China's technology, standards and wisdom bring tremendous changes to Central Asia’s socio-economic development, reshape geopolitical landscape
New horizons, New connections
Published: Sep 07, 2023 09:35 PM
A train passes through the Qamchiq Tunnel.Photo: Courtesy of CRTG

A train passes through the Qamchiq Tunnel.Photo: Courtesy of CRTG

In history, Tashkent, the capital of Uzbekistan, was once an important hub along the ancient Silk Road, with notable figures such as China's envoy Zhang Qian, and pilgrims Faxian and Xuanzang leaving their footprints here. Due to its harsh climate and geographical conditions, those who embarked on this route in different eras were often bestowed titles like "explorers," "warriors," and "pioneers." 

Today, the Silk Road still attracts such trailblazers, but the Silk Road Economic Belt under the China-proposed Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) has changed dramatically from its predecessors. One by one, major projects designed and built by China have left a unique and beautiful mark along the Silk Road in the new era.

Recently, Global Times reporters explored the super projects undertaken by Chinese enterprises in Uzbekistan to witness the embodiment of Chinese technology, quality standards, and wisdom, as the grand projects have brought about tremendous changes to the socio-economic landscape of Central Asia.

A modern town part of national 'heritage' 

A rendering of the Olympic Town project in Tashkent, Uzbekistan. Photo: Courtesy of China CAMC Engineering Company

A rendering of the Olympic Town project in Tashkent, Uzbekistan. Photo: Courtesy of China CAMC Engineering Company

When looking into the distance from the heights of Tashkent, a mushrooming of modern sports stadiums appears. The Olympic Town of Uzbekistan constructed by the China CAMC Engineering Company, which will be the largest sports complex in the entire Central Asia region upon its completion, is just one of the grand sports-related projects under construction. Two years hence, in 2025, the Olympic town will play host to the 4th Asian Youth Games and the 5th Asian Youth.

"You guys came a little too early. By the middle of September, the structures of the five main stadiums will have been completed," Han Xueli, business project manager at China CAMC Engineering Company, told the Global Times on August 17. 

The Olympic Town project is a large sports complex covering an area of 100 hectares, including 5 main stadiums and 15 outdoor sports fields. It is the first large-scale cooperative project to be jointly undertaken by China and Uzbekistan after the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO) Samarkand summit in 2022. 

Han explained that the design, construction, and quality assurance have all adopted Chinese standards, integrated high-end technology with green elements. For example, the project will install a rooftop photovoltaic system with a total capacity of 7 megawatts. All the roofs of parking lots and sports facilities, such as the ball sports complex, will be covered with solar panels. This will not only facilitate the entry of new energy vehicles but also meet the daily electricity needs of the entire sports complex.

Fully utilizing the existing terrain, the project has two landscape water systems that are both aesthetically pleasing and practical thanks to their rainwater storage capacities. Considering the local climate, the project has embedded pipes capable of drip irrigation, replacing the previous flood irrigation system in Tashkent. Additionally, the Olympic Town incorporates 5G technology to achieve smart venues and intelligent operations.

However, completing such high-quality project within two years is not an easy task. The Uzbekistan-based China CAMC Engineering Company team has contributed a lot toward meeting the deadline. 

In the eyes of many Uzbeks, many of these Chinese concepts and standards have surpassed their expectations. Moreover, under the difficult environment of both extreme heat and cold, it is not easy to complete a project of this scale without compromising on quality in just two years' time and realize its completion by the end of 2024. However, the Chinese contractor has always actively looked for ways to solve problems and work with the Uzbek side to actualize the ambitions completion goal.

"During summer, we usually do the construction work in the morning and early evening, so as to avoid the hottest time at noon; water pipes crack easily in winter, so we strive to complete the upper steel structure lifting before the arrival of winter," said Han. 

In order to realize the real-time follow up of the project, we also introduced China's Building Information Modeling (BIM) technology, Han said proudly. BIM modeling allows users to create and view a virtual model of intelligent 3D objects, which can help with visualization, quantification, and simulation of design, construction, and other tasks related to the building process.

The quality and construction speed of the Olympic City project has also been applauded by Uzbeks. This is Uzbekistan's first world-class Olympic facility and we are creating new standards thanks to Chinese companies. Such projects will boost the economic development of the country, Vadim Akhmadiev, Technical Project manager of the Ministry for Sport and Youth Policy of Uzbekistan, told the Global Times. 

Akhmadiev said the Olympic City project will become a part of Uzbekistan's "heritage." "It is not only important for my generation, but also for the next generation."

Making history on open road

Workers rush to build a gravel processing plant during a snowstorm.Photo: Courtesy of CRTG

Workers rush to build a gravel processing plant during a snowstorm.Photo: Courtesy of CRTG

In the bazaars of Tashkent, fresh and succulent pomegranates and tomatoes from the Fergana Valley entice consumers. However, locals told the Global Times that such scenes were a rarity a decade ago. Hindered by the Tianshan Mountains, it was not easy for people from Eastern Uzbekistan's Fergana region to access the capital city. They would often resort to detouring through neighboring Tajikistan, which would take as much as an entire day. 

However, this predicament has been completely transformed by a railway tunnel - the Qamchiq Tunnel. This is currently the longest railway tunnel in Central Asia, spanning 19.2 kilometers, which is also a crucial project that connects the Angren-Pap railway line, a key transportation route between the eastern and western parts of Uzbekistan. 

The Qamchiq Tunnel project undertaken by the China Railway Tunnel Group (CRTG) began construction in 2013. The main tunnel was completed in February 2016, and was officially opened to traffic in June of the same year. In other words, it took only 900 days for Chinese contractors to complete what's considered to be a wonder - constructing a train tunnel through which trains can traverse the mountains in just 900 seconds.

"The construction of the tunnel was very difficult," Zhou Xiaoguang, project manager of the Qamchiq Tunnel project from CRTG, told the Global Times. 

The tunnel passes through the mountain at an altitude of 1,200 meters, with a maximum depth of the buried main line of 1,300 meters, which has to pass through seven geological fault zones and nearly 10 kilometers of rock burst zones.

Such a long tunnel not only needs to excavated, but needs the addition of safety access points including inclined shafts and contact access, further complicating the engineering process.

In the eyes of Deng Wei, a technician who once participated in the construction of the Kamchik Tunnel, frequent rock falls were the biggest problem encountered during the tunnel's construction that year.

"There were more than 3,000 rock falls of moderate intensity and above, and the most serious one caused the tunnel to collapse for a length of 2,000 cubic meters, posing a great threat to the safety and even the psychology of construction workers," Deng told the Global Times.

In order to overcome the perplexing problem of rock falls, the CRTG contractors organized several multinational expert meetings and conducted joint scientific research with Chinese domestic universities to develop sound scientific methods. 

Thanks to the timely research and proper technological applications, no injuries were suffered from rock fall in the nearly 10-kilometer long rock explosion zone, Deng recalled proudly.

The harsh environment was another major difficulty encountered in the construction. Zhou still remembers that in January 2014, a rare heavy snow storm which lasted for two weeks caused an avalanche on the mountain near the tunnel, which was 7-8 meters thick and more than 40 meters long, effectively enclosing the construction team within the construction site, and cut access to outside production and amenities transportation channel. "Later, workers used large machines for three days to reopen the lifeline," Zhou lamented.

"It is because of the 'Chinese spirit' of overcoming adversity that we were able to complete this super project in 900 days, which was once estimated to take as long as 25 years to complete by experts during the Soviet Union period," he said.

Further enhanced mutual trust

Chinese and Uzbek employees pose in front of the Qamchiq Tunnel.Photo: Courtesy of CRTG

Chinese and Uzbek employees pose in front of the Qamchiq Tunnel. Photo: Courtesy of CRTG

The successful launch and development of China's mega projects overseas reflects the further enhanced of political mutual trust between China and Central Asia in recent years. 

Han told Global Times that whenever there are problems in the construction of the Olympic Town, various departments such as the Uzbekistan Ministry of Sports, Customs Committee, and city government of Tashkent always appear to help China coordinate efforts to solve the problems.

"For example, Uzbekistan's President Shavkat Mirziyoyev even personally signed a presidential decree to open a 'green channel' for us to import a large amount of construction materials and equipment, ensuring that the imported supplies for the project could clear customs with zero tariffs and were delivered to the site quickly," Han said. "The high level of trust and support from the Uzbek side toward China is an important reason why mega projects like the Olympic Town are able to progress so rapidly."

Additionally, the acceleration of the internationalization process of the Chinese Yuan has also become an important driving force for more Chinese mega projects to go global. Taking the Uzbekistan's Olympic Town as an example, the project adopted the RMB loan model, with the Export-Import Bank of China providing RMB loans. This is also the first international engineering project in Uzbekistan to be financed by a sovereign commercial loan denominated in RMB. Observers noted that compared with financing through European and American capital markets, RMB loans have lower costs and are more economically beneficial to the financing country.

At the same time, China's mega projects are also reshaping the geopolitical landscape of Central Asia. Taking the Qamchiq Tunnel as an example, the completion of this railway tunnel has not only eliminated the need for long detours through other countries, but also has the potential to become a new transportation hub and important international transit channel along the China-Central Asia-Europe transportation corridor. 

"In the last two years, the construction of the future operation of the China-Kyrgyzstan-Uzbekistan railway project has been made a priority. If this railway can be successfully built, trains departing from China in the future will enter Uzbekistan through Kyrgyzstan, pass through the Qamchiq Tunnel to Tashkent, and then continue through Turkmenistan and the Middle East to Europe. This route will be the shortest and fastest route for the Eurasian continent," said Zhou.

The BRI is transforming Uzbekistan from a landlocked country into an important transportation hub in the region, and promoting the integration of Uzbekistan and other Central Asian countries into the global economy and the world's logistics system, said Saidmukhtar Saidkasimov, former deputy prime minister and former foreign minister of Uzbekistan, in an exclusive interview with the Global Times.

In Han's view, all the hard work today is worth it, because he expects that after the completion of the project, the people of Uzbekistan will usher in their own country's era of high-standard and modern venues, and become another bright "Made in China" calling card in Central Asia.