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Kyrgyzstan: China Inc. Under Attack

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 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 from Kyrgyz to Russian by the site Gezitter.org, the author discusses a proposal to build a railroad linking China to Uzbekistan through Kyrgyzstan, and asks [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, 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 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 about the Kara-Balta refinery one Kloop commenter, Olga exclaimed [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 to burn the company's gold plant down, apparently for the sake of local ecology. Later, however, the villagers backed down [ru] in return for 1% of the operation's profits.

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

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

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

And Akylbek Abdykadyrov bemoaned [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 [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 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 is still unclear, one thing seems conclusive – China inc is having a difficult moment in Kyrgyzstan.

As Kloop.kg Editor Eldiyar Arkybaev observed [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.
  • MGD Diaspora

    Don’t forget to blame the EU and the US also for their terrible work in Nigeria Ogoni and Ecuador and Amazon.

  • http://aloistmartinsequinox.blogspot.com/ Alois Saint-Martin

    Too Err is Human, and People will be People. Anyone who finds the Despotism, Corruption, and Disgrace, of Public Office in Mongolia, an excuse for the Large Scale exploitation and Capitalist Globalization, of traditional Mongolian Culture, is simply deceiving themselves. Communism Liberated Mongolia from Imperialism. Will she now, turn her back on Centuries of History and Tradition, in the name of Cheap Thrills Opportunism.
    The West will malign Socialism as Backwards and Despotic; The Same argument used by the Imperialist to plunder the other great Empires of Asia.
    At this moment, Two Thirds of all the World lie on the brink of Economic Failure.
    What holds them aloft, is not the Divine Manifest of Economic Progress, but rather, the slowly unraveling Parallel, of the Bourgeoisie Fiasco in Ulan Bator: Coercion, Conspiracy, Economic Blackmail, Terrorism, and Murder. T
    he West will stop at Nothing ( Not even the Gobi Desert ) to save Itself from Drowning.
    Out of Chaos: Anarchy, Despotism, Capitalism, and Bi-Partisan Democracy.
    Progress, Science ? Bah ! Communism ! Is the only Political Theorem ( Monarchy*, Oligarchy, Capitalism, etc. ) based on Intellectual Precedence, and Scientific Methodology. A Decent unto Globalizationist Neo-Imperialism, will not Launch Mongolia into the New Millennium,
    It will only Undermine It. If allowed to run her course, Mongolia will become nothing more than a Western Trafficked, Drug Abusing, Slum Dweller… From Alois Saint-Martins/A Brighter Hellas/ http://abrighterhellas.blogspot.com/2012/06/greek-election-results-new-democracy.html / …
    ” For the World is not only changing Economically and Politically: It is changing Socially, and Culturally Anthropologically, as well .
    Globalization is not in the Philanthropic prodigy Hilary Clinton and Price Charles
    would have one Believe; Rather, is an abounding and acquisitive World,
    rife of the anglophilic Imperialist ruins, t
    hat had have obstructed social progress for Generations.
    Zuccotti Park, The Arab Spring, China, Eurasia, Latin America,
    the events in France, Egypt, and Greece are but the beginnings of Birth Pains.
    A Hundred Years from now will the World look back on Current Events in Greece,
    France , Italy, etc. etc.
    much in the same way Today`s China looks back at The Boxer Rebellion,
    or the Wuchang Uprising… Capitalism is a Dream, t
    he World is having trouble Remembering in the Morning. .
    There is no more New Frontier. Globalization will take longer (Perhaps much longer) t
    han the European Union has in her swift depreciating stores.
    (And what ever happened to Krispy Kreme Donuts, and Ivanka Trump ?)
    Soon there will be more Robespierre`s and Danton`s
    than Starship phasers and San Diego Padres can kill ! ”

    Monarchy* Perhaps a Tribal Patriarchal extended “Monarchy”, may one day hold the answers to our Questions of Religion, Society, and Government,
    much as it might have in Ancient Mongolian History ? :

  • Pingback: Oxus International – Myths about Kyrgyzstan’s Mining Industry

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