Ashgabat (AsiaNews) Saparmurat Niyazov, the president of Turkmenistan, yesterday announced that a pipeline designed to deliver natural gas to China would be opened by the beginning of 2009. The president of the ex-Soviet republic last week met the Vice-Minister of Commerce Yu Guangzhou, in the capital, Ashgabat, and assured him of the plan.
Under a contract signed in April, Beijing will buy 30 billion cubic metres of natural gas a year from Turkmenistan over 30 years. No price was given. Yu said he had discussed "the funding of projects involved and the volumes of gas deliveries" with the Turkmen leadership, but gave further no details.
Chinese interest in central Asia is steadily increasing: in this part of the world, after the collapse of the Soviet bloc, Beijing hopes to build a new "silk route" made of railways and oil pipelines, to channel the wealth of the mountains and the Caspian Sea to the western Chinese province of Xinjiang.
The agreements the Chinese government is signing with Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, Uzbekistan and Turkmenistan are also aimed at stopping the "three evils" extremism, terrorism and fundamentalism in Asia. But this objective is used to justify other "serious" human rights violations committed by governments in the region.
According to the international no-profit organisation World Audit, out of 150 nations with more than one million inhabitants, Turkmenistan and Uzbekistan are "absolutely the least democratic".
A coalition of ten human rights organisations, including Human Rights Watch, shares this view. In a letter to US Secretary of State, Condoleezza Rice, they said "there is no religious freedom in Turkmenistan" and called on the United States to designate it as a "country of particular concern" because of the serious abuses of religious freedom committed.