01/26/2021, 13.10
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Tajikistan, 'part of the Chinese empire'

by Vladimir Rozanskij

Several online media portals and books dedicated to the relations between Beijing and Dushanbe share this idea. Some claim that “all of Central Asia” belonged to China, but the historical evidence is lacking. Tajikistan has “returned” 1,158 square kilometres of territory in the Pamir area to Beijing. On the other hand, Beijing has agreed to ease Tajikistan’s debt burden in a new great Silk Road.

Moscow (AsiaNews) – Since the beginning of this year, articles on the territorial claims of the “Celestial Empire” on Tajikistan have multiplied in Chinese newspapers. Recently, state media also announced the release of a new book on the history of relations between Beijing and Dushanbe.

In early January, the Xiānhuā chàngtán lishǐ (The flower reflects history) news portal began to publish material on historical topics.

On 3 January, the article “Where does Tajikistan with its 9.28 million people originate?” According to the anonymous author “Tajikistan has always been part of China”. In the text, no historical document is cited to support this thesis, which claims that the whole of Central Asia once belonged to China.

The author states that “from the time of the Khan, China began to subdue the small neighbouring peoples, opening the Great Silk Road. In the era between the Qin and Tang dynasties, Tajikistan was part of China. Later, China occupied the lands from Hotan, east of the Persian Empire, the territory that is now called Central Asia.” To back this thesis, the only evidence cited by the author is the discovery of some kaiyuan tumbao coins in those regions.

On 15 January, the China Daily Global mentioned the imminent release of a book on the friendship between China and Tajikistan, stressing that “this friendship is more than a thousand years old”. Bilateral trade relations are said to have begun in the 9th and 10th centuries, during the Persian Samanid dynasty. In support of this thesis, historians claim to have found many documents showing cooperation between the Samanids and the Tang dynasty.

The book states that the Samanids exerted some influence on the peoples of the north-western region of China. The rest of the book is dedicated to the current collaboration between the two countries in various domains of the economy and social life.

Other Chinese information portals, centred of tourism in China, are saying that “Tajikistan has returned many disputed territories to China, resolving the conflicts in favour of Beijing”.

A “working group” with officials from the two countries has recently been set up to resolve various territorial issues. It is claimed that many of the places returned to China contain “many hitherto untapped natural riches,” never found by the Tajiks. However, it is unclear which resources are involved.

The China Free Relations agency writes that the Tajik parliament has approved a law on the restitution of land to China, which took 11 years of negotiations. The event is defined as “an economic deal” advantageous for both countries; in Tajikistan there is even talk of a “diplomatic victory” (a claim attributed to Tajik Foreign Minister Khamrokhon Zafiri), as only 3 per cent of the disputed territory was returned to China.

Last year a Chinese historian and journalist Chu Yao Lu published an article entitled “Tajikistan has begun the transfer to China the lands and mountains of the Pamir, which are returning to their true owner”. It says that 1,158 sq km were returned to China, but Tajikistan’s official media say 1,100 sq km.

The Pamir is the area the Chinese want the most. As Chu Yao Lu states, it was stolen from Beijing over a century ago “under pressure from world powers”.

The Russian agency Vzgljad notes that Tajikistan has proved to be the most malleable of the Central Asian countries vis-à-vis China. Kazakhstan returned only 407 sq km to China, while Kyrgyzstan returned 161.

According to China Free Relations, Tajiks in Taxkorgan, in Chinese territory, “respect the traditions and customs of the Pamir, and for this reason the mountain Tajiks always try to preserve a certain degree of independence.”

Recent reports suggest that Tajikistan has asked investor countries for a deferment on debt and interest payment until the middle of this year.

At the end of 2020, the Tajik Central Bank explained that the deferral of debt payments will allow Tajikistan to invest state funds to meet social needs, above all in the area of health, to fight the COVID-19 pandemic. The first country to respond to Tajikistan’s appeal was China, which granted the delay in payments.

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