As China expands trade ties in Central Asia, it also needs to boost security for diplomatic missions

Terror attack on the Chinese embassy in Kyrgyzstan’s capital Bishkek highlights some of the perils of involvement in a volatile region

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 01 September, 2016, 1:27am
UPDATED : Thursday, 01 September, 2016, 1:27am

Not before has there been a terror attack against a Chinese overseas diplomatic mission. The suicide bombing of the Chinese embassy in Kyrgyzstan’s capital is therefore a security wake-up call. Spreading national interests have to be protected and as the vision of a new Silk Road takes shape, that has to be especially so across a region crucial to the success of the project. Extremism and violence can never be tolerated and Kyrgyz authorities have to thoroughly investigate and ensure that the perpetrators are brought to justice.

Kyrgyzstan vows to hunt down and punish organisers of suicide bomb attack on Chinese embassy

There is every need for the stepping up of intelligence sharing and improvement of cross-border counter-terrorism capabilities. Three Kyrgyz workers at the embassy were injured after a bomb in a vehicle that ploughed through the compound gates on Tuesday exploded; the attacker died. Chinese officials have been previously targeted in the city, with two shot dead in 2000 and a consul and his driver killed in 2002. Authorities blamed those incidents on Uygur separatists from Xinjiang (新疆), but there has been no claim of responsibility for the latest occurrence.

The bombing came ahead of China’s hosting on Sunday of the annual gathering of leaders of the Group of 20 powers. But it also pre-empted yesterday’s 25th anniversary of Kyrgyzstan’s declaration of independence from the Soviet Union. In coming weeks, the nation will also host a major sporting event and the summit of the Commonwealth of Independent States. While Uygurs are suspected of being behind the attack, those responsible could also have been Kyrgyzs resentful of Chinese traders or extremists in the Muslim-majority nation radicalised by the spreading influence of the Islamic State terrorist group.

Uygur factor keeps Kyrgyzstan on Beijing’s radar

China’s security interests in the region have been dwarfed by its economic involvement, which are rapidly expanding with the increasing number of “belt and road” infrastructure projects. Russia has been surpassed as a leading trading partner with many of the region’s countries, but it has retained its historically close military ties. The Shanghai Cooperation Organisation has enabled Beijing to conduct joint military exercises with some of its fellow Central Asian members, although Moscow is more often looked to by the region’s governments for stability.

But the “One Belt, One Road” initiative dramatically increases China’s involvement in a region that in some parts lacks stability. Beijing has been gradually boosting measures with governments to protect its interests. The embassy attack highlights the need for substantially greater security efforts.