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Tajikistan-China Military Cooperation

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Central Asia has lately become a geography that attracts the attention of global actors more than ever.

Even though the opening of the West towards the region is heavily covered in the international press, it is seen that China, as an Asian country, tends to develop and deepen relations with regional countries

For example, on 22 November 2022, Tajikistan and China decided to conduct a common counter-terrorism operation every two years.[1] Yet, China generally establishes economic bounds in its relations with other states. However, a change is seen with this approach and the Beijing administration’s military operations come into question. As a matter of fact, Military cooperation in the Dushanbe-Pekin line is an indicator of this.

In essence, conducting military operations between two countries is not a new issue. Joint operations were held in 2006, 2015, 2016 and 2019.[2] In 2015, Tajikistan and Chinese special operations forces conducted a joint counter-terrorism operation at a mountain training center outside Dushanbe. The operation in question was the first joint training exercise conducted by special operations forces overseas.[3] In 2016, a joint force of approximately 10 thousand people conducted an operation in the Mountainous-Badakhshan region. In the same year, the “Quadruple Cooperation and Coordination Mechanism in the Fight Against Terrorism” was established with the participation of China, Tajikistan, Pakistan, and Afghanistan.[4] In 2019, a military operation called “Cooperation-2019” was held; Beijing and Dushanbe have deepened their partnership in the fight against terrorism. 12 thousand soldiers from both sides were present in the operation.[5]

The point that makes the new operations planned to be conducted distinctive is that a more systematic way will be followed in these maneuvers. It can also be pointed out that it will have a more formal nature as it will be actualized based on an agreement. In addition, military equipment and equipment support will be provided to Tajikistan, which can take the cooperation between the parties to the next level.

It is known that China wants to be one of the active powers in Central Asia. In line with this goal, the Beijing administration, which tried to evolve its partnerships with the regional capitals, was following a path that concentrated mostly on the economic and commercial sectors. However, China’s efforts are not circumscribed to this. Because Beijing is also taking steps in terms of military cooperation. Therefore, these moves may pave the way for an increase in China’s military influence in the region.

The increase in China’s weapon exports to Central Asian countries in recent years is also remarkable. Because it is known that China has met 18% of the region’s weapon needs for the last five years.[6] In the case of Tajikistan, steps are taken to provide military equipment and improve cooperation. In October 2016, the sides agreed to build 11 border posts.[7] In 2018, the Chinese company named “China Ordnance Industry Group Corporation Limited” allocated armored patrol vehicles to contribute to Tajikistan’s border security.[8]

In addition to the rise in Chinese influence, Tajikistan’s strong military ties with Russia cannot be neglected. The structure of the country’s military organization is like that of Russia. At the same time, Russia’s largest military base abroad is in Tajikistan Therefore, China’s increasing role in military affairs may deepen the rivalry between Beijing and Moscow.

Security concerns and regional policies also have an impact on China’s development of military cooperation with Tajikistan. Tajikistan is a strategically significant country for China as it shares a common border (the Wakhan Corridor) with Afghanistan under the Taliban. Undoubtedly, this makes the country an important component of China’s security on its western border.[9] The establishment of border posts is also a reflection of this. Moreover, in 2017, allegations that China tried to establish a military base in Tajikistan came to the fore.

In 2021, China’s military presence in Tajikistan came into question again. In this context, it was alleged that Beijing agreed to pay Dushanbe approximately $8.5 million for the construction of a paramilitary base on the border.[10] It is seen that China’s military activities in Tajikistan are mostly concentrated in the Mountainous Badakhshan region nearby Afghanistan. As a matter of fact, the news that military garrisons were being built in the region in question was reflected in the press.[11]

One of the main factors in Beijing’s development of military cooperation with Tajikistan and Central Asian countries in general; To ensure the security of the Belt-Road Project. That is why economic relations shift to the axis of security over time. For this reason, there has been an increase in China’s weapon exports to the countries of the region and efforts to develop military infrastructure in recent years. A similar situation exists in the field of operations. This is closely related to Beijing’s desire to protect its investments and corridors.

As it is known, developments based in Afghanistan have made the regional security environment vulnerable. As a matter of fact, in addition to the destabilizing activities of local groups, the terrorist organization DEASH has also augmented the attacks. Understandably, both Tajikistan and China are concerned about these threats. In this context, Beijing focuses on developing military cooperation with Central Asian republics, especially Tajikistan, in line with its goal of combating terrorism. In this context, Beijing is trying to deepen its relations with the regional capitals by means of the anti-terrorism structure of the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO). However, it can be said that China wants to sign new agreements with Central Asian states to develop military and commercial cooperation.

Consequently, China gives priority to developing military cooperation with Tajikistan and Central Asian countries in general. Here, Beijing has two main goals. The first of these; is national security. The second is to increase its influence in Central Asia. This goal is likely to accelerate the Sino-Russian rivalry. In the current situation, while China acts based on the SCO and the fight against terrorism; Russia, on the other hand, is trying to institutionalize its influence through the Collective Security Treaty Organization (CSTO). The fact that Moscow works through the CSTO instead of using the SCO, in which Moscow is a member of Beijing, can be evaluated as evidence of the segregation between Russia and China.


[1] “Tajikistan-China Agree to Conduct Joint Counter Terrorism Drills at Least Once every Two Years”, Asia Plus, https://asiaplustj.info/en/news/tajikistan/security/20221122/tajikistan-china-agree-to-conduct-joint-counter-terrorism-drills-at-least-once-every-two-years, (Date of Accession: 24.11.2022).

[2] Ibid.

[3] “In Russia’s Shadow: China’s Rising Security Presence in Central Asia”, Wilson Center, https://www.wilsoncenter.org/sites/default/files/media/uploads/documents/KI_200519_cable%2052_v1.pdf, (Date of Accession: 24.11.2022).

[4] “Sino-Tajik Exercises: The Latest Chinese Encroachment Into Russia’s ‘Sphere of Influence’”, The Jamestown Foundation, https://jamestown.org/program/sino-tajik-exercises-the-latest-chinese-encroachment-into-russias-sphere-of-influence/, (Date of Accession: 24.11.2022).

[5] “China and Tajikistan Kicks off Joint Counter-Terrorism Exercise”, China Military Online, http://eng.chinamil.com.cn/view/2019-08/12/content_9587478.htm, (Date of Accession: 24.11.2022).

[6] “China’s New Military Posture in Central Asia”, Nesa Center, https://nesa-center.org/chinas_new_military_posture_in_central_asia/, (Date of Accession: 24.11.2022).

[7] “China in Central Asia: Building Border Posts in Tajikistan”, The Diplomat, https://thediplomat.com/2016/09/china-in-central-asia-building-border-posts-in-tajikistan/, (Date of Accession: 24.11.2022).

[8] “In Russia’s Shadow…”, op. cit.

[9] “China’s New Military…”, op. cit.

[10] Catherina Putz, “China’s Security Infrastructure Continues to Grow in Tajikistan”, The Diplomat, https://thediplomat.com/2021/10/chinas-security-infrastructure-continues-to-grow-in-tajikistan/, (Date of Accession: 24.11.2022).

[11] “Tajikistan Agrees with China to Hold Anti-Terrorism Exercises Every Two Years”, Nova News, https://www.agenzianova.com/en/news/tajikistan-agrees-with-china-to-hold-anti-terrorism-drills-every-two-years/, (Date of Accession: 24.11.2022).

Şeyma KIZILAY
Şeyma KIZILAY, 2016 yılında Erciyes Üniversitesi İktisadi ve İdari Bilimler Fakültesi Uluslararası İlişkiler Bölümü’nden mezun olmuştur. Yüksek lisans derecesini, 2019 yılında Kırşehir Ahi Evran Üniversitesi Sosyal Bilimler Enstitüsü Uluslararası İlişkiler Anabilim Dalı’nda sunduğu ‘’Uluslararası İlişkilerde Ulus İnşası Bağlamında Irak Örneği” başlıklı teziyle almıştır. Doktora eğitimine Uludağ Üniversitesi Uluslararası İlişkiler Anabilim Dalı’nda devam eden Kızılay, tez aşamasındadır. Başlıca çalışma alanları; güvenlik, terörizm, Afganistan ve Pakistan’dır. Kızılay, iyi derecede İngilizce ve orta seviyede Arapça bilmektedir.