Economic and diplomatic ties between Tajikistan and China are flourishing. But as Dushanbe invites more Chinese workers in, and unemployment forces more Tajiks out, suspicion is turning into resentment. Many Tajiks worry that the relentless Chinese economic push into Central Asia is endangering Tajikistan’s sovereignty.
China’s rise to prominence as Tajikistan’s second largest foreign investor has been sudden; trade increased eightfold from 2007-10, according to official Tajik statistics. Last year trade turnover stood at $685 million, accounting for 17.8 percent of Tajikistan’s foreign imports and exports. The investment can be seen in new roads and tunnels and low-quality commercial goods bearing colorful Chinese characters.
The Labor Migration Service, a state agency, says there are currently 82,000 Chinese workers in Tajikistan, up from 3,000 in 2006. Their presence is a sore point for many Tajiks who cannot find work in their own country.
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