China's Xi pledges support for Tajikistan 'territorial integrity'

Tajik President Emomali Rakhmon hosted Chinese President Xi Jinping to a welcome ceremony prior to their talks in Dushanbe (Handout)
Tajik President Emomali Rakhmon hosted Chinese President Xi Jinping to a welcome ceremony prior to their talks in Dushanbe (Handout)

Chinese President Xi Jinping promised on Friday to defend the "territorial integrity" of Tajikistan as he announced a boost to diplomatic relations with the neighbouring country on a rare visit.

Xi arrived in the Tajik capital Dushanbe, Thursday night from Kazakhstan following a gathering of leaders of the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation (SCO), during which he held talks with Russian President Vladimir Putin and urged the bloc to "resist external interference".

Central Asia is a vital link in China's flagship Belt and Road Initiative (BRI), a massive infrastructure project that Beijing has used to expand its clout overseas, but which critics say has left developing countries saddled with onerous loans.

Beijing has sought to fill a void in the region created by Moscow's 2022 invasion of Ukraine, as former Soviet states worry about an increasingly bellicose Russia.

"China will continue to unswervingly promote friendly and mutually beneficial cooperation with Tajikistan... firmly support Tajikistan's efforts to safeguard national independence, sovereignty and territorial integrity," Xi told his Tajik counterpart Emomali Rahmon, according to state broadcaster CCTV.

Xi also pledged to "firmly oppose any external interference in Tajikistan's internal affairs under any pretext", without mentioning any foreign player by name.

Beijing has recently stepped up its diplomatic efforts in Central Asia, a region rich in hydrocarbons and crucial for the transport of goods between Europe and Asia, but also traditionally a region of Russian influence.

Xi, who was welcomed by Rahmon at Dushanbe's airport where more than 1,500 young Tajiks dressed in traditional costumes performed Chinese and Tajik songs and dances, praised his counterpart.

"Thanks to the joint efforts of the two sides, the political mutual trust between the two countries has been continuously deepened," said Xi, praising Rahmon.

"No matter how the international situation changes, China will always be Tajikistan's trustworthy friend, reliable partner and close brother," said Xi.

The two leaders announced the upgrading of diplomatic relations, as Xi awarded Rahmon a order of friendship offered to personalities who have promoted relations with China.

Xi has previously visited Tajikistan in 2014 and 2019.

The SCO was founded in 2001 but has come to prominence in recent years. Alongside China, Russia and Belarus, its full members are: India, Iran, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Uzbekistan, Pakistan and Tajikistan.

On Thursday in the Kazakh capital Astana, Xi told SCO leaders: "We should join hands to resist external interference, firmly support each other, take care of each other's concerns... and firmly control the future and destiny of our countries and regional peace and development in our own hands."