A Chinese military base in Tajikistan?

Access Archive

Dear Access member,

Just one big new story today: a highly credible report of a Chinese military base in a remote part of Tajikistan.

Also, there are two SupChina events next week: An Access Q&A on Slack that you can join from anywhere in the world, featuring incoming Beijing correspondent for the Financial Times, Christian Shepherd, on February 27 at 10 a.m. EST; and if you are in New York, a SupChina Women’s Network Monthly Series featuring Jolyne Caruso on February 28, for which you can find details here.

As always, email me anytime (jeremy@supchina.com) if you have something to say about our work or just about China.

—Jeremy Goldkorn, Editor-in-Chief

1. A Chinese military base in Tajikistan?

In 2017, we noted reports of Chinese troops patrolling in Afghanistan and Tajikistan. In 2018, China denied reports that it was building military bases in Pakistan and Afghanistan, but the South China Morning Post later reported details of a Chinese training camp in Afghanistan’s Wakhan Corridor. All reports were denied by the Chinese foreign ministry as well as the Afghan Embassy and a Pakistani admiral.

Now Gerry Shih of the Washington Post reports on an apparently permanent Chinese military facility in Tajikistan:  

Two miles above sea level in the inhospitable highlands of Central Asia, there’s a new power watching over an old passage into Afghanistan: China. For at least three years, Chinese troops have quietly monitored this choke point in Tajikistan just beyond China’s western frontier, according to interviews, analysis of satellite images and photographs, and firsthand observations by a Washington Post journalist…

…During a recent trip along the Tajikistan-Afghanistan border, The Post saw one of the military compounds and encountered a group of uniformed Chinese troops shopping in a Tajik town, the nearest market to their base. They bore the collar insignia of a unit from Xinjiang, the Chinese territory where authorities have detained an estimated 1 million Uyghurs, a mostly Muslim ethnic minority…

…“We’ve been here three, four years,” a soldier who gave his surname as Ma said in a brief conversation while his Chinese comrades, guided by a Tajik interpreter, bought snacks and topped up their mobile SIM cards in Murghab, a sprawl of low-rises about 85 miles north of the base.

2. Pacific Reset, day 229: Beijing-backed hacking on the rise — report

Here are the major stories today from the various fronts of what we’re calling the Pacific Reset (we are keeping track of the days since the beginning of the trade war, but the tensions between China and the U.S. and other Western countries — particularly the four of the Five Eyes countries bordering the Pacific — goes far beyond trade):

Hacking and cyberwarfare

  • “Chinese hackers increase attacks on telecoms companies” is the title of a Financial Times story (paywall) that quotes an established security researcher who told the paper that “Chinese cyber espionage was now back to the same levels seen prior to a US-China agreement to limit economic spying signed by the two countries in 2015.”

  • Based on a separate source, “a summary of an intelligence briefing,” the New York Times reports (porous paywall) that “Boeing, General Electric Aviation and T-Mobile were among the recent targets of Chinese industrial-espionage efforts.”

  • Not safe in space? Bloomberg reports (porous paywall) that “China is developing sophisticated space capabilities such as ‘satellite inspection and repair’ and debris cleanup — ‘at least some of which could also function’ as weapons against U.S. satellites, according to the Defense Intelligence Agency.”

Trade talks resume

“US-China trade talks aimed at ending a damaging tariff war will resume from Tuesday, February 19, in Washington, the White House said,” according to Agence France-Presse. “The last set of talks ended Friday in Beijing with no deal, though US President Donald Trump said discussions were going ‘extremely well’ and suggested he could extend a March 1 truce deadline for an agreement to be reached.”

Tariffs: The knockon effects

“Shandong companies Yuhuang Chemical and Wanhua Chemical are spending billions on factories” in St. James Parish, Louisiana, a town with a population of just 21,367, reports the South China Morning Post. Both companies “are being hit by both tariffs from China and the United States.”

Huawei is not down yet

“The head of NATO says there’s growing concern about China’s increasing investment in critical infrastructure systems in countries around the world and that alliance nations need to address it together,” reports the Associated Press.

Meanwhile, Huawei founder Rèn Zhèngfēi 任正非 is doing a publicity tour. He spoke to the BBC in his first international broadcast interview since his daughter was arrested in Canada. He said:

There’s no way the US can crush us… The world cannot leave us because we are more advanced. Even if they persuade more countries not to use us temporarily, we can always scale things down a bit.

Also: In rebuke to U.S., Germany considers letting Huawei in / WSJ (paywall)

Germany still in talks on Huawei 5G network role, minister says / Reuters

U.K. and Germany not aligned with U.S. on Huawei ban / SupChina

Dealing with Beijing in Canada, New Zealand, and the U.K.

The four smaller of the Five Eyes are all feeling the wrath of Beijing in various ways. Here is a summary of today’s news:


Our whole team really appreciates your support as Access members. Please chat with us on our Slack channel or contact me anytime at jeremy@supchina.com.

—Jeremy Goldkorn, Editor-in-Chief



  • Can service robots help China get rich as it gets old?
    China’s service robot market size jumps 44% to $1.8 billion / TechNode

    • “China’s service robots market hit $1.84 billion… This marks a nearly 44% year-on-year increase, which is higher than the global average rate of change.” The article says the medical, education, food service, and catering industries are adopting robots.

    • Dexter Roberts, a longtime Beijing resident journalist, now a Mansfield fellow in Montana, tweeted: “Midea (which had then recently bought Germany’s Kuka) told me they wanted to tap into the service robot biz for China’s aging population, with bots that would allow elderly to live at home longer.”

  • Fosun: Chinese investment in Europe
    China’s Fosun makes bid for German fashion chain Tom Tailor / Reuters
    Fosun International, a Chinese conglomerate that has grown huge through global acquisitions, “announced a takeover bid for troubled German clothing retailer Tom Tailor on Tuesday”:

Fosun, which owns French leisure company Club Med, has been expanding in Europe’s retail sector at a time when consumers in China are driving growth in luxury goods spending. Last year it took control of Lanvin, France’s oldest surviving couture label, and Austria-based luxury lingerie and legwear brand Wolford. It also has a stake in Italian high-end menswear label Caruso.

Taiwanese electronics contract manufacturer, Foxconn, has reportedly received orders from Huawei Technologies, according to Taiwan’s Central News Agency (in Chinese). The company expects to add 50,000 workers to production lines at its plant in Zhengzhou, in central China’s Henan province… The Zhengzhou factory, which just underwent a massive layoff, began interviewing workers immediately after the Chinese New Year holiday.


Drawing on a global database of media articles, we quantitatively assess perceptions of China’s Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) in different countries and regions. We find that the BRI is generally positively received. All regions as a whole, except South Asia, have a positive perception of the BRI, but there are marked differences at the country level, with some countries in all regions having very negative views. Interestingly, there is no significant difference in perceptions of the BRI between countries that officially participate in the BRI and those that do not.

  • Not so easy relaxing the One-Child Policy
    China’s population plan hits a snag at local levels / AP via Taipei Times
    “Facing a future demographic crisis and aging society, China’s leaders are desperately seeking to persuade couples to have more children. However, bureaucrats do not seem to have gotten the message, fining a couple in a recent widely publicized case for having a third child against the strict letter of the law. The move has sparked outrage among the public, who are venting their anger at venal population control officials.”

  • Censorship in Berlin
    Dissident artist Ai Weiwei is cut from film; Producer cites ‘fear of China’ / NYT (porous paywall)
    “The Chinese dissident artist Ài Wèiwèi 艾未未 was under house arrest in Beijing when he was invited to remotely direct a segment for ‘Berlin, I Love You,’ an anthology film set in the German capital.”
    Ai Weiwei’s segment was cut from ‘Berlin, I Love You’ to appease China, artist and producers say / LA Times
    “Ai was blindsided. His segment had been the first completed. He only learned it had been deleted after the release of the film. ‘I was completely shocked when I learned the news,’ he said. ‘To cut the part they used to say they loved the most.’”

  • A smile for Tehran and then for Riyadh
    Ahead of Saudi visit, China seeks ‘deeper trust’ with Iran / Reuters
    “China wants to deepen ‘strategic trust’ with Iran, the Chinese government’s top diplomat told Iran’s foreign minister on Tuesday, days before Saudi Arabia’s crown prince visits Beijing, underscoring China’s difficult Middle East balancing act.”

  • Locking up the lawyers, and others
    Confidence in China’s judicial system damaged by secret trial of human rights lawyer Wang Quanzhang, says Hong Kong Bar Association / SCMP
    The Hong Kong Bar Association has issued a statement “saying the secret trial of prominent Chinese human rights lawyer Wáng Quánzhāng 王全璋 has damaged confidence in the country’s judicial system. Wang, who has not been seen since August 2015, was found guilty of subversion last year and sentenced to four and a half years in prison after a trial which critics said failed to meet even the most basic of legal standards and reportedly included the defendant being forced to use a court-appointed lawyer.”
    Hong Kong, China, “rendition” and human rights / Blog of Jerome A. Cohen
    “Officials in Hong Kong are now planning to allow ‘rendition’ (the Hong Kong-mainland equivalent of international ‘extradition’) of criminals to China. This would be a major change and a development that concerns Hong Kong’s special human rights protections.”

  • Ivory-trafficking queenpin goes down
    Tanzania convicts Chinese ‘Ivory Queen’ for trafficking hundreds of tusks / SCMP
    “A Tanzanian court on Tuesday convicted a Chinese woman dubbed the ‘Ivory Queen’ for her role in trafficking tusks from more than 400 elephants. Yáng Fènglán 杨凤兰, 69, was convicted in Dar es Salaam of trafficking 860 tusks between 2000 and 2014, a haul representing the slaughter of dozens of herds of elephants.”

  • Aftermath of Sweden ambassador incident
    Jojje Olsson on Twitter: “THREAD: Much have happened in the few days regarding the Swedish ambassador to China and the meeting she lured Angela Gui into. Will try to make a short recap. Saturday, the @SweMFA changed its earlier version that no one on the department had any knowledge of the meeting.”

  • Aftermath of McMaster University protest
    Uyghur activist who sparked Chinese-student protest at McMaster worried about message targeting her son / National Post



Creative movie tribute in the snow

Chinese sci-fi fans have been very excited lately because of the Chinese New Year blockbuster film Wandering Earth. With a box office of $4 billion, it now ranks as the second-highest-grossing Chinese film ever. To show admiration of the film, this fan from Beijing made a drawing in the snow.


Forget Seamless: The best Chinese food in NYC is on Yunbanbao

Yunbanbao is a bulk-ordering service popular with Chinese expats in New York, with more than 100 partner restaurants, all of them Chinese and many of them located in Flushing in Queens or Manhattan’s Chinatown. Users place their orders at least a day in advance via the Yunbanbao mini-program within WeChat, and then are given a reference number. The next day, restaurant minivans arrive in specified pickup spots, and users get their meals — without a delivery fee — using their reference numbers.

Chinese Corner: Three billboards across China — to fight gay conversion therapy

In order to raise public awareness about the unchecked proliferation of gay conversion therapy, in January, three Chinese men, artist Wu Laobai, curator Zheng Hongbin, and policeman Lin He, together launched a crowdfunded campaign in which three trucks have hit the road, each bearing a message. Also in this week’s column: Millennial hermits, an entertainer who chooses to “sacrifice” herself for others, the myth of young adults in small Chinese towns, and more.


Sinica Early Access: Zha Jianying on democracy activism in China

This week, Sinica is live from Fordham Law School in New York City! This episode features Zhā Jiànyīng 查建英, journalist and author of China Pop: How Soap Operas, Tabloids, and Bestsellers Are Transforming a Culture and Tide Players: The Movers and Shakers of a Rising China, who joined Jeremy and Kaiser at a Sinica Live Podcast event on January 14. The three discuss the experiences of Zha’s half-brother, Zhā Jiànguó 查建国, a democracy activist in China who was charged with subversion of state power and subsequently jailed for nine years. In addition, they pore over the political realities of contemporary China, the likelihood of reform, and the pressures that “moderate liberals” encounter in the face of rising suppression of political freedoms in the country.

  • Sinica Early Access is an ad-free, full-length preview of this week’s Sinica Podcast, exclusively for SupChina Access members. Listen by plugging this RSS feed directly into your podcast app.

TechBuzz China: Battle of the Red Packets

Ying-Ying Lu and Rui Ma dive into this year’s Battle of the Red Packets. The name refers to the custom of money-giving, which is an important part of the Chinese New Year experience. It has also been taken over by Chinese internet companies like WeChat and Alibaba as one of their main user acquisition events of the year.


Homemade rice cake for the New Year

A traditional appetizer as part of the New Year’s meal in northern China, the rice cake (年糕 niángāo) is made of glutinous flour and red dates. Photo by SupChina’s Jia Guo — see more from her on Twitter and Instagram.