Tajikistan to back China up from the west

Victoria Panfilova, columnist of Nezavisimaya Gazeta, specially for Vestnik Kavkaza
Tajikistan to back China up from the west

China views Tajikistan as an important element in ensuring its security. The situation in this country affects the implementation of the Belt and Road Initiative. At the same time, the Gorno-Badakhshan Autonomous Region (GBAO) is one of the most problematic and troubled areas in which Beijing started investing.

Director General of the Analytical Center 'Strategy East-West' Dmitry Orlov told Vestnik Kavkaza that GBAO is one of the most problematic and troubled areas in terms of ensuring the security of Tajikistan and the entire region. "It is necessary to invest in it, just like China invests in Xinjiang. Therefore, it has not experienced a single major terror attack since 2009," the expert noted. However, Dushanbe is not able to implement economic projects on its own and to integrate the region into the country's economy. Help came from China.

Beijing provided Dushanbe with another grant worth $357 million to reconstruct the 'death road' linking Dushanbe and Kulma. This is a strategic route that runs through Gorny Badakhshan and connects the central part of Tajikistan with China. On October 31, the lower house of the Tajik parliament ratified an agreement approving a grant from China worth 2.5 billion yuan. Introducing the document, Tajikistan's Economic Development and Trade Minister Negmatullo Hikmatullozoda noted that grant funds will be allocated by the Chinese government as part of the agreement on technical and economic cooperation for 2018-2020. In addition, a Chinese company will build nine bridges in GBAO and will also develop the Yakchilva silver deposit.

"Investments into Kuhistani Badakhshan are not a purely economic matter, since geological exploration is required there. It’s more like a program to ensure the loyalty of a very complex region in order to prevent the spread of extremist ideas by way of raising the living standards," Deputy Director General of the Moscow Center for Strategic Assessments and Forecasts Igor Pankratenko told Vestnik Kavkaza. He noted that China was largely involved in efforts to resolve the situation in Afghanistan. Beijing managed to bring Kabul and representatives of the Taliban at the negotiating table (banned in Russia). An intra-Afghan peace talks will start in China in the coming days, and Beijing expects to gain Dushanbe's understanding and assistance. "This is why Beijing will pursue a more active policy in its client states. And with such a debt -$1.209 billion - Tajikistan can easily be attributed to client states," the expert noted. This will inevitably lead to changes in the foreign policy of the republic, it won’t involve direct pressure, but a clarification of China’s positions on various aspects of Dushanbe’s foreign policy.

Experts do not exclude the possibility that Chinese influence was the brake on Tajikistan’s entry into the Eurasian Economic Union (EEU). Although, according to Pankratenko, there is no particular difference for Beijing whether Tajikistan will become a member of the EEU or not, the main thing is that this does not interfere with the promotion of the Belt and Road Initiative, within the framework of which, the policy of building road infrastructure in Central Asia has been pursued since 2013.

However, the population is concerned that China’s economic interests cover its military interests. After the Sino-Tajik military exercises held last summer, they started talking in Gorno-Badakhshan about Chinese expansion. The construction of border outposts and a training center is in full swing there. The agreement was signed back in 2016. In addition, Beijing was given rights to refurbish or build up to 30 to 40 guard posts on the Tajik side of the country's border with Afghanistan. China will equip and maintain these facilities, with Tajik personnel serving there.

Experts note that China has a significant presence in Central Asia, it is also Tajikistan's closest neighbor. Beijing has opportunities to help it, but Beijing is not one to forgive a debt. Dushanbe understands that they will have to pay, being forced to transfer their subsoil to development: 80% of its gold is mined by China. It is planned to develop the Yakjilva silver deposit in the remote district of Murghobis for the period of seven years. For such a period China’s Kashgar Xinyi Dadi Mining Investment Company was exempted from taxes and customs duties. Ore will be shipped to China, where precious metals will be extracted. Tajik scientist, Doctor of Economics Khodzhimuhammad Umarov believes that transferring a deposit to a Chinese company under such conditions is unprofitable in Dushanbe. "All  precious and non-ferrous metal deposits should be developed by local companies with the support of the government, and all materials extracted should stay in the country. Gold and silver extracted here should replenish state funds. We will need it when loans and investments are required," Umarov said .