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Durham University

IBRU: Centre for Borders Research

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Tajikistan ratifies demarcation agreement with China in settlement of long-running dispute

(13 January 2011)

On 12 January 2011, Tajikistan ratified an agreement previously signed in April 2010 with China to demarcate their long-disputed boundary in the Pamir mountain range region. The lower house of the Tajikistan parliament ratified the agreement which indicates that 101 boundary pillars will be placed during the demarcation; 52 in the Chinese section and 49 in the Tajik section. Presently there is one checkpoint located at Kara Soo. This is the first of Tajikistan's boundaries to be demarcated since its independence, although it continues to work on reaching agreement with Uzbekistan and Kyrgyzstan regarding their common boundaries.

No treaty has previously existed to delimit the boundary in the Pamirs region located north of the tripoint between Afghanistan, China, and Tajikistan. Disputes over the area have continued since the second half of the 19th Century, starting between Tsarist Russia and China, then between the Soviet Union and China, and finally between independent Tajikistan and China. The Soviet Union observed a de facto/customary line to the east of the disputed territory that it claimed had been defined in an 1894 Sino-Russian exchange of notes (Kashgar Boundary Protocol). Chinese governments have never recognised the validity of the 1894 exchange of notes and have made various boundary claims in the Pamirs involving up to 41,000 sq km of disputed territory. When the former Soviet Union signed a boundary treaty with Afghanistan in 1981, in which the Pamir region was recognized as being part of the Soviet Union, China responded by claiming that the agreement was illegal. Most conventional mapping up to the present has shown the boundary section running from the tripoint between Afghanistan, China and Tajikistan, northwards to the Kizil Jik Dawan as the de facto line claimed by the Soviet Union, but often labelled as ‘in dispute.’

Tajikistan inherited the boundary dispute from the Soviet Union at its independence in 1991 and agreed with China to delimit their boundary in 1996. Negotiations began the following year. In 2002 initial agreements were signed which allocated much of the disputed territory by defining a new boundary. Based on the de facto/customary line observed by the Soviet Union, the new boundary sees China relinquish claims to 28,000 sq km of the disputed land in the Pamirs, accounting for approximately 20 percent of Tajikistan’s overall territory. The new boundary also sees Tajikistan relinquish claims to approximately 1,000 sq km of claimed territory.

The Tajik government has claimed that the recent agreement is a victory for diplomacy, stating that the land ceded to China represents only three percent of the possible disputed territory in the Pamirs. However, Tajik opposition parties have been critical and claim that there was a lack of transparency regarding the signing of the 2002 agreement. The Islamic Revival Party has stated the ceding of land represents a defeat for the country.

Source: ‘China’s land mass increases by 1,000 sq km, thanks to Tajik’, The Press Trust of India Limited, 12 January 2011; ‘Tajik parliament passes protocol on border demarcation with China’, ITAR-TASS World Service, 12 January 2011; ‘Parliament ratifies protocol on demarcation of Tajikistan’s common border with China’, The Times of Central Asia, 12 January 2011; ‘International Boundary Study No. 64 (revised): China-U.S.S.R Boundary’, U.S. Department of State, Bureau of Intelligence and Research, 13 February 1978.

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