Edward Lemon & Oleg Antonov

PANEL 4: China’s Security and Military Presence in Central Asia

China Marches West: Beijing’s Security Presence in Tajikistan

Edward Lemon, Research Assistant Professor, Texas A&M University, USA ; Oleg Antonov, Visiting Researcher, Malmö University

With a 1,344 kilometer border with Afghanistan, Tajikistan is viewed by China as the potential staging ground for attacks by Uyghur militants into the Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region or other spillovers from Afghanistan. While Tajikistan has traditionally relied on Russia as its primary security guarantor, in recent years China has rapidly expanded its security presence in the country in an attempt to create a buffer against external threats. The People’s Liberation Army held its first bilateral joint military exercise in 2016 and the People’s Armed Police opened a military facility in the country that same year. China has now funded or operates at least three bases in the country. Beijing has also stepped up its arms supplies to Tajikistan, including armored personal carriers, drones and light arms, challenging Russia’s near monopolization of Tajikistan’s arms imports. Chinese companies have also invested in safe city projects, enhancing the capacity of the regime to surveil and control its citizens.

In this paper, we document the extent of China’s security presence in the country based on datasets of military exercises, arms supplies, training and education activities, as well as semi-structured interviews with experts of officials in Tajikistan. We argue that China is experimenting with forms of security cooperation in Tajikistan that could form a model to be implemented in other parts of the world such as Africa or Southeast Asia.