Stability is crucial for growth and development, so China has understandably been irked by anti-government riots in its northwestern neighbour, Kazakhstan, with which it shares a 1,780km (1,106 mile) border. Besides being an important supplier of natural resources, the nation is a crucial link in the Belt and Road Initiative and Chinese companies have invested billions of dollars in projects; in the midst of the Covid-19 pandemic and continuing tensions with the United States and its allies, the crisis is lamentable. After days of deadly unrest blamed by Kazakh President Kassym-Jomart Tokayev on alleged terrorists trained overseas, Russian troops were called on to restore order. Beijing has taken a pragmatic approach, offering help to prevent terrorism, separatism and religious extremism. Dozens of people have been killed by security forces and thousands arrested. Authorities claim Muslim extremists are involved and mention has been made of a “colour revolution”, suggesting that the United States has been working behind the scenes. That is unproven and there is no avoiding the reality that the unrest was sparked by a sharp increase in fuel prices and escalated to other issues, including low wages, poor working conditions and growing resentment of the ruling elite. Kazakhstan is Central Asia’s most stable country and the unrest is the worst since it gained independence from the Soviet Union in 1991. China has capitalised on its strategic location to make it a key access point to the land portion of the belt and road scheme; it was where President Xi Jinping launched the project during a visit in 2013. Chinese investments include a railway, gas pipeline and solar panel factories. Tokayev’s decision to call on the Russian-backed Collective Security Treaty Organisation to deploy troops has not bothered Beijing as it has good relations with Moscow and the nations have complementary, not competitive, roles in the region. Kazakhstan’s unrest is a distraction China does not need Russia’s 2,500 troops are being deployed to “stabilise and normalise the situation for a limited period”. But military force alone cannot resolve Kazakhstan’s labour and social challenges. While Beijing and Moscow can help, Tokayev’s government has much work to do to ensure sustained peace and stability.