The growing resentment towards China’s debt diplomacy and land encroachment in Central Asia has resulted in over 150 anti-China protests in recent years, with Kyrgyzstan being the worst affected, followed by Kazakhstan and Tajikistan. Experts suggest the number could rise due to rising unemployment and state welfare constraints during the pandemic. China’s growing investments in the energy, oil, and gas sectors have also drawn criticism. Private Security Companies (PSCs) have been deployed to safeguard Chinese investments, which has raised concerns about their influence.
Resentment against Beijing’s debt diplomacy and encroachment of land in resource rich Central Asia that borders China are on the rise. Presence of private security companies in the region to safeguard BRI have also contributed to the resentment.
In the last few years more than 150 anti-China protests have taken place in Central Asia with Kyrgyzstan topping the list, followed by Kazakhstan and Tajikistan. Experts believe that the number could be even higher as unemployment rose and state welfare was spread too thin during the pandemic.
A string of anti-China protests has been witnessed throughout Central Asia in the recent years. Long-term leasing of their lands, growing national debt to China and the persecution of Kazakh and Kyrgyz communities in Xinjiang, are adding fuel to the fire, according to experts who follow dynamics of China-Central Asia relations.
As Chinese money and people flow into the region Sinophobia is on the rise particularly in Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan. These two countries are the most debt-ridden under the Chinese loans and are at risk of losing their sovereignty. The region has seen widespread protests and cases of violence against Chinese workers.
In April 2018, residents of Toguz-Toro burned down a Chinese gold processing plant. In December 2018, a group of protesters gathered outside the Chinese embassy in Kyrgyzstan to protest against the “re-education” camps in Xinjiang. Another protest was staged in January 2019 in Bishkek against the growing number of illegal Chinese workers. In Kazakhstan, people strongly opposed the leasing of their agricultural land to Chinese farmers and succeeded. Criticism over China’s growing investments in energy, oil and gas sectors across the region has gained momentum in recent years. In 2019, 500 Kyrgyz villagers fought with Chinese mine workers.
It is worth noting that Tajikistan surrendered an area of 1,158 square kilometers to China in 2011 as a form of alternative payment to the mounting debt. Tajikistan also reportedly handed over the ownership of a gold mine to pay off a $300 million debt. Experts speculate that Turkmenistan too will hand over its gas fields to China as it defaults on the crippling debt.
The 2016 bombing of the Chinese embassy in Bishkek is a prime example of the dissatisfaction of locals against the growing Chinese presence in the country. The growing anti-China sentiment among the citizens of Central Asia has prompted the Chinese government to send Private Security Companies (PSCs) to the region. But many citizens as well as local NGOs in Central Asia have expressed their concern about the growing influence of Chinese PSCs in their countries.
To ensure the security of its people, businesses, and critical infrastructure in BRI countries, China has been relying on unarmed Private Security Companies (PSCs). The guidelines and regulations encourage the PSCs to cultivate and maintain good relations with foreign governments. They allow China to be in the good books of the host countries while conducting illegal surveillance in their territory. For example, in Tajikistan, the People’s Liberation Army has set up a military outpost in Gorno-Badakhshan autonomous region, which is right on the border with Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region in China, a few miles from Afghanistan’s Wakhan corridor.
Different restrictions and laws apply to PSCs in each of these countries. In Kazakhstan, PSCs are prohibited, whereas in Kyrgyzstan they are allowed to operate after obtaining permits. About ten PSCs actively working in the Central Asian region provide security to Chinese nationals and China-linked projects.
The Central Asian Region holds a significant position in Beijing’s BRI plan as a critical transportation hub in the middle of its land bridges to the west. Given its key strategic geopolitical location as well as its abundance of natural resources, China has key interests in the region. Being rich in natural resources such as petroleum, natural gas, minerals and gold, Central Asia countries are acting as a powerhouse for China. There are five major land routes and corridors from China to Europe and west Asia which pass through the Central Asia countries. Central Asia is also important as Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan border its rebellious Xinjiang Uyghur autonomous region. China could emerge as the regional key economic partner.
Source: The Economic Times