chapter  19
Tajikistan-China Border Normalization
ByGregory Gleason
Pages 12

Gregory Gleason When the Tajikistan legislature in January 2011 ratified an agreement with China concerning the roughly 250 mile (400 km) border separating the two states in the heart of Asia it brought an end to more than a decade of negotiation and well over a century of dispute. The normalization of the Tajik-China border in 1999 specified that Tajikistan cede to China 77 square miles (200 km2) of territory, and in 2002 a second agreement increased this to 433 square miles (1,122 km2) of the country’s most remote and underdeveloped region in the Pamir mountains. Tajikistan’s chief negotiator, Foreign Minister Hamrokhon Zarifi, heralded it as a great success, explaining that it was far less territory (only about 5 percent) than the 10,811 square miles (28,000 km2) that had previously been in dispute.1 The Tajikistan government’s political opponents saw it differently, since this equaled .78 percent of Tajikistan’s entire territory of 55,212 square miles (143,100 km2). A major Tajik opposition leader challenged that abandoning “Tajik land” violated the country’s constitution.2 The “disputed territory” dates back to Tsarist Russia’s expansion into Central Asia. In recent years, this issue became a continual irritant in Sino-Tajik diplomatic relations. Beginning in 1987, bilateral talks to solve these tensions began, with a final ratification 24 years later in January 2011. Territory is always important to a nation-state, regardless of whether it is unitary or federal, multi-ethnic or monoethnic, large or small.3 But the land in question in the Tajik-China case was not hotly contested. It concerns a remote and sparsely populated region, not a vital portion of Tajik territory. Nor is it inherently an important area for strategic or commercial purposes for China.