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china conducts another military exercise in tajikistan—should the world care?

China Conducts Another Military Exercise in Tajikistan—Should the World Care?

Author: Jacob Levitan

Aug 29, 2019

From August 7 to August 16, Tajikistan conducted joint military exercises with China in the Pamirs. The exercises were held in the Khorugh, Ishkashim, and Shugnan districts of Tajikistan’s porous Gorno-Badakshan Autonomous Region (GBAO) on the Afghan border. This comes a little under three years after the last Sino-Tajik military exercises held in October 2016 – also in the Pamirs. Sino-Tajik Cooperation The Sino-Tajik relationship is dominated mostly by the trade and development plans of China’s Belt and Road Initiative (BRI). Tajikistan is geo-strategically vital to China’s BRI, as it sits along three of the BRI’s main overland corridors. China has cooperated with Tajikistan for a long time in security issues within the framework of SCO. Combating “three evil forces” — terrorism, separatism and extremism is one of the main topics of security cooperation. To ensure the security of its investments in the country, China has over the last few years begun investing a security element into the region. China’s security investments are primarily in the Sino-Tajik-Afghan area, in Tajikistan’s GBAO. China first signed secret agreements with Tajikistan, either in 2015 or 2016, to refurbish or build up 30 to 40 guard posts along the Afghan-Tajik border. The agreements gave China the right to patrol the border without Tajik guards. The Washington Post also discovered earlier this year a secret Chinese military outpost near Shaymak, in Tajikistan’s GBAO, along the Afghan-Tajik border. The outpost is made up of a single battalion, two dozen buildings and lookout towers, and looks over the Wakhan Corridor separating Tajikistan from Pakistan. The Drills Conducted between August 7 to 16, the Tajik and Chinese militaries held counter-terrorism exercises in areas like joint reconnaissance, comprehensive control, rescue, and fire strike. The exercises themselves were at the Jilondi training range in the GBAO. Both sides contributed 1,200 soldiers, as opposed to the 10,000-person force used in the last exercise three-years-ago. In this exercise, unmanned aerial vehicles, Tajik tanks and personnel carriers, as well as People’s Liberation Air Force fighters and fighter-bombers were used. Russo-Tajik Security Arrangement Despite a growing Chinese military presence, Russia remains Tajikistan’s primary security guarantor. Tajikistan belongs to the Russian-led Collective Security Treaty Organization (CSTO). The CSTO, encompassing Armenia, Belarus, Russia, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, and Tajikistan, acts to integrate the military systems of the region under the Kremlin’s guidance. The Russian 201st Motor Rifle Division is based outside of the Tajik capital of Dushanbe and will remain there until 2042. It is Russia’s largest military base abroad. Out of all the CSTO and Central Asian states’ militaries, Tajikistan’s military is the most integrated into the Russian armed forces. It is completely equipped with Russian weapons-systems and is organized along the same command structures. Fifteen hundred Tajik junior specialists train in Russian military schools, and a new set of Tajik officers are set to study at Russian military academies. Russia shows no sign of abandoning its privileged position in Tajikistan or the region. On May 21, the FSB Director Aleksandr Bortnikov paid a state visit to Dushanbe. Following Mr. Bortnikov’s visit, Russian Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu visited Dushanbe on May 28, where he held a closed-doors meeting with Tajik President Emomali Rahmon. Minister Shoigu then spoke with Tajik Defense Minister Sherali Mirzo. The ministers confirmed that Tajik military forces will take part in the Tsentr military exercises in Russia. Future of Sino-Tajik-Russo Security Relations Tajikistan sits along a porous border with Afghanistan and finds it difficult to maintain control over the highly mountainous GBAO. Major clashes broke out in 2012 between Tajik government forces and GBAO leaders. China is worried about the instability present in this region contiguous to its own restive Xinjiang province. The presence of the PLA in Tajikistan shows the growing security cooperation between Russia and China. Beijing’s inclusion in Russia’s massive Tsentr military exercises (taking place in the Arctic and in the Caspian region) shows that China’s activities in Tajikistan have not disturbed the Sino-Russo partnership. China’s growing military presence in Tajikistan itself should not cause concern—Russia has secured military dominance there. But the world should care what China’s expanded military presence means for the rest of the world—for Europe in the Red Sea, for India in Sri Lanka, or the U.S. in the South China Sea.

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