Anti-Chinese Protests Sweep Kyrgyzstan

China’s Belt and Road Initiative spans several regions, including Central Asia. (Wikipedia)

China’s Belt and Road Initiative spans several regions, including Central Asia. (Wikipedia)

Throughout the month of January, protests have erupted in Kyrgyzstan’s capital, Bishkek, as hundreds of activists gathered to combat what they call a growing number of Chinese migrants in the country.

In Bishkek’s Central Square on January 7, participating protesters urged the government to “deport illegal Chinese migrants back to their country and stop granting citizenship to those who marry Kyrgyz nationals.” Protesters also urged Bishkek to denounce China’s “re-education” or “ethnic-cleansing” of ethnic Kyrgyz, Kazakhs, and Uyghurs in camps in the the Chinese province of Xinjiang. Chinese authorities deny that the facilities are internment camps.

On January 17 and 18, protests that were held in Bishkek’s Ala-Too Square raised similar concerns. Twenty-one prominent members of the protest were each fined 30,000 som ($45) by the Kyrgyz Interior Ministry for disrupting public order. The decree exemplifies the dissonance between the Kyrgyz government and the Kyrgyz people’s attitudes toward increasing Chinese pressure on the nation.

Kyrgyzstan’s former-president, Roza Otunbayeva, said that the government believes that the “rise of China is generally a positive fact for Kyrgyzstan.” In need of economic stabilization and opportunity, the Kyrgyz government believes that Chinese efforts to integrate the nation into the pan-Asian economic and security apparatus, through institutions like the Belt-Road Initiative and the Shanghai Cooperation Organization, will help develop the Kyrgyz economy.

Many Kyrgyzstanis have expressed a dissimilar opinion. In their eyes, the rising influence of their Chinese neighbor presents a threat to the sovereignty of the Kyrgyz state and the strength of the Kyrgyz people. In a December protest, demonstrators held signs reading “No to Chinese fascism!” and “People of the World against evil!”

Social media accounts have also expressed discontentment with China’s actions, linking frustrations over Chinese economic development with concerns over the treatment of Muslims in China. The Facebook account “Kytai baskynchylygyna karshybyz” (“We’re Against Chinese Aggression”), which has more than 4,500 followers, has prolifically posted on the issue.

Though active anti-Chinese opinions serve only to exacerbate disputes between the general population and the government, the protests reveal a country at a crossroads. The stream of protests continues to unfold with increasing aggression and complaint, transitioning from concerns over the human rights violations of Muslim peoples in China to expressed fear over Kyrgyz sovereignty. More demonstrations are expected in the near future, but it remains to be seen how the government will react to them and how they might affect relations with China.