Tajikistan: standing at the forefront of collaborative BRI devt
Published: Jan 11, 2024 06:34 PM
The Vahdat-Yavan railway, the first railway project launched and completed under the framework of the

The Vahdat-Yavan railway, the first railway project launched and completed under the framework of the "Silk Road Economic Belt" initiative, is inaugurated on August 24, 2016. Photo: cnsphoto

Editor's Note:

The past year 2023 was a busy one for China in terms of its interactions with the rest of the world. Its foreign relations always have a profound impact on its economy, strategy and people's livelihoods. The Global Times, in collaboration with China's universities and think tanks, is now releasing a series of country reports. The aim of these reports is to enhance understanding of relevant countries, provide a framework for dealing with China's relations with these countries, and grasp the trajectory of these relations.

In the fourth report of the series, we focus on Tajikistan, a country located in Central Asia.

Over the past decade, China and Tajikistan have collaborated to build the China-proposed Belt and Road Initiative (BRI), achieving significant progress in infrastructure, agriculture, culture and trade through extensive cooperation. The two countries should further promote the bilateral high-quality construction of the BRI by taking the following actions: first, fully implementing the consensus reached at the China-Central Asia Summit; second, prioritizing the United Nations 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, promoting relevant projects in Tajikistan with infrastructure projects as the core, attaching importance to small-scale projects, such as dispatching Chinese medical teams to Tajikistan at the grass-roots level and promoting agricultural technology in villages; third, publicizing the mutually beneficial cooperation between China and Tajikistan.

Fruitful results of BRI cooperation

Tajikistan has been one of the countries that have responded most positively to the BRI since it was put forward. In September 2014, China and Tajikistan signed a Memorandum of Understanding on building the Silk Road Economic Belt during Chinese President Xi Jinping's state visit to Tajikistan. In 2016, Tajikistan enacted the National Development Strategy of the Republic of Tajikistan for the period up to 2030, which is in deep connection with the BRI. In 2017, President of Tajikistan Emomali Rahmon was in China for a state visit, during which he attended the Dialogue between Emerging Market Economies and Developing Countries, and the two countries signed a joint announcement on establishing a comprehensive strategic partnership. In May 2023, Rahmon came to China for the China-Central Asia Summit.

Thanks to the leadership of the heads of state of China and Tajikistan, bilateral cooperation in the economic and trade fields has developed rapidly. The BRI has brought new vitality to Tajikistan, and the two countries have achieved fruitful results in investment, trade and production capacity cooperation. 

In terms of investment, China is Tajikistan's largest source of foreign investment. The Export-Import Bank of China and other institutions have provided financing for many important infrastructure projects in Tajikistan, including thermal power plants, power grids and transportation. This support has effectively helped Tajikistan in initiating key infrastructure projects and injected a strong impetus into the economic and social development.

In 2017, in the field of aiding construction, China pledged a 1.5 billion yuan grant (over US$230 million) to build new parliamentary buildings for the Tajik government in Dushanbe.

Under the impetus of the BRI, a number of landmark large-scale projects have been successfully implemented in Tajikistan. In transportation construction, the Vahdat-Yavan railway tunnel has become the hub of international railroad transportation connecting China, Tajikistan, Afghanistan and Iran, and the successful completion of the Dushanbe-Chanak Highway has improved Tajikistan's transport system. 

In power construction, the operation of Dushanbe No.2 thermal power plant in Dushanbe marked the city's power shortage in winter becoming a thing of the past. The South-North power transmission line (500 kV) constructed by TBEA connected Tajikistan's two major power grids in the north and south of the country, thus alleviating the dependence of the northern regions of Tajikistan on the power supply of Uzbekistan and Kyrgyzstan.

In production capacity cooperation, Tajikistan has turned from a cement importer to an exporter with the support of China. The Tajik-Chinese joint venture, Zeravshan Gold Company (ZGC), has become one of the largest gold mining enterprises in Tajikistan.

China and Tajikistan have also been cooperating in the cultural field. In 2015, the China University of Petroleum (CUP) built the first Confucius Institute with the Metallurgy and Mines Institute of Tajikistan in 2015.

In 2022, China opened its first Central Asian Luban workshop in Tajikistan at the Tajik Technical University. The Luban Workshop in Tajikistan is an important initiative to implement the important consensus of the two countries and the results of the China-Central Asia Foreign Ministers' Meeting, and it is a typical case of serving the BRI and sharing China's vocational education experience with the world.

Driven by the BRI, a number of Chinese provinces and municipalities have carried out practical cooperation with local governments in Tajikistan: China's Henan Province and Tajikistan have jointly built a new high ground for regional economic cooperation; China's Shaanxi Province and Khatlon region of Tajikistan established twinning relations and built up a cooperation mechanism; the Tajik city of Khujand (the capital of the Sughd Province) and the Chinese city of Taiyuan (the capital and largest city of Shanxi Province in China) signed an agreement on the establishment of sister-city relationships.

Fostering connectivity under BRI

Tajik government officials publicly express their support for various Chinese initiatives, including the BRI, a global community of shared future, the Global Development Initiative and the Global Security Initiative. For Tajikistan, active support for the BRI allows the country to benefit from Chinese investments in critical infrastructure projects. Additionally, in areas such as energy, industry and agriculture, Tajikistan receives substantial financial support and assistance from China.

Tajikistan's society suggests that Tajikistan should actively integrate into the BRI for development. It is recommended that Tajikistan actively align its national development strategy with the BRI.

Tajikistan considers the BRI more suitable than other major countries' plans, such as the US' New Silk Road Initiative, which is deemed "overly politicized." Tajikistan believes that the BRI can significantly contribute to completing essential infrastructure projects in the country.

Due to Western sanctions on Russia, which have resulted in a significant decrease in remittances from Tajik migrant workers, Tajikistan's economy is currently facing challenges. In light of this economic crisis, Chinese investment is being considered as a crucial option to alleviate the situation. Jointly building the BRI with China is deemed highly significant for Tajikistan. It is expected to reduce logistics costs and time in Central Asia, promote the circulation of goods and funds, raise living standards for Tajikistan's people and advance modernization.

The 2023 China-Central Asia Summit marked a historic milestone in China-Central Asia relations. China and Tajikistan should fully implement the consensus reached at this summit. They should engage in a series of in-depth collaborations in key areas such as social governance, security, economic cooperation and cultural exchanges, strengthen legislative cooperation between the two countries and explore bilateral repatriation legal mechanisms in line with international standards. They also should foster practical cooperation at the local level. 

Enhancing economic cooperation is mutually beneficial for both China and Tajikistan. Strengthening economic ties and attracting Chinese investment are logical choices for Tajikistan, as various sectors of Tajik society are expected to benefit from local economic development. For this to happen, the following needs to be done. First, advancing regional connectivity, strengthening logistics infrastructure development in Tajikistan and enhancing customs clearance efficiency for goods. Second, leveraging technological advantages such as satellite remote sensing to improve efficiency in Tajikistan's resource development and ensure mining safety. Third, facilitating the entry of Chinese new energy companies into the Tajik market to assist the development of green energy. Fourth, enhancing cooperation with Tajikistan in high-tech fields such as new agriculture, digital economy, and 5G communication to support its transformative development. Fifth, promoting Tajikistan's participation in the supply chain of China's advantageous industries, such as new energy vehicles and photovoltaic power generation. Sixth, assisting Tajikistan in poverty alleviation primarily through investment, supplemented by aid, in accordance with the UN's 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development. Seventh, expanding channels for the import of Tajikistan's agricultural products.

China should try to win hearts and minds of Tajik people. First, the two countries can conduct basic public education in Tajikistan's cities and towns, focusing on green agriculture, environmental protection, and healthcare and assisting the Tajik government in addressing livelihood issues. Second, relevant Chinese institutions can engage in various levels of seminars and discussions with Tajikistan's think tanks and universities about China's achievements in human rights, poverty alleviation, sustainable development and anti-corruption efforts. Third, they can establish a China-Tajikistan civil diplomacy platform with a primary focus on sports and arts diplomacy, intensifying efforts in civil diplomacy. Fourth, they can research how Western media report China's presence in Central Asia and deal with their slander accordingly.

Outlook for 2024

In 2024, guided by the political mutual trust and the outcomes of the China-Central Asia Summit, China and Tajikistan will demonstrate robust cooperation momentum. Both sides will continue mutually beneficial and pragmatic cooperation in traditional areas including infrastructure, trade and cultural exchanges as well as promote bilateral common development. Breakthrough achievements are expected in emerging fields like 5G communication, digital economy and new energy vehicles. In 2024, mutual cooperation and win-win collaboration remain the overarching direction for China-Tajikistan relations. However, it is essential to remain vigilant, considering global uncertainties arising from profound changes unseen in a century, the ongoing Russia-Ukraine conflict, escalating great-power competition, the Afghan issue, as well as rising regional instability.