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Tajikistan, the poorest of the five ex-Soviet republics in Central Asia, is slowly turning into a Chinese colony

The regime headed by Emomalii Rahmon has recently signed over to Peking more than one thousand square kilometres of territory along its frontier: a mountainous area which China had been claiming since 1884, situated in the Pamir region, rich in gold and uranium mines and various kinds of ‘rare earth' deposits, as well as abundant water springs. It has also leased China two thousand hectares of arable land in the south-eastern province of Khatlon, where in the coming weeks rice and cotton seeds will be sown by at least 1,500 Chinese ‘colonists'.

In an agricultural nation which is almost entirely covered by mountains (less than 6 percent of the land is arable), giving good land to foreigners is seen as an affront by much of the native population. "Why do they have to give land to China? Why don't they give it to us, when we're struggling desperately to survive? This will have nasty consequences!"... complained a Tajik farmer to a reporter from Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty.

"The country will benefit from this agreement, because the Chinese will bring with them their modern cultivation and irrigation techniques," claimed Tajikistan's minister of Agriculture, Tilomurod Daniyarov, also stressing that this land is not actually being taken away from native farmers, because in recent years the areas involved have been badly affected by a haemorrhage of local people emigrating to Russia in search of prosperity.

For some years now China has been the biggest investor in Tajikistan. From 2007 until today it has used Chinese labour to construct road and energy infrastructures costing over 4 billion dollars.

Most of the Chinese workers sent to the central Asian country to carry out these projects have remained there at their contract's end.

As a result, in the last three years the community of Chinese immigrants in Tajikistan has tripled, now numbering at least 82,000 members. Until a few years ago it was unusual to glimpse a Chinese vendor in the principle bazaar in Dushanbe, the capital, but today it contains over a hundred stalls run by the Chinese.

In the words of Rustam Haidarov, a local sociologist, "all this is just the first step in a much bigger process" in which can be recognised the typical traits of China's soft colonialism strategy. "China's policy is to occupy foreign countries gradually and without drawing attention. By building up the Chinese population in Tajikistan, Peking is pursuing its long term economic interests, and damaging ours: over time its political influence will inevitably grow."

Enrico Piovesana

Keywords: Tajikistan, China
Topic: People, Economy
Area: asia & pacific