China's investment in Tajikistan is "for a common future", according to signs plastered on buildings and projects throughout the country paid for with grants and loans provided by Beijing.
But with billions of dollars in debt owed to Beijing in one way or another, observers wonder if there are strings attached.
Tajikistan owes $1.98 billion in debt to the state-run Export-Import Bank of China (Eximbank) -- about 60% of the debt the country owed to foreign creditors at the start of 2022.
Of the $131.9 million in debts repaid by Tajikistan in 2021, $65.2 million went to China -- with almost $22 million in interest accrued, Eurasianet reported July 21.
Meanwhile, the new premises of the Tajik parliament are being built with a $250 million grant from China.
Another $120 million in handouts from Beijing is building a new city hall.
"This all feels very disturbing," said Tajik political scientist Parviz Mullojanov.
"This is a very dangerous trend, especially as there are also large debts," he told Eurasianet.
"Amassing Chinese debt is playing with fire. At any moment now, this could serve as a pretext for political and geopolitical expansion."
"China has a standard policy for all countries: They need to employ their own workforce, so they send their own people and industrial resources to do all the projects," said Mullojanov.
"China needs a market for its industry."
Secrecy and preferential treatment
Chinese loans are usually extended for the purposes of building or overhauling transport infrastructure or energy projects, many of which fall under Beijing's Belt and Road Initiative (BRI), also known as One Belt, One Road (OBOR).
But the loans are so shrouded in secrecy that it is often very difficult to work out the terms of repayment. Work in many cases goes to Chinese state-run companies as well, with few jobs earmarked for locals.
The construction of the Vakhdat-Yovon Railway, which links central and southern Tajikistan, is one example in which details have long been foggy.
In 2014, Eximbank agreed to extend credit to complete the railway.
However, first deputy Finance Minister Jamoliddin Nuraliyev only in early 2015 told reporters that a loan of at least $68 million from Eximbank was used toward the completion of the railway.
The state-owned China Railway Construction Corp. was also reportedly handed the tender for the contract without an open bidding process.
When President Emomali Rahmon inaugurated the Dushanbe-to-Kulyab portion of the railway in August 2016, Tajik state media reported that the project cost $125 million.
Local media did not report where the money came from or who completed the construction.
Similarly, Eximbank primarily underwrote with an almost $290 million loan the massive effort to overhaul the high-altitude Dushanbe-Chanak road from the Tajik capital to Sughd province.
The project started in 2006 and ended in 2013, and the colossal engineering company China Road and Bridge Corp. got the contract -- effectively rerouting the money back to China, leaving the debt burden in Tajikistan.
Tajikistan is hardly the only example where Chinese companies -- and Chinese workers -- build major infrastructure projects paid for by Chinese loans.
Several countries have experienced a form of "buyer's remorse" due to their embrace of the BRI and the assumption of accompanying debt burdens, the Arab Centre Washington DC said in a January 2021 report.
"Many believe Beijing is setting this 'debt trap' on purpose to take control of strategic assets," it said.
"Beijing's speed and determination [in pursuing the BRI] has been most evident in the Middle East," the report said, noting that China "has pumped at least $123 billion into the Middle East in BRI-related project financing".
Pakistan's experience with the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC), a Pakistani component of the BRI, has been one example of buyer's remorse.
Beijing in recent years has inked deals with Islamabad for several multibillion-dollar infrastructure projects that have raised concerns among local residents about Chinese influence and resentment over the companies' labour practices, particularly paying Chinese nationals more than Pakistani workers.
Anger over growing Chinese influence in Balochistan province, Pakistan, has spurred Baloch and Sindhi militant organisations to ally with each other, fuelling concern that the combined group will step up violent activities in the region.
Sri Lanka also has made headlines in recent months for its massive burden of debt owed to China and the subsequent collapse of the political and economic systems in that country.
Its debt to China is only about 10% of its total foreign debt -- compared to Tajikistan's 60%.
"It is harder and harder to do business with China," Mark Lemley, director of Stanford University's Programme in Law, Science and Technology, told CNN in 2020.
"There is also a growing sense that doing business with China involves troubling moral compromises."
In fact, Chinese military bases under construction in ports around the world show how Beijing is leveraging its economic "investment" in countries to achieve greater military reach.
China has been building commercial port facilities in key areas that could be used by its rapidly expanding navy.
These are all part of Beijing's "string of pearls" strategy to link mainland China to the Horn of Africa via a network of military and commercial facilities.
"While China's Middle East engagement strategy may be touted as benign, in fact it has gone hand in hand with the expansion of China's military and diplomatic profile in the Middle East," noted the Arab Centre Washington DC report.
In mid-January, Tehran announced it was beginning the implementation of a 25-year Comprehensive Strategic Co-operation Agreement with China, signed last year.
Under the terms of the agreement, Iran would be involved in the BRI through the launch of investment projects worth $400 billion.
Though the deal is ostensibly commercial in nature, Chinese investment in the Iranian ports of Jask and Chabahar would allow its rapidly growing navy to expand its reach.
In another example, China entered into a secret agreement with Cambodia to allow its navy to use a base in that country, the Wall Street Journal (WSJ) reported in 2019, citing US and allied officials.
Both Chinese and Cambodian officials denied the reports, calling them "fake news" and "rumours".
But now China is secretly building a naval facility in Cambodia for the exclusive use of its military, the Washington Post reported June 6, citing Western officials.
Late last year, the United Arab Emirates (UAE) was caught off guard after US intelligence agencies revealed that China was covertly constructing what appeared to be a military facility at the Khalifa port.
The Emirati government was unaware that ships disguised as commercial vessels entering the port were actually ships the Chinese military uses for signal intelligence collection, the WSJ reported in November. Construction halted after the revelation.
In response to another WSJ report last December about China's plans for a military base in Equatorial Guinea, the Chinese-state run tabloid Global Times reaffirmed the increasing need for People's Liberation Army (PLA) "footholds in some distant waters" as China's overseas interests expand.
In a 2019 report, the US-China Economic and Security Review Commission noted that Beijing's promotion of the BRI is aimed at "increasing military co-operation and exporting its censorship and surveillance technologies".
"China's BRI has emerged as the clearest organising concept behind the People's Liberation Army's expanding overseas presence," it added.
I know that even small countries in the developed world have special budgets for poor countries. This budget is used to carry out special projects in developing countries. These are projects that benefit the poor. In Salam Times magazine's reports about China, the dirty faces of China and the Chinese people are revealed very clearly. China, like a thief, wants to steal the wealth of the world's poor countries in the name of building infrastructures. It is not only the duty of poor countries to avoid agreements with China, but the developed countries of the world should join hands and allocate special funds to poor or developing countries and make them understand as China does not make contracts with them. For example, if the developed countries, including America, Canada, Germany, France, Britain, and Italy, allocate several billion dollars a year for such projects, China will stop the expansion. Death to China and the thief leaders of China.Reply
Now every country wants benefits for itself.Reply
China has indicated that it doesn’t deserve the position of a powerful country on the world stage. China hasn’t reached the political integrity and maturity to properly utilize its economic and military power. Just look up, China has conflicts with all its neighbors, including Russia. China has a dispute with Vietnam, the Philippines, Malaysia, Laos, etc. over the South China Sea, and it also has problems with Japan over the partition of islands. It has disputes with Taiwan and always threatens it. It has tension with India over the issue of Tibet, and it also has a border dispute with Russia and Central Asian countries. A few years ago, China forced Tajikistan to concede some parts of its territory to China. Inside the country, China oppresses Muslims and forces them to abandon Islam and become heretics like other Chinese. China has shown that it is a tyrannical, cunning, cruel, predatory, and reckless country. China doesn’t respect any international laws and principles. Whether by force or trickery, China is seeking to rob the world’s poor countries. The Chinese mafia-controlled economy is firmed on the bloodshed of the Chinese and also the poor people of other countries. China supports corrupt governments and dictators all over the world. It assists these governments with money and weapons to suppress their people. The world must set aside its discrepancies and annihilate this universal cancer in the germ. Otherwise, one day the world would be dominated by bloodthirsty ChinReply
China isn’t a very friendly country, this time they want to deceive Afghanistan. China has lost its ties with many countries. Sri Lanka and Pakistan are solid examples to justify this statement. This time, China has a plan to place Afghanistan in its circle. Afghanistan should cut off this friendship and if they cooperate with China, Afghanistan would be affected.Reply
Well, it is clear that getting a loan and being close to a country that doesn’t adhere to any human and moral values brings horrible results. China is like a snake that would one day bite its owner, the world’s countries should keep themselves as far away from this thieving and deceitful country as possible. China wants to loot Afghanistan through Pakistan too. Recently, Pakistan and China’s foreign ministers met in Tashkent where both of them discussed the expansion of the China-Pakistan Trade Corridor (CPEC) to Afghanistan. China's friendship has put Pakistan on the brink of collapse and has made this country face economic bankruptcy like Sri Lanka. Now, Pakistan wants to give Afghanistan's mines to China through the Taliban so that China would give it some shares in return. If the current government of Afghanistan is not a mercenary and puppet of Pakistan, it should avoid close relations with China and prevent the success of the unfavorable plan of China and Pakistan in Afghanistan.Reply
Part 2: China claims that the Belt and Road Initiative aims to advance and improve the infrastructure of European, African, and Asian countries and in return, it increases its opportunities for global trade more than ever. For this purpose, China has given a huge amount of loans to developing countries that are on the route of the One Belt, One Road initiative and has heavily indebted them. There are many examples of countries being indebted to China, some of which I would write about: China had given a huge amount of loans to Sri Lanka to help the country to build the infrastructure of the Hambantota port, as Sri Lanka failed to pay off its debts to China. China received a 99-year privilege of utilizing the port, these loans also lead to the economic bankruptcy and instability in the country. In Malaysia, China had given a large number of loans so that the country could build the railways it needed, but this reached the point where Malaysia couldn’t pay back China’s money and the loans defaulted. Therefore, Malaysia was forced to sit at the negotiation table with China, in which it didn’t have the power of bargaining and hence was forced to hand over the privilege of using the railways to China. There have been reports that in Africa, Kenya is probably going to hand over its ports to China, because that country faced heavy problems in repaying its debts to China. In an article entitled "How China is Expanding Its Influence on the World Through Debt Trap Diplomacy?" the IndianReply
China is trapping poor countries with its Trap Debt Policy. I would like to explain this policy of China: Debt Trap Diplomacy describes a situation in which a rich and powerful country takes the position of a lender and looks for other countries to lend so many loans so the borrowing countries fail to pay off their debts and, as a result, the lending country can put pressure on the obligor country to comply with the policies of the lending country and, in the serious situation, submit to the disposal of that country. China is one of those countries that lend money to poor countries, the conditions for repaying these loans are very tough, and after the inability of the borrowing countries to repay the loans, China forces them to hand over their national assets and strategic privileges to Beijing. The term was first used in 2017 and was swiftly used in the Western media, intelligence entities, and governments. In late 2013, China launched the One Belt One Road project. For executing this project, this country lent a total of $120 billion to countries that wanted to develop their infrastructure from 2014 to 2017. Based on some parts of China's contracts with these countries, these infrastructures are built by Chinese companies themselves. Most of these countries didn’t have any specific economic ties with China back then, but these loans provided many business opportunities for Chinese companies. Usually, the terms of these debts are vague and unclear, and the mechanisms for repaReply
China is like a wild snake that swallows everything. Any country that has made friends with China has lost. Sri Lanka and Pakistan are good examples to confirm this. It is known that China intends to make relations with Afghanistan this time, but I don't think that China has anything else for the Afghans except misery and entrapment in debt.Reply