The Tajikistan Conundrum: The gateway for Beijing’s exploitation and hegemony in Central Asia
Junior Research Analyst,
Ever since Xi Jinping’s inauguration as the General Secretary of the Chinese Communist Party in 2012, Chinese foreign policy has undergone a radical change. Chinese territorial expansion has seen them come in conflict with almost all their immediate neighbours, most notably Japan, India, the Philippines etc. Ironically modern China has always traced their golden age to the formation of the People’s Republic of China by Mao Zedong in 1949, but their recent claims on territory governed by their neighbours precede to the territorial limits of the former Chinese Yuan And Qing dynasties; due to this logic that backs their territorial claims China has also come in conflict with their fellow communist nation the Socialist Republic of Vietnam over the question of jurisdiction pertaining to the Spratly Islands in the South China Sea. But the Chinese goal of spreading their influence is not only contained to the South China Sea; since the fall of the USSR China has attempted to encroach upon the economy and polity of the Central Asian countries of Kazakhstan, Uzbekistan, Turkmenistan, Uzbekistan, Kyrgyzstan and now most notably Tajikistan. Ever since Russia’s decision to relocate its sphere of interest by diverting its resources, investments and workforce from Central Asia to the Ukraine and the Caucasus, China has found it easier to consolidate their position in the region.
Ever since the collapse of the USSR the newly formed State of Tajikistan has faced economic hardships and has a staggering trade deficit, China amounts for 45 per cent of imports into Tajikistan, followed by Russia (18 per cent) and Kazakhstan (14 per cent), meanwhile, Tajik exports find their way mostly to Turkish and Chinese markets that are calculated to 37 per cent and 11 per cent respectively. At the present stance China to boost their influence in Tajikistan has gone forward with serious negotiations with the cash-strapped Tajik government about the possibility of a $500 billion loan, Beijing cunningly and quietly hopes to build and buy out the majority of the infrastructure in the country in the guise of this act; the reason behind such an act may be because China hopes that Tajikistan will now wholeheartedly depend on the former and if Chinese buyouts and investments in the country increases then in the near future the Tajik economy would most certainly dance along to the tunes played by Beijing. Strategically Tajikistan is the gate that leads to Central Asia and its resources especially with the construction of the Chinese sponsored Asian Highway 66 (AH66) as well as parts of the famous Pamir Highway that connects the Tajik capital of Dushanbe and the Chinese province of Xinjiang and that connects to the Karakoram highway that runs north-south from China into Pakistan. To further territorial ambitions through military action China could easily use the AH66 highway to transport their troops into Tajikistan and steadily take over the country which could be a precursor to a possible annexation of the majority of the countries of Central Asia. Such a development i.e. the construction of the AH66 will stand detrimental to Indian interests and sovereignty especially in the Indian administrated regions of Jammu, Kashmir and Ladakh; Chinese troops could easily divert to Pakistani administered Azad Kashmir as the AH66 connects to the Pakistani controlled Karakoram highway and help them in a conflict against India, India then would most probably have to face a three-front war against Chinese-Pakistani forces based in Chinese administered Xinjiang, Pakistani administered Northern and Western Azad Kashmir if war ever materialized.
Another issue that might go in Beijing’s favour much to the chagrin of Indian authorities is a possibility that they might be able to provide a safe haven to Taliban terrorists that seek shelter in the mountainous regions of southern and south-eastern Tajikistan (and in the near future in the Southern region of Tajikistan’s Pamir, which might become a possibility) which China has recently claimed. The Chinese claim that Pamir was once an integral part of ancient China that was lost during the last years of the Qing dynasty thus the Chinese indirectly mean to claim 45% of present-day Tajikistan which might soon become reality as since the start of the Sino-Tajikistan diplomatic ties China has successfully debt-trapped their economically weaker neighbour; as of 2011, China forced Tajikistan to cede 1000 sq. km of Pamir land to Beijing. Beijing owns over half of Tajikistan's external debt and it's around 35.9 per cent of the country's GDP but the deficit is still on the rise and China now hopes to redeem their financial loans to Tajikistan by accepting a handover of the entirety of the Pamir region. If Pamir is annexed then China has greater access to Central Asia and notably the northeastern part of Afghanistan that is a hotbed of Taliban insurgents, this area is also infamous for the smuggling of opiates into Tajikistan (something the Tajik government has failed to control) which ultimately sees its way into the heartland of Russia causing rampant narcotics abuse if ever Moscow’s relationship with Beijing sours in the near future such a narcotics route into Russia from Afghanistan and Pamir could allow China to have an upper hand in future negotiations.
The fact of the matter remains that China could very easily divert this narcotics route south into the volatile territories of Indian administered Jammu, Kashmir and Ladakh and such narcotics abuse could further destroy and aggravate the population in this region (especially Kashmir) i.e. most probably the youth who already stand radicalised by Islamist propaganda and wage a guerrilla war against Indian forces. Tajikistan has always been a nominal investment with maximum returns in the eyes of Beijing and China will happily take up the land in Pamir as payment if Tajikistan defaults in its debts. The situation will be ripe for the taking and the best course of action for India to avoid such a catastrophe of magnanimous proportions would be to heavily invest in Tajikistan and help them pay off their debt by offering low-interest loans to the Tajik government. Another objective through such an Indian investment in Tajikistan would help them get to the Central Asian trade routes that start from Tajikistan and stop a Chinese take over of Central Asia.