19 february 2020

Central Asia news

The Tajik-Chinese relations: the period of wariness over, the era of cooperation begins

30.01.2007 15:07 msk

Victor Dubovitsky

Analytics China

President Emomali Rakhmonov's first official visit in 2007 was to China. Is there anything geopolitically symbolic about it? There certainly is. A historian observing and studying the Tajik-Chinese relations for at least fifteen years, I now perceive them as being through with the period of initial wariness. The era of cooperation begins. Official documents do not say anything on the matter, but at least within the framework of the Shanghai Organization of Cooperation relations between these two countries have reached the level of strategic partnership". Needless to say, this is the highest level relations between two sovereign states may ascend to.


When the Republic of Tajikistan and the People's Republic of China were establishing diplomatic relations fifteen years ago (January 4, 1992), these relations were undeniably marred by the unsolved problem of the state border. The border between the two countries (509 kilometers) had been established by the Russian Empire and Qing China several times in the middle and late XIX century. It was notoriously unrelated to geographic points, the fact that resulted in numerous quarrels and grudges. All of that might have led to serious ramifications but for the Chinese diplomacy and with penchant for resorting to an interesting tactic in crises - "when the matter is complicated, better leave it for the next generations to handle." Indeed, what's the rush if your country has five millennia behind it? And so, waiting was finally over for a certain generation of the Chinese when the Soviet Union disintegrated and the former Chinese-Soviet border collapsed into borders with four sovereign states. Leaders of the four former Soviet republics had the presence of mind and political wisdom to compose a single delegation for border talks with China, but results of these talks differed in every particular case.

Grappling with the border problem with Tajikistan, China laid claims to three areas in the Gorny Badakhshan Autonomous District (over 20,000 square kilometers!). Chinese travellers and pilgrims had known the Pamirs since before A.D. - they called it Onion Mountains (after the anzura or onion growing there, a great appetizer to follow a slug of vodka with). The first Chinese to leave a description of this mountainous range (mistakenly taken for continuation of the Tien Shan) was one Ijan Kjan who visited Davan (Ferghana Valley), Toharistan (Dahi), Kangju (Khorezm), and Ansi (Parfia) in 140-135 B.C.

We have to say it for Tajik diplomats. Six years of work with experts and several rounds of talks accomplished the unthinkable. The tiny mountainous country ceded to its great neighbor only 4.5% of the territories coveted by China in the first place (990 square kilometers). Kazakhstan gave China 50% and Kyrgyzstan 30% of what it had demanded. Demarcation of the border began in June 2006, the process will be over in late 2008. Forty-one boundary post has been set up so far.

Solution to the border problem resulted, among other things, in establishment of a direct transport route from Tashkurgan to Khorog via the Kulma Pass (4,363 meters) that connected Tajikistan with the Indian Ocean (via Pakistan). According S. Saidabakov of the Gorny Badakhshan Regional Division of the Customs Service, trade turnover between the two countries across the Kulma Checkpoint alone in 2006 amounted to more than $4,250 thousand. Over 9,166 tons of shipments passed it one way or another - a great deal for the area where no shipments at all had been logged in 2000.

The Onion Mountains Tajikistan has retained include almost twenty mineral deposits. The bilateral relations level and accessibility of the region allow for participation of the Chinese in their development. There is fluorite in Aganjan and Dunheldyk, tin and tungsten in Buguchi-Jilga, and boron in Akarhar (the second largest in the former Soviet Union and throughout the world).

Development of the tungsten deposit is of paramount importance for China that lost practically all tungsten and molybdenum mines in the Yangzi and the Huang He floods and thus ceased being the world leader in their production. Chinese mushrooming metallurgy (the world largest in steel production, last year) is definitely interested in the deposits of dopant materials in Baigumbez and deposits of rare metals (tantalum and niobium) in Kuristik. According to the World Bank, Chinese investments in development of mineral deposits amount to 29% of the global volume of investment. The Chinese win development contests all over the world, and the Pamirs is not an exception.

Needless to say, there is more to the Tajik-Chinese relations than the trade that passes through Kulma. Scientific conference "Relations between Tajikistan and China: shape and prospects" dedicated to the 15th anniversary of the diplomatic relations took place in Dushanbe in October 2006. Tajik and Chinese scientists and diplomats who attended the conference toted up bilateral cooperation and observed that "there are no unsolved political problems marring the bilateral relations."

Trade and economic cooperation were mentioned as well. The trade turnover was appraised as small but growing: $157 million in 2005 and $114 million in the first half of 2006.

China made a loan ($600 million) available to Tajikistan, its partner in the Shanghai Organization of Cooperation, for construction of Power Transmission Line-500 South-North and Power Transmission Line-220 in the Khatlon region and a tunnel under the Shar-Shar Pass on the road connecting Dushanbe and Kuljab. China is generously investing in the Tajik light industry as well.

Hajimahmat Umarov, a prominent Tajik economist, is convinced that it was the influx of cheap commodities from China (50% of the average world price) helped Tajikistan in the national program of battling impoverishment. The army of the poor in Tajikistan diminished from 83.4% two years ago to 64% nowadays. Umarov suggests that the Chinese now participate in reconstruction of the concrete factory in Dushanbe, production of sodium hydrate, and technical refurbishment of tin and tungsten mines. Tajikistan counts on help from Beijing in the agricultural sector as well.

There is one other aspect to the bilateral relations. When Rakhmonov was visiting Beijing, China made a considerable step forward in space. An ICBM killed an old Chinese meteorological satellite on the altitude of 865 kilometers.

With the United States gone from the Ballistic Missile Defense Treaty since 2006 and bent to establish a monopolar world, any event of this magnitude is to be welcomed. Development of the Chinese ballistic missile defense system upset the United States. To quote J. Tolkien's characters, "The Ring is losing its power" ("The Lord of the Rings"). Tajikistan is in the focus of attention within this newly developed military-strategic intrigue. Its strategic partner Russia has the Okno on the territory of Tajikistan, a powerful radar "seeing" at the distance of 40,000 kilometers (objectively, it may help China over both Xinjang and the Tibet). Should Washington decide to go for a shooting war with Iran (and some experts expect it in April), partnership within the framework of the Shanghai Organization of Cooperation will exceed the boundaries of the war on terrorism and lift into outer space.

The Russian Okno in the meantime is located on the way from the Onion Mountains, above the Nurek. This whole colossal artery from the Pamirs to the ancient Khodjent, designed in the early 1990' and branded by Tajik political scientist Abdugani Mamadazimov as the Rohi Vahdat or Road of Unity, has ascended to the new level of Eurasian unity.