Uygur factor keeps Kyrgyzstan on Beijing’s radar

Proximity to restive Xinjiang region makes Central Asian nation strategically important

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 30 August, 2016, 11:42pm
UPDATED : Tuesday, 30 August, 2016, 11:42pm

Kyrgyzstan may be a landlocked country with a relatively small population, but it is of strategic importance to China, which has stepped up investment in the Central Asian nation.

A suicide car bombing at the Chinese embassy in the capital, Bishkek, which killed one and injured at least three, has raised concerns about whether China should step up security engagement with the country.

Why is China concerned with the development of Kyrgyzstan?

Not only Kyrgyzstan, but other nations in Central Asia are important to China because they border the restive region of Xinjiang (新疆), which has seen periodic ethnic clashes involving China’s Uygur minority. The last thing Beijing wants is Central Asia becoming a base for extremists, who could then sneak into Xinjiang to plot attacks.

How are economic relations between China and Kyrgyzstan?

China is the country’s second-largest trading partner, after Russia. Trade volume between China and Kyrgyzstan exceeded US$1.1 billion last year, according to the Kyrgyz economic ministry.

What are the major Chinese investments in Kyrgyzstan?

China invested almost US$3 billion in several significant projects in 2013,, including the Kyrgyz stretch of the Turkmenistan-China gas pipeline, a thermal power project and a new North-South highway in the country. Last year, it invested US$70 million in the construction of a cement plant.

Kyrgyzstan is also one of the major partners in China’s One Belt, One Road initiative.

Is there cooperation between the two countries against terrorism?

China’s Xinjiang region and Kyrgyzstan share a border, and ethnic Uygurs, Kyrgyz and other minorities live on both sides.

During a visit in 2013, President Xi Jinping (習近平) said that China and Kyrgyzstan would work together to combat “three evil forces” – a reference to terrorism, extremism and separatism in Xinjiang.

In 2014, China hosted the largest ever counterterrorism military drills with the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation in Inner Mongolia (內蒙古), which included troops from Kyrgyzstan.

Were there any attacks in Kyrgyzstan targeting Chinese before?

In 2014, a group of 11 ethnic Uygur men from Xinjiang believed to have links with separatist groups were shot dead after they had illegally crossed into neighbouring Kyrgyzstan.

China tests new hardware in Xinjiang counterterror exercise

In 2002, a Chinese diplomat was killed in Kyrgyzstan by people allegedly connected to separatists in Xinjiang.

How big is the population of Uygurs in Kyrgyzstan?

Uygurs account for about 1 per cent of the total population of 5.9 million in Kyrgyzstan.

According to official Kyrgyz statistics, an estimated 50,000 Uygurs live in Kyrgyzstan, although some Uygur groups put the number as high as 250,000, according to Radio Free Asia.