Colorado School of Mines, discussed China-Turkmenistan relations.
WPR: How have political and economic relations between China and Turkmenistan evolved over the past decade?
Kathleen J. Hancock: Since Turkmenistan’s independence in December 1991, its relationship with China has revolved around the supply and demand of natural gas.* While estimates have shifted over time, Turkmenistan is currently estimated to have 265 trillion cubic feet of proven reserves, making it the 12th-most-endowed country, according to the U.S. Energy Information Agency. Because Turkmenistan has a very small population -- about 5 million -- it exports most of its natural gas. Under the Soviet regime, all exports went through Russia and were controlled by Moscow. After the Soviet collapse in 1991, Russia imported Turkmenistan’s natural gas for the Soviet region only, freeing up Russian gas for export to Europe, where countries pay with hard currency at market rates, as opposed to the former Soviet states, which pay lower costs and often barter instead of using cash.