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Kyrgyz police officers arrest a protester at an anti-Chinese rally in Ala-Too Square in Bishkek on Thursday. Photo: AFP

Anti-Chinese protesters arrested as police break up rally in Kyrgyzstan, where fear and anger at Beijing’s influence grow

  • The protesters demanded curbs on work permits for Chinese, a reduction in Kyrgyz debt to Beijing and a ban on Kyrgyz-Chinese marriages
  • Anger is fuelled by reports of mass detentions of ethnic Kyrgyz in neighbouring Xinjiang, and a mass electricity blackout linked to a Chinese firm

Kyrgyz police detained more than a dozen people on Thursday as they dispersed a hundreds-strong anti-Chinese rally in the capital, Bishkek, the biggest public protest to date in Central Asia against Beijing’s growing influence in the region.

Angry protesters who gathered on the central square demanded curbs on work permits for Chinese citizens as well as a reduction of Kyrgyzstan’s debt to China and called for other measures to reduce the Chinese presence, including a ban on Kyrgyz-Chinese marriages.

A Kyrgyz security official scuffles with protesters in an anti-Chinese rally on Ala-Too Square in the centre of Bishkek, Kyrgyzstan, on Thursday. Photo: EPA

After the rally ran beyond its allotted time, dozens of protesters started moving towards a building which houses the president and parliament, at which point police started detaining some people and squeezing others out of the square.

Police declined to say how many people they had detained. A reporter at the scene saw them lead away more than a dozen.

The weakest links: Bishkek attack exposes security risks for Chinese projects in Central Asia

Anti-Chinese sentiment has grown in the former Soviet republic of six million people since an incident at Bishkek’s main power plant a year ago caused a five-day blackout following its upgrade carried out by a Chinese firm. The firm has not been officially charged with any wrongdoing.

Hostility towards Beijing has also been fuelled by reports of mass detentions of ethnic Kyrgyz – alongside fellow Turkic Muslims including Uygurs and Kazakhs – in China’s western province of Xinjiang.

Kyrgyz police officers arrest protesters at an anti-Chinese rally in Ala-Too Square in Bishkek on Thursday. Photo: AFP

Beijing has defended its so-called “vocational education training centres”, which it says are part of a de-radicalisation programme in Xinjiang.

In 2016, three Chinese embassy staff were injured when a suicide bomber rammed the gates of the building in his car which then exploded. Bishkek blamed the attack on Uygur militants.

Bishkek bomb cloud casts a shadow over China’s interests abroad

China is one of the biggest investors in Central Asia and a key trading partner for the region, which Beijing has made a key part of its Belt and Road development project.

In a statement, Kyrgyz First Deputy Prime Minister Kubatbek Boronov said that protesters had been misled by fearmongering and that the annual net influx of Chinese to Kyrgyzstan had been fewer than 1,000 people in the last two years.

This article appeared in the South China Morning Post print edition as: Anti-Chinese protesters detained in Kyrgyzstan