The importance of East Turkistan

The importance of East Turkistan

FIKRET ERTAN

 
 
 
Since the end of the Cold War and its aftermath, new strategically important regions have been emerging in the world.
Pakistan’s Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA) is one of them.
The struggle there will certainly have far-reaching consequences globally. Somalia, its environs and its waters is another example of these new strategic regions. The ongoing civil war and the resurgent piracy in its waters will have a global impact in one way or another.China’s Xinjiang Uighur Autonomous Region, or East Turkistan, can also be designated as a new strategically important region. One look at the world map is enough to see this fact. 

The region, which consists about one-sixth of the total area of China, borders on Afghanistan, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan and both sides of the Indo-Pakistani Line of Control in Kashmir, as well as the Chinese Line of Control, claimed by India. The region also has borders with Russia and Mongolia in the north as well as the Tibet Autonomous Region in the south, which also has a long history of unrest and resistance to Chinese rule.

So, in terms of geopolitics, it is quite appropriate to say that the Uighur region is a gateway to Central Asia as well to the Indian sub-continent and that China is more than conscious of this fact. Its enormous natural resources are, of course, the second reason why China attributes so much importance to it.

In this regard, it is a well-known fact that the Uighur region holds enormous amounts of oil, natural gas, coal and many types of precious metals, including large deposits of uranium. According to Chinese sources the region has about 20 trillion cubic feet of proven gas reserves. The region represents one-seventh of China’s current oil production and nearly one-quarter of its oil reserves. It also holds over two-fifths of its coal reserves.

For these reasons China has been extracting oil, gas, coal and metals from the region and building roads and pipelines to transport them into China proper.

The West-East Gas Pipeline (WEGP) is the most important of them. Starting in East Turkestan’s Tarım Basin and running some 4,000 kilometers, it terminates in Shanghai. Its primary aim was to reduce China’s dependence on coal for electricity generation, particularly coal-generated residential electricity, by using gas.

The WEGP was opened in 2005 with a volume of 12 billion cubic meters per year, a figure projected to increase to 17 billion cubic meters per year. Construction of a second gas pipeline to run 9,000 kilometers (including its eight sub-lines and interconnections) from the northwest of the region began in early 2008. It will run parallel to the first WEGP and be interconnected with it up to Gansu before diverting to Guangzhou.

The volume of the second WEGP is planned to be 30 billion cubic meters per year and will be supplied largely by the Turkmenistan-China pipeline, which is now under construction across Uzbekistan and Kazakhstan. In fact, recent news suggests that it has just reached the Chinese border. Furthermore, there are also plans to build a third and a fourth and possibly even a fifth WEGP across the region to support China’s growing gas demand.

In addition to these lines, China is also interested in the proposed IPI gas line, which will start in Iran, cross Pakistan and end in India. Iran and Pakistan agreed on the construction of the line two months ago; however, India has still not made up its mind. Seeing India’s indecision, China announced that it can take the place of India and could become the end country.

All in all, with these already active and planned lines and policies, China intends to exploit the natural wealth of the region to the fullest, whatever happens to the actual owners of the region, the Uighur Turks. That is why the region is so important to China.

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