As America’s influence in Afghanistan dissolved with President Biden’s disastrous retreat, communist China’s influence grows in surrounding countries. The Chinese military will now have, not one, but two bases in neighboring Tajikistan. An existing base is being transferred to Chinese control, while Tajikistan has approved the construction of a new Chinese-funded $10 million base near the country’s border with Afghanistan.
The transfer of control of the preexisting Chinese military base rent-free to Beijing is in exchange for military aid from China, according to a communique sent from the Chinese Embassy in Dushanbe to Tajikistan’s Foreign Ministry.
As RFE/RL reports:
The two developments paint a picture of a growing Chinese military footprint in the Central Asian country as Beijing and its neighbors in the region turn their attention toward an increasingly tenuous security situation in Afghanistan since the Taliban’s mid-August takeover.
“This decision to build such a facility is one of only a few known examples for China around the world,” Raffaello Pantucci, a senior associate fellow at London’s Royal United Services Institute, told RFE/RL. “The fact that we keep seeing this activity in Tajikistan shows the level of Chinese concern towards Afghanistan and the region.”
China already operates a military base in Tajikistan in the Murghab region near the Afghan border in a remote stretch close to the Wakhan Corridor. The collection of facilities and outposts is believed to have been in operation for at least five years and was the subject of a recent investigation by RFE/RL that showed Chinese personnel taking on a growing role in the area.
Both the Chinese and Tajik governments have officially denied the base’s existence and few details about its ownership and operation are known. The documents seen by RFE/RL’s Tajik Service say that Chinese personnel are operating at the base in Tajikistan, but that it currently is owned by Dushanbe.
According to the documents, the proposal to transfer ownership of the base to China was presented by Tajik President Emomali Rahmon to Chinese Defense Minister Wei Fenghe when he visited the Tajik capital, Dushanbe, in July.
“This highlights how Central Asia is going to be a major focus of Chinese attention,” said Pantucci. “Going forward, Beijing may struggle to avoid getting itself entangled in regional security problems.”
The exact purpose of the new base is unknown, but Tajik lawmakers said it would carry out “policing duties” focused on combating organized crime and that the facility would have “special equipment for the Interpol information system” installed from China. Other Tajik officials say only Tajik troops will be stationed at the Chinese-funded base.
Experts note that China is likely focused on Tajikistan due to the threat it sees from its repressed Uyghur minority in its western Xinjiang Province which borders both Afghanistan and Tajikistan, as well as Kyrgyzstan.
China is increasingly concerned about Uyghur militants potentially using Afghanistan as a staging ground for attacks on Chinese targets in the region. This danger has only increased with the growing chaos there after the Biden retreat. ADN