You might call it the train in vain. And it has troubling implications for a US plan to stoke East-West trade via a New Silk Road, as well as keep American and NATO troops well supplied in Afghanistan.
On the southern bank of a tiny river lined with concertina wire, half a dozen empty freight trucks are idling, waiting to enter Kazakhstan. Ken-Bulun may look like a minor border crossing between Kazakhstan and Kyrgyzstan, but it is a doorway to a market of almost 165 million people – the new Moscow-led Customs Union of Russia, Belarus and Kazakhstan. And the truckers are growing impatient.
US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton worked quietly and diligently during her recent trip through Central and South Asia to lay the groundwork for a regional stabilization plan, dubbed the “New Silk Road.” The vision sees expanded trade as the balm that can heal the region’s wounds.
The European Union is mulling ways to expand its textile trade with Uzbekistan, a major cotton supplier. Rights activists are lobbying hard against the ratification of EU trade measures, asserting that adoption would encourage the continuing use of forced child labor in the Central Asian nation.
They may not recognize each other’s borders, but, for all the official enmity between them, Armenians and Turks have always had one thing in common -- trade. But now, with a looming 100-percent increase in cargo prices charged by Armenian freight haulers, even that tie may soon be broken, Armenian traders say.
A line of 150 trucks waits to enter Kazakhstan. It takes so long to clear customs here that each rig usually only makes two round trips a month. And yet, contrary to appearances, documentary discrepancies suggest the checkpoint is a smuggler’s paradise.
Welcome to Khorgos, soon to become Russia’s new trade border with China.