Tajikistan: China Scores Another Little Piece of Central Asia
The land in question may only be a thousand square kilometers of arid, high mountains, but its acquisition by China from Tajikistan has been carried out with the same opaqueness as much of Beijing’s quickly growing business activity in Central Asia.Tajikistan's parliament gave the territory away, it’s true. Voting on January 12, lawmakers decided to put to bed over a century of mistrust -- and recent decades of pressure -- by ceding the territory in the high peaks of the Pamirs. A similar agreement between Kyrgyzstan and China in the 1990s contributed to then-Kyrgyz President Askar Akayev’s steadily declining popularity in the years before he was overthrown in street protests. Tajik Foreign Minister Khamrokon Zarifi claimed the deal is a “victory,” adding that China had originally laid claim to 28,000 square kilometers. Yet it’s unclear how many people live in the ceded area, exactly where it is, or what Dushanbe's ruling elite is getting in return. A commentary published today by RFE/RL chronicles China’s rising economic influence in the region. Unlike the West, “China never makes political demands and never criticizes the authoritarian regimes of the region. Beijing never discloses its political goals or positions. … It is all about money, not democracy or development or transparency.”So why did China get its new tract of the Pamirs? Does Beijing simply want more clearly defined borders, or is there a rich mineral deposit there? As with most of China’s deals in Central Asia, we’ll likely never see the details.
David Trilling is Eurasianet’s managing editor.