In an article published in The Interpreter of the Sydney-based Lowy Institute, on September 23, Suzanne Levi-Sanchez said that a Chinese diplomat recently stated that the Pamir mountains of Tajikistan belonged to China and always have. The treatment of Uighur Muslims by the Chinese and their increasingly outspoken historical claims to the Pamirs have alarmed those in the region, as well as the governments of Tajikistan and its close ally, Russia. Eurasia specialist Paul Goble recently pointed out: This past month, official outlets of the People’s Republic of China (PRC) repeatedly republished an article by Chinese historian Cho Yao Lu, who says that the entire Pamir region belonged to China at one time and consequently, he implies, Tajikistan should now or in the future return it to Beijing. The territorial claim is based, at least in part, on a long history of Chinese presence in the region dating back to as early as the second century B.C. This previously unspoken belief of the Chinese government feeds into what many in Central Asia fear – namely that China’s strategy in the region is anything but transactional and utilitarian. Rather, they suspect that its goals are part of a larger strategy of neocolonial and imperialist ambitions based on geographic and historical claims. She said negative comments about Chinese presence and activity in the Pamirs that started in the region over a decade ago have turned into vitriolic rumours and claims of the Chinese takeover of the border area. When the Tajik government gifted a piece of land in the province of Gorno-Badakhshan in the Pamiri district of Murghab, along the Chinese border, many in the region believed their worst nightmares about Chinese intentions were coming true. Tajikistan reportedly owes China US$1.2 billion, nearly half the country’s foreign debts of $2.9 billion. In order to pay off part of this debt, the government of Tajikistan in 2011 signed an agreement to give approximately 447 square miles (1158 square kilometers) of the Tajik Pamirs to China and in late 2019 gave China the rights to a potentially lucrative silver mine in the same region. Both are located near a new Chinese military base in Tajikistan, which, coupled with China’s land and resource grabs in Tajikistan, signals a marked uptick in Chinese military and security presence in the region.

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