Fresh Wind Down the Silk Road (II)

BERLIN/DUSHANBE (Own report) - German government advisors are considering a strategically oriented cooperation with China in Central Asia. Rather than rely solely on its own independent operations to win influence, "dialogue" with Beijing should be "intensified," to learn "to what extent goals could be pursued in cooperation," according to a recent study by the German Institute for International and Security Affairs (SWP). The EU could thus "emphasize its foreign policy objectives in the region." This must be seen in light of the fact that Germany and the EU have failed to significantly expand their influence in the five former Soviet Republics spanning from Turkmenistan to Tajikistan. This failure is particularly evident in Tajikistan. Whereas Russia and China are economically predominating over the country and - parallel to the United States - are currently intensifying their military activities, in spite of all its efforts, Berlin is only playing an independent role in the field of humanitarian and development aid.

Unfavorable Conditions

The conditions in Tajikistan for Germany's gaining more influence are unfavorable. "There is little trade between the two countries," the German foreign ministry matter-of-factly notes.[1] Already quite a while ago from 2002 to 2004, the German company Lahmeyer International (Bad Vilbel) participated in a World Bank project to privatize Tajik land.[2]The Somoni (currency) is being printed in Germany at Munich's Giesecke und Devrient enterprise.[3] Last April, representatives of Germany's foreign ministry met with their Tajik counterparts to discuss future training of Tajik diplomats - from the German perspective a possibility to gain some influence in the country's policy via the ministerial bureaucracy.[4]

Development Aid

Berlin exercises a bit more influence in other fields. In 2015, Germany was Tajikistan's most important humanitarian aid sponsor country - even more important than the People's Republic of China and Russia.[5] Since 2003, the German government has been regularly paying development aid to Dushanbe and is also on hand with the German Association for International Cooperation (GIZ) as well as a branch office of the German Development Bank (KFW).[6] The German development ministry is supporting the country's use of renewable energy to the benefit of German companies. In the fall of 2013, Stephan Kohler, Managing Director of the semi-official German Energy Agency, met with Tajik President Emomali Rachmon to discuss the possible cooperation in the field of renewable energy and energy efficiency. Rachmon subsequently invited German enterprises to participate in projects, such as the construction of hydroelectric power plants.[7] Profiting from the "Renewable Energy Export Initiative," German companies could sell solar power systems to Tajikistan.[8] The state owned German Development Bank (KFW) is promoting investments in Tajik hydroelectric power plants.

Opposition in Exile

At the same time, however, Germany is becoming a center for the Tajik opposition in exile. Until 2015, the Islamic Renaissance Party of Tajikistan (IRPT) had predominated the opposition of this impoverished country, until it was banned because of an alleged attempted coup and even classified a terrorist organization.[9] Since then several hundred Tajiks applied for asylum in Germany. According to reports, IRPT is continuing its activities from Berlin.[10] Followers of Buzurgmehr Yorov, the human rights lawyer, imprisoned in Tajikistan, are trying to exert pressure on the Dushanbe government from Germany.[11] Germany is therefore becoming the rallying point for yet another Central Asian opposition movement, after the Uyghurs, in China's western Xinjiang region, who set up a headquarters in Munich.[12]

Intensified Efforts to Gain Influence

Whereas Berlin is focusing on humanitarian aid, development policy and renewable energy in Tajikistan, and the Tajik opposition is congregating in Germany, Russia and China are predominating over the country economically, as the rivalry between Russia, China and the United States is also growing at the military-intelligence level. Experts of the US think tank, Stratfor, are expecting the USA to enhance its activities in Central Asia to counter Russia's strong influence.[13] Last May, US authorities supplied the Tajik intelligence service with vehicles and equipment worth six million US dollars.[14] The Russian government in turn announced in January that it is seeking negotiations with Tajikistan over the management of the Ayni Airbase near the capital Dushanbe. Over the past few years, the Russian air force has already been using Ayni on an ad hoc basis.[15] Beijing is also expanding its military relations: In August 2016, the General Chiefs of Staff of the Afghan, Chinese, Pakistani and Tajik armed forces set up a "Quadrilateral Cooperation and Coordination Mechanism" to jointly combat the terrorist threat in the region.[16]

With China?

In view of Russia and China's predominating influence in the region - matched, at best, only by the United States - German government advisors are now considering the expansion of the cooperation with Beijing in Central Asia, particularly in regards to China's "New Silk Road" project.[17] The EU could "try" to intensify the dialogue with the People's Republic and the Central Asian countries, to examine to what extent goals could be pursued in cooperation," according to a recent study by the German Institute for International and Security Affairs (SWP). The EU could thus "emphasize its foreign policy goals in the region."[18] It is conceivable to build on China's interests and, for example, enter into a dialogue on Central Asian border reforms. This would be beneficial to China, because of it seeking to intensify trade on the continent via the "New Silk Road," while giving Berlin and Brussels the possibility of gaining influence through participating in the reform process. This is a far-reaching proposal: If implemented, Germany and the EU would, for the first time, enter into cooperation with Beijing, motivated by power politics - independent of the United States.

For more on this theme, see: Fresh Wind Down the Silk Road (I).

[1] Tadschikistan - Beziehungen zu Deutschland. (ohne Datum).
[2] Beraterleistungen für Katastervermessung, Grundbuchwesen, Datenbanken und Informationstechnologie, Tadschikistan. (ohne Datum).
[3] British banknote manufacturer presents its products in Tajikistan. 22.02.2017.
[4] Deutschland will tadschikische Diplomaten ausbilden. 27.04.2017.
[5] Deutschland wichtigstes Geberland für humanitäre Hilfe in Tadschikistan. 27.01.2016.
[6] Deutschland stellt Tadschikistan 54,5 Mio. Euro für Entwicklungsprojekte zur Verfügung. 23.02.2016.
[7] Tadschikistan und Deutschland vertiefen energiewirtschaftliche Zusammenarbeit. 16.09.2013.
[8] Deutsche Solartechnik für Tadschikistan. 09.09.2016.
[9] Tajikistan human rights fears as banned party's ex-leaders jailed for life. 02.06.2016.
[10] Agnieszka Pikulicka-Wilczewska: Tajikistan: Asylum Seekers Stranded in Limbo on Polish Border. 17.01.2017.
[11] Tajikistan: Authorities File Charges Against Jailed Lawyer's Relatives. 31.05.2017.
[12] See The Future of "East-Turkestan".
[13] In Central Asia, China Finds a Crowded Playing Field. 14.06.2017.
[14] Catherine Putz: US Transfers $6 Million in Vehicles and Equipment to Tajikistan. 12.05.2017.
[15] Joshua Kucera: Russia Announces Intent to Establish Air Base in Tajikistan. 02.01.2017.
[16] Joshua Kucera: Afghanistan, China, Pakistan, Tajikistan Deepen "Anti-Terror" Ties. 04.08.2016.
[17] See The New Silk Road (I) and China's Project of the Century.
[18] Sebastian Schiek: Bewegung auf der Seidenstraße. SWP-Studie S16, August 2017.