Western media outlets recently announced that China has built military facilities on the Tajik side of the Tajik-Chinese border. This move is significant, as it is the first confirmation (following earlier unconfirmed reports) of a Chinese military/semi-military presence in the Central Asia region.
The area where the Chinese facilities are located is strategically important for two reasons: it overlooks one of the crucial entry points from China into Central Asia, and it is close to the vital corridor through which the country connects to the Afghan heartland. That corridor is essential to China’s Belt and Road Initiative (BRI).
Put into a wider context, the opening of this new base might worry Moscow, as Central Asia is perceived by the Russians as within their sphere of influence. For Moscow, modern-day Central Asia is especially important as it is the only region where the Kremlin can still project its influence through military and economic means. Chinese military/security measures are a challenge to Russian pillars of power in this region.
It is fashionable among world analysts to argue that Russia and China would rather cooperate in Central Asia than fight each other. However, the critical point is that while cooperation might be in force for years and possibly for decades, the Russians will always be worried (if they are not already) that as China grows economically, it will embark on simultaneous military expansion beyond its borders.
Many believe the Chinese do not think about military expansion across Eurasia. They are correct in noting that (predictably) no Chinese officials have articulated any military agenda for the continent.
The point they miss is that China, as a rising power, relies on global trade routes for internal stability and enhancement of its world role. It will eventually have to be more active beyond its borders whether it wants to or not. The new base in Tajikistan is a good indicator of this evolving Chinese approach to world security.