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Kyrgyzstan: China Inc. Under Attack

Categories: Central Asia & Caucasus, Kyrgyzstan, Citizen Media, Economics & Business, Environment

Physically bordered, but culturally distant, China’s growing economic presence in Kyrgyzstan continues to be a topic for heated discussion in Kyrgyz society. In the country’s regions, this discourse is reflected in acrimonious standoffs between Chinese companies and locals, confrontations the mainstream media often fails to report on.

Recently, a series of photo and news reports from the ground by youth media organization Kloop.kg have shed light on some of these conflicts, as well as an apparent spike in antipathy towards Chinese investments in the Central Asian republic.

Fear and concern

Complaints about Chinese companies are not unique to Kyrgyzstan. In fact, the fears raised in the small, landlocked state broadly echo those raised elsewhere in the world, particularly in Africa [see [1] Global Voices background], where Chinese investment is growing exponentially.

Typically they are characterized by concerns about state sovereignty, transparency, environmental transgressions, migration worries and the oft-repeated gripe that Chinese companies do not provide jobs for local people. While Kyrgyzstani netizens regularly highlight these themes, they also point to apparent attempts to expropriate firms from the Middle Kingdom.

Image scanned from the Kyrgyz-languague newspaper Маидан (Maidan) by Gezitter.org.

Image scanned from the Kyrgyz-languague newspaper Маидан (Maidan) by Gezitter.org.

In the print media, the topic of the China-Kyrgyzstan investment relationship is usually covered in editorials and opinion pieces that focus on perceived threats to national independence while appealing to patriotic sentiment. In one piece, translated [2] from Kyrgyz to Russian by the site Gezitter.org [3], the author discusses a proposal to build a railroad linking China to Uzbekistan through Kyrgyzstan, and asks [2] [ru] whether or not the payment for the Kyrgyz part of track will be the “fatherland” itself. Saying that such a project would allow China to “swallow” Kyrgyzstan, the author recalls battles waged by Manas [4], mythical hero of the Kyrgyz people, against the “countless” armies of the Chinese.

Such diatribes act to drive “Sinophobia” and colour discussion of the issues between Chinese companies and the local communities where they work, something that citizen journalists and grassroots media organizations like Kloop.kg can help make ammends for.

Via “hyper-local” and objective reportage from the ground, Kloop's journalists, all of whom are under 25 years of age, can present both sides of the story in order to help netizens reach an informed opinion about Chinese investment in Kyrgyzstan.

Below are a selection of photos from Kloop.kg's galleries, the subject of which is an oil refinery being built by a Chinese company, Jundi, in the provincial town of Kara-Balta, western Kyrgyzstan. Originally citizens protested [5] the construction of the refinery at a location close to dwellings on the outskirts of town. Responding to the protests, the company offered compensation to relocate homeowners on the town's outskirts, but residents were unhappy with the compensation paid.

All photos are taken by ELF, the pseudonym for a Kloop.kg photographer, and used here with permission.




Responding to one of a trio of Kloop.kg reports [9] about the Kara-Balta refinery one Kloop commenter, Olga exclaimed [9] [ru]:

Не просто разрастаются,а травят людей. Все это не правомерно.Не соблюдены никакие санитарные нормы!!!!!!!!

[The Chinese company] aren't just expanding, they are poisoning people. None of this is legal. No kind of sanitary norms are being observed.

Another batch of Kloop articles relayed the fate of a Chinese gold mining company operating in southern Kyrgyzstan. Initially the company had had its license revoked for exporting ore illegally, before it was allowed to work again. Most recently, local villagers threatened [10] to burn the company's gold plant down, apparently for the sake of local ecology. Later, however, the villagers backed down [11] [ru] in return for 1% of the operation's profits.

This change of position provoked ironic posts from Kloop readers. Isken joked [11] [ru]:

Это, может пойдем напугаем Билайн поджогом? А за 1% тоже смилостивимся?

Perhaps we should threaten to burn down Beeline [12] [telecoms giant]? Will we get 1% of the profits?

And Akylbek Abdykadyrov bemoaned [11] [ru] the mercenary attitude of the villagers, likening it to past attempts by the Kyrgyz government to ‘shake down’ foreign investors:

Какая власть такой и народ или какой народ такая и власть. Без разницы! Зла нехватает.

As the government is so are the people or as the people are so is the government. No difference. I can't control my rage.

But Aidai Algozhoyeva thought [11] [ru] the villagers were correct to raise a fuss:

Jiteli 4on Alaya pravy.etot zavod nikakakogo doxoda ne prinosit,i na nem rabotaut kitaicy bez dokumentov.zoloto uvoz9t,a otxody ostautsa v Daraute.

The Residents of Chon Alai are in their rights. The [gold-mining] plant doesn't bring in any money, only Chinese without documents work there. They take the gold away and leave the waste in [village in Chon-Alai region].

Also this month, Kyrgyzstan's GKNB (formerly KGB) launched [13] an investigation into five Chinese companies working in a tax-free Special Economic Zone (SEZ) in Kyrgyzstan, apparently for failing to pay taxes. While the rights and wrongs of that investment scandal, along with others [14] is still unclear, one thing seems conclusive – China inc is having a difficult moment in Kyrgyzstan.

As Kloop.kg Editor Eldiyar Arkybaev observed [15] [ru]:

Почему китайский бизнес в последнее время мешает людям? Наезжают на них сильно как-то.

Why are Chinese businesses bothering people so much lately? They are really under attack in a big way.