China Promises Tajikistan "Hundreds Of Millions Of Dollars" In Military Aid
China's defense minister, on a visit to Tajikistan, has promised the Central Asian country "hundreds of millions of dollars" in military aid which -- if true -- would be a dramatic policy change for Beijing, which has focused more on economic ties in Central Asia.
The defense minister made the comments at a joint appearance with Tajikistan President Emomali Rahmon in Dushanbe, reported ITAR-TASS:
“China is satisfied with the level of bilateral cooperation in all spheres, including military and military-technical and guarantees assistance to Tajikistan in the strengthening of its defense capacity,” Chinese Defense Minister Chang Wanquan said. He said China would supply military uniforms and help in the training of military personnel, adding that this would involve “hundreds of millions of dollars”.
No details were given, but in the days before Wang's visit it also emerged that China had financed a $12 million "Officer's House" for the Tajikistan armed forces. (Wang, incidentally, is in Tajikistan for a defense ministerial meeting of the Shanghai Cooperation Organization.)
According to a 2013 report by the International Crisis Group, between 1993 and 2008 China gave Tajikistan a total of $15 million in military aid. In his recent report on external security assistance to Central Asia, military analyst Dmitry Gorenburg said that China generally deferred to Russia in the security sphere in Central Asia:
Even as it becomes the main external economic actor in the region, China has sought to assuage Russian sensitivities about potentially losing its pre-eminent role in Central Asian security by allowing Russia to take the lead on security and military engagement with Central Asian states. Local rulers are worried about China’s rapid entry into the region and do not trust China’s long term intentions. This has contributed to Chinese calculations largely to stay out of the Central Asian security sphere for the moment. Furthermore, Russia’s willingness to bear the burden of maintaining regional security has allowed China to free ride on Russian investments in Central Asian security.
So is that changing? One possible explanation for the "hundreds of millions of dollars" figure is that Wang was talking about training exercises under SCO auspices, which have been going on for some time and which, presumably, China finances and which aren't cheap. But that's the only explanation for this not being a major policy shift (and even in that case, it would be remarkable that he made a point to talk about how much Beijing was spending).
Anyway, we could be in for a wild ride.
Joshua Kucera, a senior correspondent, is Eurasianet's former Turkey/Caucasus editor and has written for the site since 2007.