Pentagon annual report to Congress, which was released on September 1,warns that China may be eyeing new military bases in neighboring Tajikistan, where the People's Liberation Army (PLA) already operates at least one clandestine outpost.

Military and Security Developments Involving the People’s Republic of China 2020 says Beijing is “seeking to establish a more robust overseas logistics and basing infrastructure to allow the PLA to project and sustain military power at greater distances.”

Tajikistan is listed as one of 12 countries the PLA "has likely considered."  “The PRC  has  likely  considered  Myanmar,  Thailand,  Singapore,  Indonesia,  Pakistan,  Sri  Lanka, United Arab Emirates, Kenya, Seychelles, Tanzania, Angola, and Tajikistan as locations for PLA military logistics facilities,” the report says.

According to Eurasianet, China officially operates only one base overseas, in Djibouti.

Early last year the Washington Post confirmed long-held suspicions about the Chinese military presence in the desolate quadrant where the borders of Tajikistan, China and Afghanistan intersect. PLA personnel spotted by a Post reporter in a remote market were seen to be wearing the collar insignia of a unit from Xinjiang, the Chinese territory neighboring Tajikistan.

One soldier said the troops had been in the location for “three, four years.”  Satellite images showed a complex of around two dozen two-story buildings and lookout towers built since 2016.

The report, in particular, notes that since at least 2016, People’s Armed Police (PAP) forces have likely operated in Tajikistan, patrolling the tri-border region connecting Tajikistan, Afghanistan, and China. 

“This is likely tied to the August 2016  creation  of  a  quadrilateral  counterterrorism  coordination  mechanism  between  Afghanistan, China, Pakistan, and Tajikistan to jointly strengthen border security against China’s defined “three evils,” terrorism, separatism, and religious extremism.  PAP forces operating in Tajikistan are from Xinjiang province, likely also exporting its more suppressive approach to the “three evils,” according to the report.

The report says that although the agreement may initially have authorized combined patrols, China now appears to be conducting unilateral patrols in the tri-border region. “The PLA is also expanding their cooperation with  Tajikistan,  notably  expanding  their  bilateral  counterterrorism  exercise  in  2019,  including PLAAF  fighters,  fighter-bombers,  unmanned  aerial  vehicles  (UAVs),  and  combined  close-air support with Tajik special operations forces (SOF).”

Last year, Tajikistan conducted another round of joint military exercises with China’s armed forces in the same region, lending weight to suspicions that Dushanbe is increasingly outsourcing its security needs to Beijing, according to Eurasianet.

China’s security assistance to Tajikistan has grown rapidly over the past few years, with Beijing promising to refurbish as many as several dozen guard posts along the border with Afghanistan. At the same time Dushanbe is increasingly beholden to China, which owns over $1.2 billion, or 40 percent, of Tajik government debt.