Saturday, March 26, 2005

More on China and Kyrgzstan

Yesterday China closed a border crossing between its western Xinjiang region and Kyrgyzstan, citing the chaos in Bishkek and the need to guarantee the safety of passengers and freight. China has concerns the strife in Kyrgyzstan may spill over the border to Xinjiang, where many Muslim Uighurs hope for greater autonomy. Beijing has waged a relentless campaign against separatists in the desert region.

From the same Times article as this striking photo:

The view through the shattered window of the presidential office was not so rosy after renewed looting (DAVID MOZINARISHVILI / REUTERS)

It seems that Russia was against the uprising, but swiftly recognised the opposition leaders when it saw (I presume) that they are not unfriendly to Moscow (and presumably not radical democrats, therefore). The US administration was not behind recent events or even much in support--they didn't rapidly recognise the new government as they did in the Ukraine, or in Venezuela during the coup they sponsored. And China clearly hates unrest on its border.

Democracy has been off the agenda for all the great powers in the Central Asian region, I think, and this has caught them by surprise.

The options for the Kyrgyz people are quite different from those that present themselves to Ukraininans. The Soviet background and gradual move out of Russia's orbit are similar, but the choice for Ukraine is between becoming a US ally and making steps towards the EU. (Rather like Turkey, in the end the choice is bound to be in favour of Europe). For Kyrgzstan, I don't doubt that it will soon be deeply within China's sphere of influence financially, but rather free in other ways, given that China has no territorial ambitions in Central Asia (as Basil Chamberlain pointed out long ago).

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