China to build Tajikistan base near Afghan border: official

China to build Tajikistan police base near Afghan border amid Taliban concerns: official
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A parliamentary spokesman said Tajikistan's lower house had approved the plan to build the base in the mountainous Gorno-Badakhshan province.
Tajikistan borders Afghanistan, now ruled by the Taliban [Vladimir Gerdo/TASS/Getty]

China will build a base for police in Tajikistan near the Afghan border, a Tajik official said on Thursday, amid concerns from both countries about the Taliban's ability to keep a lid on extremist groups.

The base points to deepening security cooperation between impoverished Tajikistan and China, which is reported to maintain another base in the southeast of the ex-Soviet country.

A parliamentary spokesman told AFP that Tajikistan's lower house had approved the plan to build the base in the Ishkashim district of the mountainous Gorno-Badakhshan province.

"All construction is funded by the Chinese side. After construction, the base will be transferred to the Tajik [police]," the spokesman, who did not provide his name, told AFP by telephone.

He said China was providing $8.5 million in assistance for the base.

Asked about reports of the base, China's foreign ministry told AFP that "we can assure that China does not have any military bases in Central Asia."

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China has looked to build friendly relations with the Taliban following their takeover of Afghanistan, but has called on the group to crack down on Muslim-minority Uyghur separatists looking to infiltrate its border region of Xinjiang, where Beijing has been slammed for perpetrating abuses.

In April, Human Rights Watch, working with Stanford Law School’s Human Rights & Conflict Resolution Clinic, highlighted far-reaching violations of the rights of Muslims in the Uyghur home province, including torture, sexual violence and arbitrary imprisonment.

The organisations said Turkic minorities have been given years-long sentences for downloading books in the Uyghur language or sending religious messages to relatives.

Some government bodies around the world, including the Canadian parliament and US State Department, have declared China’s actions in the Uyghurs' home province to be a genocide.

While other Central Asian nations have established working ties with the new Taliban regime in Afghanistan, Tajikistan has railed against the hardliners and eschewed direct talks.

The republic's authoritarian leader Emomali Rakhmon expressed alarm about what he called "terrorist groups" positioned at points along its more than 1,300-kilometre (810-mile) border with the country.

The groups Rakhmon referred to are believed to count former and current Tajik nationals among their members.

Tajikistan, a country of 9.5 million, has received financial assistance from both China and the United States to build and reinforce its border posts and hosts a major Russian military base.

China is also reported to maintain a joint military facility with Tajikistan in Gorno-Badakhshan, which borders Xinjiang.

Beijing has said nothing about the reported outpost, which the International Crisis Group said in 2018 pointed to China's "growing security presence" in former Soviet Central Asia.