Russian gas and coal: Beijing secures the 'Mongolian route
A new railway line to bring Mongolian coal to Chinese territory opens. Construction work on a new Russian gas pipeline to supply China through Mongolia is due to start in 2024. The United States is also playing its geopolitical game in the region amid rising friction between Beijing and Ulaanbaatar.
Beijing (AsiaNews) - Mongolia is becoming increasingly central to China's energy supplies. Ulaanbaatar has just inaugurated a new railway line that will increase its coal exports to China from 30 to 50 million tonnes per year.
At 233 kilometres long, the new route connects Tavan Tolgoi with Gashuun Sukhait, a Mongolian border crossing with Chinese Inner Mongolia. The mining industry accounts for a quarter of Mongolia's GDP, while Beijing has increased its coal purchases to compensate for energy problems due to extreme temperatures and high gas and oil prices on the world market - all in derogation of Xi Jinping's 'decarbonisation' targets.
Russian gas will also pass through the 'Mongolian route' to China. Ulaanbaatar and Moscow have announced that in 2024 construction work will begin on Power of Siberia 2, the pipeline to transport gas extracted from the Russian Yamal field, which currently serves Europe, to Chinese territory.
When fully operational, Power of Siberia 2 is expected to have a flow rate of 50 billion cubic metres per year, to be added to the 38 billion cubic metres that on paper its sister pipeline, which went into operation in 2019, can supply.
The new pipeline will not be operational until 2030 at the earliest. In the most optimistic scenario, it will push Russian gas exports to China to 128 billion cubic metres per year, an amount that will not cover the nearly 200 billion that Moscow will lose from Europe in response to the Putin invasion of Ukraine.
The geographical location makes Mongolia a significant geopolitical chessboard for the great powers. Ulaanbaatar is playing along, trying to get along with China, Russia and the US while gaining economic advantages.
It is no coincidence that the new Mongolian railway line will run 16 locomotives manufactured by the US company Caterpillar. In the form of grant aid, Washington has also allocated 0 million to solve the water problems in the capital Ulaanbaatar, where almost half of Mongolia's 3.3 million inhabitants are concentrated.
Beijing remains the most advantaged player in this three-way game: 90% of Mongolian exports go to China, while imports of Chinese products account for one third of Ulaanbaatar's total. On a visit to Mongolia from 10-12 September, the chairman of the Standing Committee of the National People's Congress Li Zhanshu said that the long-term interests of the two countries coincide.
What the Chinese regime's number three said is only partly true: there is in fact no lack of friction between Beijing and its northern neighbour. In October 2020, dozens of protesters gathered in Ulaanbaatar to demand the release of ethnic Mongolians arrested in China. One month earlier, in the Chinese autonomous region of Inner Mongolia, students of Mongolian origin had revolted against the authorities for their decision to reduce the use of their native language in school curricula.