A recent claim over the Pamir mountain region of Tajikistan
by Chinese state media on the lines of Beijing’s fecund expansionist and aggressive strategy in the South China Sea based on erroneous interpretation of maps is nothing but brazen re-assertion of imperialistic tendencies of the Chinese Communist Party (CCP).
Sued for claiming its territorial rights over the South China Sea on the basis of a U-shaped nine-dash line
carved on map by a Chinese geographer Yang Huairen before World War II, Beijing bullied all countries lying in the geostrategic
-rich South China Sea periphery. Beijing also rejected the 2016 order of the international tribunal that rubbished China’s claim and continued with its aggressive policy in the region, despite contestations from the affected countries, namely Brunei, Malaysia, the Philippines, Taiwan and Vietnam. The strong reaction from the US, which termed China’s claims as “completely unlawful
” also failed to deter Beijing from further pushing the envelope.
While the undercurrents of China’s aggression in the South China Sea are still gathering storm, Beijing has made a similar “historical” claim on the Pamir region of its north western neighbour Tajikistan. China has laid claim to the former Soviet Central Asian Republic’s Pamir
region, known for its rich deposits
of gold, silver, copper, tungsten, mica, gem stones and hydrocarbon resources, even uranium
The strong reaction from the US, which termed China’s claims as “completely unlawful” also failed to deter Beijing from further pushing the envelope.
CCP’s two famous websites have repeatedly republished an article written by Chinese journalist-historian Cho Yao Lu stating
that the “entire Pamir region in Tajikistan belonged to China and should be returned.” The article states
that after the downfall of Qing dynasty (1644-1911) some of territories were snatched during the Republican era (1911-1949). Though some of these territories were later reclaimed, the ancient Pamir region remained outside China for long 128 years
because of the pressure from world powers. The publication raised a furore in the Tajik government. In a meeting with the Chinese ambassador Liu Bing, first Deputy Foreign Minister of Tajikistan Khusrav Noziri
termed the article inadmissible and stressed that “the parties must take the necessary measures to prevent the publication of such materials in the media.”
In his article, Cho Yao further highlights that after the demise of former Soviet Union, some territories were handed back to China by the Tajik government in return of “honest
” economic assistance and support from Beijing. The author not only uses biased sources, but has allegedly distorted the facts about how much land was transferred by Tajikistan following the border negotiations of 2011. Cho Yao writes that 1,158 square kilometres of land of the Pamir region was transferred in 2011, while as per the CCPs official global mouth piece, Global Times
, Beijing had gained control of only 1,000 square kilometres, i.e. about 3.5 percent of the disputed 28,500 square kilometre land that had been under discussions.
Tajikistan faced civil war that lasted from 1992 to 1997, Kyrgyzstan witnessed a revolution in 2005 because of lack of governance structures, inflation, low GDP and increased unemployment.
The author’s assertions should be taken seriously by Central Asian countries. According to reports,
in 2018, Cho visited the Pamirs as part of Beijing’s plan to develop new routes for trade and his notes were published by president Xi’s website on the ‘One Belt, One Road’ project. The controversial article is the second such article in 2020 that lays Beijing’s claims over Central Asian territories. The first article displaying such assertive hegemonic and imperialistic quest appeared in April under the tittle, “Why is Kazakhstan eager to return to China?” was published in news website Thepaper.cn, later reposted on Sohu.com
. This article also stated that even Kazakhstan was historically an integral part of China and the Kazakhs “do not have too many complaints
.” After its publication, the Kazakh Foreign Ministry summoned the Chinese ambassador to protest against the article.
Beijing’s imperialistic advocacy of extending the direct land acquisitions in Central Asia after 1991 involves use of economic power and support to the pro-communist authoritarian regimes in the region. After the breakup of former Soviet Union, all the Central Asian Republics faced both economic and political problems. Tajikistan faced civil war that lasted from 1992 to 1997, Kyrgyzstan witnessed a revolution in 2005 because of lack of governance structures, inflation, low GDP and increased unemployment. Even the Islamic radical organisations
like Hizb-ut-Tahrir and the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan (IMU) came into existence over whole of Central Asia in the aftermath of the disintegration of the Soviet Union.
The largest disputed border agreement was signed in 2002, which was later rectified by Tajik government in 2011.
Beijing took the advantage of the fledging economies and dwindling political system for its hegemonic and imperialistic pursuits to ensure security in its volatile region of Xinjiang and gain control of markets for its finished products with an eye on the hydrocarbon resources of region. The CCP provided loans to the Central Asian countries and used the economic and political instability to rectify border treaties with Kazakhstan (1994), Kyrgyzstan (1996) and Tajikistan (2002).
The demarcation of the border between Tajikistan and China started in 1999
on two of the three border segments. Over the years, Tajikistan ceded 200 square kilometres of its territory to Beijing. However, the largest disputed border agreement was signed in 2002, which was later rectified by Tajik government in 2011. Accordingly, it ceded 1,000 square kilometres to China.
The border dispute between Central Asia and China dates back to 1884, when Tsarist Russia and Qing dynasty kept large segments of sparsely populated eastern Pamir region without clear boundary demarcation. One of the reasons for this was both the Qing dynasty as well as the Tsars being colonising forces, which faced revolts and uprising in the Central Asian region. China’s Xinjiang province, which abuts Central Asia has a contested history and even during the rule of Qing Dynasty, China was not able to control it till 1877
. Yakub Beg (1867-1877) carved out an independent empire in Xinjiang with the help of Khan of Koqand and even concluded treaties with Tsars and British India empires
. Beijing was only successful to retain its control over Xinjiang after the Tsars incorporated the Khanates of Khiva and Koqand and the Emirate of Bukhara in Russia and thus eliminated the factor of Central Asia. The Qing empire
was successful to retain Xinjiang for 1877 to 1911; however, the Chinese part of Xinjiang and Tsarist’s Central Asia continued to enjoy strong cultural and commercial relations.
The border dispute between Central Asia and China dates back to 1884, when Tsarist Russia and Qing dynasty kept large segments of sparsely populated eastern Pamir region without clear boundary demarcation.
After 1991, Beijing has invested a lot in the Central Asia especially after the announcement of the much-hyped Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) and even used its debt diplomacy in Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan. By 2016, half of the external debt
of Kyrgyzstan ($1.4 billion) and Tajikistan ($1.1 billion) comprised of loans from China’s EXIM Bank. Beijing has exploited the weak economies and their inability to repay the loans and forced both the countries to cede lucrative mines as well as agricultural land. Clearly, the recent claim over the Pamir region in Tajikistan reveals how China is deploying its South China Sea strategy to further its imperialistic agenda in Central Asia.
The Central Asian countries should revisit their policy towards China and should take note of the historical colonisation process of Xinjiang by different regimes of Xinjiang. They should come together unlike the countries in South China Sea to stop Beijing’s assertion of its hegemonic agenda. With the US, EU and Russia least interested in the landlocked region, collective response by Central Asian economies is the only way to thwart China’s imperialistic ambitions in the region.
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