China's Plans to Build Military Outposts on Tajikistan-Afghanistan Border
China is stepping up its involvement in Central Asian security. On Sept. 26, Beijing announced plans to build several military outposts on the Tajikistan-Afghanistan border on Dushanbe's behalf, adding to the outpost China already built in the area earlier this year. The statement is an important indication of China's growing interest in Central Asia, where its security imperatives frequently clash with those of Russia.
China has long been wary of militancy and insecurity in the region. However, it has become even more concerned with Central Asia's destabilization as it has expanded its energy and infrastructure projects throughout Eurasia. In an effort to protect its proliferating assets, China has increased its cooperation with its neighbors on matters of security. Joint military exercises between Chinese and Kyrgyz border security forces have become common, and in early August, Beijing founded the new Quadrilateral Cooperation and Coordination Mechanism with Afghanistan, Pakistan and Tajikistan. The group will coordinate the four countries' efforts to study and assess the region's terrorist threats, encouraging intelligence sharing, joint training and the improvement of counterterrorism capabilities. China, which is eager to quash the Uighur militant groups within its borders, hopes the heightened cooperation will help it address threats to its national security as well.
China's defense relationships with Central Asian states have ramped up in other ways, too. In February, Beijing announced that it was in talks to open a counterterrorism center in Dushanbe and provide the Tajik government with the funds to enact effective counterterrorism measures. China has also sold air defense systems to Turkmenistan and upped its military aid to every Central Asian country.
In the wake of an Aug. 30 suicide attack on the Chinese embassy in the Kyrgyz capital of Bishkek, China may be trying to increase its own security by financing and training Central Asian law enforcement, border security and military services. However, in recent years Russia has tried to take the lead in bolstering Tajikistan's border security. Moscow has even offered to send its own troops to patrol the border, a proposal Dushanbe has rejected in an effort to keep Russian influence at bay. If Dushanbe is now turning to Beijing for help, it could instigate a competition between China and Russia — a rivalry long in the making, as China's desire for influence in Central Asia has increasingly alarmed Russia.