China has conducted its first-ever joint bilateral military exercises in Tajikistan, a sign of Beijing's increasing concern about instability in Afghanistan and the capacity of other regional countries to contain it.
The exercise took place in Gorno Badakhshan, the remote eastern end of Tajikistan that borders both Afghanistan and China. Tajikistan's Ministry of Defense reported that the exercise involved 10,000 troops, but that the Chinese contingent was only a "mobile company." A company usually contains 100-200 soldiers, so the Chinese presence was not overwhelming. The exercise reportedly involved armored vehicles, aircraft, and artillery, though it wasn't specified if any of those were Chinese.
Still, the exercise represented yet another step in China's growing military presence in Central Asia. This is the first time that China and Tajikistan have held drills bilaterally in Tajikistan. (Chinese troops did conduct exercises in Tajikistan in 2012, but those were under the auspices of the Shanghai Cooperation Organization and also included other troops from Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, and Russia.)
“The exercise has shown that servicemen of the two countries are ready to provide support to each other in the fight against international terrorism in case of necessity,” Tajikistan Defense Minister Sherali Mirzo said at the October 24 closing ceremony of the exercise.
Last month, Tajikistan announced that China would build 11 border guard posts along the border with Afghanistan, as well as a border guard training center.
And earlier this year, China and Tajikistan, along with Afghanistan and Pakistan, created a "Quadrilateral Cooperation and Coordination Mechanism" to jointly combat terror. This organization, details of which are still hazy, is noteworthy particularly in that it represented a Chinese security cooperation initiative in Central Asia that excludes Russia.