China catches up with Russia as major investor in Uzbekistan

Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi gestures after receiving the Order of Danaker at the Ala-Archa state residence in Bishkek on May 22, 2016.
Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi gestures after receiving the Order of Danaker at the Ala-Archa state residence in Bishkek on May 22, 2016.PHOTO: AFP

TASHKENT (Reuters) - China's investment in Uzbekistan now matches that of former Soviet overlord Russia, according to a figure announced on Tuesday (May 24) by Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi, highlighting Beijing's growing role as a regional economic powerhouse.

China has invested a total of US$6 billion (S$8.3 billion) in the Central Asian nation, Wang told reporters in Tashkent, where he was attending a meeting of the Russia- and China-led Shanghai Cooperation Organisation security bloc.

"China is becoming one of the biggest investors for our partners (in Central Asia)," Wang said.

He did not provide a direct comparison with Russia and official data on foreign direct investment flows by country is not available.

However, Uzbek state media last November quoted Russian ambassador Vladimir Tyurdenev as saying Russia's investments in Uzbekistan were worth about US$6 billion, making it the No.1 foreign investor in the former Soviet republic.

Beijing has stepped up economic activity in the region, first with the construction of a pipeline that delivers Central Asian gas to China and then with the launch of its "One Belt, One Road" initiative to secure global supply chains.

China is also a major investor and a key trading partner for the other ex-Soviet Central Asian republics - Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan and Kazakhstan. Of them all, only Kazakhstan has also drawn big inflows from Western companies.