Tajikistan Embraces the Shanghai Spirit
Ties between China and Tajikistan have been solidified following Chinese President Xi Jinping’s visit to the Tajik capital Dushanbe on June 14-15. President Xi came to Dushanbe to attend the fifth summit of the Conference on Interaction and Confidence Building in Asia (CICA). While in Dushanbe, President Xi met with his Tajik counterpart President Emomali Rahmon. Over the course of their talks, the two sides signed a joint statement pledging continued cooperation in the fields of infrastructure development, agricultural development, and continued investment. President Xi also noted that China and Tajikistan will maintain the fight against the “Three Evils” of separatism, extremism, and terrorism. They will further fight transnational organized crime and narcotics, while also working on cybersecurity. In the statement, both countries pledged to push forward coordinating China’s Belt and Road Initiative with Tajikistan’s own national development strategy up till 2030. President Xi added that the two states can then continue developing connectivity, energy, agriculture, and industry. Additionally, President Rahmon bestowed upon President Xi the Order of the Crown of Tajikistan, the country’s highest decoration, thanks to the Chinese leader’s role in developing beneficial relations between the two countries.
China’s Interest in Tajikistan
China sees Tajikistan as vital real estate for the BRI, as well as for securing its own restive Xinjiang province. Tajikistan is an important transit avenue, situated along the New Eurasian Land Bridge Economic Corridor, the China-Central Asia-West Asia Economic Corridor, and the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor. The stability of this impoverished country, dealing with its own radicalized citizens and penetration by drug smugglers and radicals from neighboring Afghanistan, is thus vital to China’s own geostrategic projects and internal stability. In addition to the stability of this country being important for the BRI’s own viability, and internal stability within China, Tajikistan possesses valuable arable land and mineral wealth.
Additionally, as China advances its projects in Tajikistan, it finds itself required to guard its investments. To this end, it was the Washington Post that discovered in February 2019 that a Chinese military base has been in Tajikistan on the Sino-Tajik-Afghan border between three and four years. Since then, the Wall Street Journal has discovered that China is taking up border security initiatives, helping strengthen the Tajik-Afghan border. Given Chinese pressure over concerns about the ability of Tajik border guards, Tajikistan has provided China the right to patrol over half of the Tajik-Afghan border separately from the Tajiks. For both economic and security reasons, Tajikistan has become a pivotal country for China.
Tajikistan’s Turn to China
Tajikistan is the poorest country in the post-Soviet space, most certainly that of Central Asia. To remedy this, the county has turned to China as a source of investment, as well as a major trading partner. And while Tajikistan is still dependent on remittances from its migrant workers in Russia — the country received over $2.5 billion in 2018 — trade with China also amounts to 30 per cent of Tajikistan’s GDP. Additionally, it has been Chinese investment that allows the construction of metallurgical plants, and development of petrochemical, hydropower equipment, and general infrastructure. Tajikistan will thus likely remain dependent on Chinese economic largesse, and, increasingly, security.
While China is and has been a regional power for the majority of its history, it is only just now starting to come into its own as a rising global power. The BRI and other economic projects are important aspects of China’s approach to influence projection, just as it simultaneously wishes to present itself as a benevolent partner — whether it is that is up for debate. However, China is now realizing that economic projects in unstable regions, such as Tajikistan, require security. Rather than rely on Russia to guarantee the security of its economic investments, China has now begun taking a more direct role in providing security to Tajikistan. With President Xi personally conveying his support of the Sino-Tajik cooperative spirit, it has been affirmed that China will stay in Central Asia, both in an economic and security framework.