- China already operates a military outpost in Tajikistan near the Afghan border and the Wakhan Corridor, the narrow strip of Afghan land that borders China. RFE/RL has also recently reported on “Chinese personnel taking on a growing role in the area.”
- The existing outpost in manned not by the People’s Liberation Army (PLA) but by the People’s Armed Police (PAP) , and is likely used for intelligence gathering purposes, not any kind of military operations or maneuvers, said Harvard scholar of Central Asia at Harvard Nargis Kassenova in a telephone interview with SupChina.
- China has only one officially recognized military base abroad, in Djibouti.
Why is China expanding its security footprint in Tajikistan?
Beijing is likely worried about two things:
Belt and Road security: There are at least three groups operating in Pakistan and Afghanistan that have communicated explicitly anti-Chinese positions, and followed through with violence:
- Balochistan Liberation Army (BLA), which in 2018 attacked the Chinese consulate in Karachi, Pakistan, with three suicide bombers.
- Tehreek e-Taliban Pakistan, an offshoot of the Taliban, claimed responsibility for an April 2021 car bomb explosion next to a hotel in Balochistan’s capital city where the Chinese ambassador to Pakistan was due to stay, just minutes before he arrived.
- Islamic State Khorasan (ISK), an offshoot of the Islamic State (Daesh / ISIL) operating in Afghanistan, has targeted China with its propaganda in recent months, if not yet its bombs.
For more on recent anti-Chinese terrorist activity in Pakistan and Afghanistan, see analyst Lucas Webber’s newsletter.
Isolating the Uyghurs from foreign influences: Both Tehreek e-Taliban Pakistan and Islamic State Khorasan have expressed solidarity with Uyghurs, and Beijing has explicitly asked the Taliban to ensure that it won’t allow Uyghur militants to operate out of Afghanistan.
Hedging bets: Beijing is also schmoozing the Taliban
China is not just beefing up its military readiness in the borderlands of Xinjiang: Beijing has gone out of its way to court the Taliban and make sure that Kabul and Beijing see eye to eye on regional security issues:
- In July this year, Chinese Foreign Minister Wáng Yì 王毅 welcomed a high-level delegation from the Taliban to Tianjin seeking reassurances of stability, as the U.S was preparing to withdraw from Afghanistan.
- In September, China promised to keep its embassy in Kabul open and “beef up” relations, according to the Taliban.
Note: This article was updated to correct the misstatement that China was building a new military base.