J.Lo Turkmenistan Gig Shines Light on Chinese Oil Firm

A performance by Jennifer Lopez for Turkmenistan’s leader Gurbanguly Berdimuhamedow has provoked accusations that the singer helped to paper over human rights abuses. But with the concert organized in part by the China National Petroleum Corporation, the incident also sheds light on China’s international energy politics and domestic campaign against government excess. From Brian Spegele and Lukas Alpert at The Wall Street Journal:

The Turkmenistan event underscores the lengths to which China’s oil-and-gas companies will go to curry favor in resource-rich locales. Turkmenistan has some of the world’s largest reserves of natural gas. While an insufficient pipeline infrastructure and other challenges have limited exports, Turkmenistan is China’s largest foreign supplier of natural gas by far.

[…] State-owned corporations, including CNPC, routinely have vowed to improve their zuo feng, or “work style,” by becoming more professional and efficient. At a meeting led by CNPC Chairman Zhou Jiping in May, company executives vowed to “persist in strictly enforcing frugality and in opposing extravagance and waste,” according to the company.

But the sheer magnitude of CNPC’s overseas dealings means paying for a performance by Ms. Lopez likely would be justified as long as it furthered company interests, according to some analysts. [Source]

China is looking to cement strong ties with Turkmenistan, and imports a large amount of Turkmen gas. The CNPC recently signed a deal with Turkmengaz for 25 billion cubic metres of natural gas each year, according to a report by Russian news agency, RIA Novosti. Turkmenistan’s total gas exports to China are set to reach 65 billion cubic meters annually, says Novosti. This will be possible with the completion of the Central Asia–China gas pipeline, 1,139 miles of pipes running from Turkmenistan, through Uzbekistan into China.

At Mother Jones, meanwhile, Asawin Suebsaeng considered how Lopez’s performance clashes with her “humanitarian image”:

A simple Google search of “Gurbanguly Berdymukhamedov” immediately yields several reports regarding his brutal rule, during which his regime has tortured and disappeared political enemies, jailed journalists, and heavily monitored and limited internet access within the country. One of the very first items that appears following a search of his name is a Guardian story on a leaked diplomatic cable, published by WikiLeaks, which describes the leader as “vain, suspicious, guarded, strict, very conservative,” and “a practiced liar.” The diplomatic cable also reports that “Berdymukhamedov does not like people who are smarter than he is.” [Source]

Read more about Turkmenistan’s natural resources (PDF) from the U.S. Energy Information Administration, and on Sino-Turkmen relations from the Chinese Ministry of Foreign Affairs.

See other CDT posts on Turkmenistan.