Civic IDEA has joined the Freedom House initiative “The Iranian Struggle for Freedom: A Call for Global Solidarity”, to support the Iranian protesters who marched in the streets demanding freedom and democracy in Iran.
Read and sign the “The Iranian Struggle for Freedom: A Call for Global Solidarity”, here: 👇
China’s impact and influence in the countries of Central Asia increased tremendously in recent years. “Its influence in Central Asia may now be reaching levels not seen since the period of Silk Road during the Tang dynasty, which ruled China from 618 to 907,” says William C. Kirby, a Harvard professor of Chinese history. A key role in Chinese impact and influence plays the secretary general of the China Communist Party, the President of China – Mr. Xi Jingping. He has many opponents as well, among them activists on the run.
Xi Jinping’s increased power—something reinforced by the rest of the Party Congress, which just solidified Xi as the “core” of the party in the (often modified and mostly symbolic) Chinese Constitution and where he has been front and center as he takes an unprecedented third term. Xi Jinping used harsh language in his opening work report to describe the situation within the party when he took over, speaking of a “slide toward weak, hollow, and watered-down party leadership in practice,” though without mentioning Hu or others by name.
20th National Congress of the China Communist Party held on 16-20 October 2022 in Beijing. The congress concluded by approving the members of the standing committee and politburo (2296 members-delegate) and, for the third term, approved the selection of the Secretary-General of the Chinese Communist Party, Xi Jinping, for the next five years.
Xi Jinping, in his long 104 minutes speech denouncing corruption (corruption on a scale unprecedented in our history) (referencing the chaotic situation in Taiwan and the peaceful reunification into mainland China will bring order and governance), showed a fighting spirit and advocated for common prosperity in mainland China, Hongkong and Taiwan. Xi Jinping Thoughts (Xi Jinping Thought on Socialism with Chinese Characteristics for a New Era) incorporated as a special amendment to the CCP Constitution; even though it was mentioned in the previous 19th CPC Congress, the focus on Jinping Thoughts moves into Chinese ideology derived from a speech titled “Some Questions on Maintaining and Developing Socialism with Chinese Characteristics.”
Humiliation of predecessors
With reference to Belt and Road initiative, the increased role of China in global politics increased – the presence of China in infrastructure, loans to developing projects, extractive industries, etc. in addition, the role of Xi Jinping as a core and guiding role in the communist party and opposing narrative to Taiwanese independence leads to the more authoritarian system and humiliating removal of the previous secretary general Xu Jintao. Foreign Policy magazine commented on this incident as “deliberately and publicly humiliate his predecessor”.
It is a possibility that Hu Jintao’s public removal from the hall was planned that Xi Jinping deliberately and publicly humiliated his predecessor—a way of wielding the tools of party discipline, followed by judicial punishment, against him. It was suggested that during Hu’s Jintao rule, corruption rose, and public coverage of corruption also rose, as free speech online and, to some extent, civil society groups and NGOs. Most party members were more occupied with making money than with enforcing the party line of authoritarianism and power. Humiliating Hu in this fashion would also send a clear signal to the “retired elders,” the former high-level leaders who long remained a force within the party, that Xi’s power was unbound.
Western frontier – Central Asian countries
In Xi’s meetings with several Central Asian leaders, they were quoted as using phrases and political slogans coined by the Chinese Communist Party, praising him for “building a moderately prosperous society” and advancing toward China’s “great rejuvenation.” His counterparts described Xi as “the core” of his country, for instance, and the single person responsible for China’s successes — a narrative Beijing has intensified in recent months. “The words from the president of Uzbekistan are exactly like the local governors in China use when they have the chance to praise the current leader; they use that script,” said Peidong Sun, a Cornell University, Associate professor of contemporary Chinese social and cultural history.
Uzbekistan’s leader, in presenting Xi with an award, had expressed respect for him “as a statesman,” according to the president’s website, and not “the greatest statesman.” Many Central Asian nations welcome Chinese investment but are wary of becoming dependent on Beijing. In addition, in the region, the countries like Kazakhstan, Uzbekistan and Kyrgyzstan, people share linguistic, cultural, and in some cases, family ties (especially in Kazakhstan) with groups in Xinjiang, a region in China’s far west. Many have been concerned about the vast crackdown there that has ensnared Central Asian people. Putin’s subsequent invasion of Ukraine, followed by a series of humiliating defeats of the Russian army, may give Beijing room to gain an edge.
Starting in 2013, the so-called Belt and Road Initiative, a program of railways, port, and highways along the land and maritime Silk Roads that linked China to Europe and the Middle East for centuries. China’s “March West” strategy (coined in 2013 by political scientist Wang Jisi, paving the way for Beijing’s roll-out of the Belt and Road Initiative in the subsequent years), and, indeed, a crux of contestation between the two ends of the Sino-Russian dynamic. But more than that, the region has also become a powerful embodiment of the agency of medium states concerning great power politics – and the limits of that agency. As Iskandar Akylbayev and Brian Wong have argued , the medium-state diplomacy exhibited by Kazakhstan should not be underestimated. Thus, China’s ability to prosecute deepened and more dynamic penetration of Central Asian markets and natural resources constitutes a vital pillar of its geo-economic strategy in 2022.
Kazakhstan serves as a critical bridge between China and Europe and the Caspian Sea, as well as a growing prime supplier of natural gas to China, alongside Turkmenistan (though the latter has struggled with meeting its pledged volumes). Uzbekistan and Kyrgyzstan are engaged in an ongoing railway project with China – a prime corridor of infrastructural mega-projects that could, in fact, yield significant returns. Tajikistan remains the least heavily involved partner to China in the region, but with Wang’s recent visit in August, this may well be changing. The protests in Kazakhstan in Shymkent are based on the environmental impacts of Chinese investors/companies. Kazakh president Mr. Tokayev is an essential ally of Xi Jinping, being formerly the Kazakh Ambassador to China. He wrote a thesis on Kazakh-China relations and speaks fluent Chinese language; There are speculations on his Chinese connections and links. When he greeted Xi Jinping at the airport, he easily held a conversation in Chinese with China president.
The importance of this engagement is the broadening of China’s historically economy-led (Chinese public and private investment and commerce) presence in the region to include hard power – strategy-security-military dimensions too. Friendly and neighboring states that are more aligned with their foreign policy prerogatives and long-term economic calculus. Underestimates the extent to which China is prepared to recouple and deepen trade ties – selectively – in the aftermath of the pandemic.
The actual phenomenon that could be observed is a selective decoupling-recoupling strategy. While there is indeed evidence that China is seeking self-sufficiency across areas ranging from semiconductors and chips to energy, this must be viewed in conjunction with the evidence that it is engaging in wider and quasi-asymmetrical relation-deepening about “friendlier” states.
Umedjon Majidi – Author of the blog series, Expert/Research Consultant, Civic IDEA
Central Asian countries, specifically Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan bordering with China share 2050-mile border with Xinjiang. There is a mixed feelings about China among Central Asian countries – China is seen as a great investor for the future of the countries and many young students in Central Asia are starting to learn Chinese language. Chinese companies and projects are often seen as more credible than locals. Confucius Institutes are full of talented young students chasing the opportunities that China offers. Locals at an individual level do not care about these broader issues and are instead trying to navigate their way to prosperity among the economic boom they see in China.
Central Asia Barometer is a Bishkek-based nonprofit that engages in applied social science research. It conducts large-scale public opinions surveys in the Central Asia twice annually. One key question is how respondents perceive about China.
In Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, and Uzbekistan the most common response to this question is “somewhat favorable.” Yet in all three countries, when asked about China, the share of people giving a favorable answer has dropped noticeably in recent years.
Kazakhstan has faced more pressure in the last five years from China as Kazakh authorities deal with local anger at the Chinese government’s forced detentions of ethnic minorities (especially Uyghurs) in the Xinjiang region.
In 2011, fighting broke out between oil workers and the Kazakh state in Zhanaozen leading to several deaths—Chinese company CITIC was among the investors and received some blame for the bad pay which appeared to underpin the protests. Smaller scale brawls between Kazakh and Chinese workers are frequent. As seen currently in Kazakhstan, protests are usually linked to bad working conditions, clashes between workers, or environmental damage. There is also usually a strong undertone of local politics. However, in the communication between Chinese and Central Asian people there are still an immense problem around cultural understanding and language issues.
A pressure on Central Asian governments to clamp down upon any type of Uyghur exile political expressions; As an effect hereof and the involvement of high government officials in such deals can be seen an influence on how the Uyghur case is covered in the media and public discourse where it is avoided or connected to the fight against Islamic fundamentalism.
Bradley Jardin: Kyrgyzstan’s leaders awarded a $386 million contract to a Chinese company in 2013, prompting a corruption scandal that led to the arrest of two former prime ministers. Protesters in Kyrgyzstan have demanded more scrutiny over Chinese-funded enterprises and the appropriateness of loans. However, it remains to be seen whether local authorities will suppress these protests or seek new ways to reduce the dependence on China. There are questions surrounding corrupt and pollutive practices of Chinese companies working in the region. Chinese firms tend to lower their standards in the region, ignoring requirements they usually adhere to back home.
Combined Heat and Power plant (CHP) in August 2017.
The 4-year modernization of the city’s only source of heat for over half a century was initiated by the ex-president, and cost $386 million, which was borrowed from China on credit. The contractor chosen for the project, Tebian Electric Apparatus Stock Co LTD (ТBЕА), which built two new boiler units, each with an emission capacity of 150 megawatts (MW) of power and 150 gigacalories of heat.
On 26 January 2018, during a period of unusually hard frosts, an accident at the CHP plant led to a four-day breakdown of its heating system.
Kyrgyzstan’s member of parliament demanded that the culprits be put behind bars and took themselves en masse to the CHP plant to discover why the boilers had packed up.
After the power plant’s director Nurlan Omurkul uulu was fired from his job, he made it public that the cause of the accident wasn’t incompetency of the specialists, but the money laundering and fraud of the money allocated to the rebuilding project. And the real cost of the modernization wasn’t $386 million, but $100 million less. “About 90% of the necessary materials and equipment were bought at an elevated price,”
In August, 500 Kyrgyz villagers entered the site of a mine operated by a Chinese company and fought with its Han workers — hospitalizing 20 of them. Chinese companies are now workingto counter negative perceptions. claims that Chinese workers are marrying Kyrgyz women in large numbers, even though only 60 such marriages were recorded from 2010 to 2018. Many critics of China in the region also fear an influx of Chinese immigrants, although the actual numbers seem low. From 1995 to 2014, around 93,000 people emigrated from China as part of an official Kazakhstan repatriation program. Only 80 of them were Han Chinese, China’s majority ethnic group, representing 92 percent of the overall population in China.
Umedjon Majidi – Author of the blog series, Expert/Research Consultant, Civic IDEA
The oppression of Turkic-speaking indigenous peoples professing mainly Islam, forced sending of Uyghur, Kazakhs and others to “political re-education camps”, seizure of their passports, placement under so-called house arrests. Many minorities of Xinjiang have fled China for fear of detention. The Kazakhs are the second largest Turkic-speaking ethnic group in Xinjiang after the Uyghurs and estimated around 1.2 million people.
Kazakh Oralmen and kandas
In 2017-2018 Uyghur Association in Kazakhstan Otandas Elsent invitation 100 ethnic Kazakh families in Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region to move and settle in Kazakhstan. Chinese Government allows to emigrate ethnic minorities to their historical lands if they emigrate as a family. Mukan Mamytkhan, the Head of Uyghur Association believes that by the end of 2022 all 100 families will be relocated in Kazakhstan. Kazakh ethnic minorities are the second biggest minorities after Uyghurs living in the western China, in Xinjiang. Ethic Kazakh from abroad in case of migrating to the historical land, Kazakhstan, called ‘kandas’. In 2020 Kazakh government adopted a Law on kandas – ethnic Kazakhs living outside of Kazakhstan and making them eligible for fast-tracking them for citizenship once they enter Kazakhstan.
A group of Kazakhs whose relatives are detained in China or unable to leave China has been holding an indefinite protest in front of the Chinese consulate in Almaty and Nursultan since February 2021, demanding the release of their loved ones from custody in Xinjiang and family reunification. The Chinese ambassador to Kazakhstan says that the detainees in Xinjiang are “citizens of China” and “they violated the Chinese laws”. The Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Kazakhstan called the situation in Xinjiang “China’s internal affair.” Beijing is one of the major investors and creditors of Kazakhstan. The agreement called “Shanghai Five” signed in April 1996 in Shanghai between Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, Russia and China, countries bordering with China, the sides promised not to help the separatist movements in another country and therefore the Kazakhstan government hands are tied. The authorities of were bound by the provisions of the border treaties on non-assistance to Uighur separatists in Xinjiang. On May 12, 2022, the representatives of the organization “Nagyz Atajurt” (also called “Nagyz Atajurt Erktileri“), which defends the rights of ethnic Kazakhs who were persecuted in China, announced their intention to create a political party at a press conference in Almaty: “Our goal is to actively participate in the creation of a new, democratic political system based on the traditions of our people, the history of the past and present, language identity, national identity,” said the head of Nagyz Atazhurt Bekzat Maksutkhanuly. He also notes that the issues of citizens who demand reunification with their relatives in Xinjiang still remain unresolved.
Kazakhs in Uyghur Tribunal
In London, “Uyghur Tribunal“, studies evidence of persecution of Uyghurs, Kazakhs, Kyrgyz and other minority Turkic-speaking peoples of Xinjiang, who profess mainly Islam and assesses Beijing’s actions under the Genocide Convention. The commission, chaired by British lawyer Geoffrey Nice, is hearing the testimony of witnesses, scientists and experts these days.Several ethnic Kazakhs testified at the hearings of Uyghur Tribunal on September 12 2021 in London. These are natives of China, who after leaving the “camps” managed to move to Kazakhstan and soon disclosed information about staying within the walls of closed institutions and the use of torture there.
New York Times reports about about 21 minutes Virtual Reality documentary cartoon movie “Retrained: secret camps in Xingxiang directed by Ben Monk based on the stories told approach; The stars of the documentary – Amanzhan Seituly, Orynbek Koksebekuly, and Yerbakyt Otarbayare prisoners of the Xinjiang retraining camp (prison) who managed to get out. Now they live in Kazakhstan – the documentary shows how it looks like to be inside of the camp-prison. In other coverage by Ben Mauk is about a couple who were in the camp after traveling from Kazakhstan – three men – Argali Ermek, Orynbek Koksybek, Erbakyt Otarbay – imprisoned, later camp of political re-education and then home-arrest – were medicated (without packages) and injected – now they are infertile – before imprisonment they could conceive but now, they are not able to conceive (sterilization).
Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide – Article II: In the present Convention, genocide means any of the following acts committed with intent to destroy, in whole or in part, a national, ethnical, racial or religious group, as such: Killing members of the group; Causing serious bodily or mental harm to members of the group; Deliberately inflicting on the group conditions of life calculated to bring about its physical destruction in whole or in part; Imposing measures intended to prevent births within the group; Forcibly transferring children of the group to another group.
For four years, Civic IDEA yearly has been publishing several reports about the Chinese companies that, within the framework of the “One Belt, One Road” initiative, actively continue to operate in the Georgian market, and more specifically in the infrastructure sector of Georgia, and are responsible for the construction of the main highway, roads, bridges in Georgia. and on the construction of tunnels. If you move from the Eastern part of Georgia to the Western part of Georgia, you will find many abbreviations of different Chinese companies on your way while going through the Ricoti Mountain pass. This is exactly the pass where the construction of a 51.6 km long road is planned, which includes 96 bridges and 53 tunnels.
In our reports, we have already reviewed the activities of China State Construction Engineering Corporation Limited and China Road and Bridge Corporation in Georgia and the related misconduct based on a comparative analysis of foreign examples. This time we offer an analysis of the projects won by Hunan Road and Bridge Construction Group in Georgia and its shady practices in Uganda and mainland China.
Xinjiang Region creates concerns UN High Commission on Human Rights due to the violation of human rights Muslim minorities in the SUAR region, the minorities include ethnic Kazakh, Kyrgyz and Tajiks. Document leaks states about the inhuman treatment of the Xinjiang residents targeted at Uygurs and ethnic minorities – Adrian Zens on Xinjiang Police Files The “Xinjiang Police Files” consists of tens of thousands of files containing extensive incriminating details from inside China’s internment camp system. The files were obtained by a third party from directly inside confidential internal Xinjiang police computer networks, and have been authenticated and analyzed by Dr. Adrian Zenz, a foremost scholar on the Xinjiang internment campaign, in a peer-reviewed academic paper published in the respected Journal of the European Association for Chinese Studies and a second paper published in the online magazine ChinaFile.
According to Nina Yau, senior researcher at the OSCE Academy in Bishkek, the key point is the problem of Xinjiang: “The attention of the international community is focused on the Uyghur problem, so support from Central Asia is extremely important for Beijing.” The presence of the leaders of the Central Asian countries in Beijing indicates a willingness to participate in the prestigious program of Beijing. The current Olympics are the most politicized since the Cold War, so we need to consider the visit of the presidents of Central Asia from the point of view of the global consequences of the sporting event.”
“The presence of Central Asian leaders at the opening of the Olympics means that China has regional support for its policies in Xinjiang. Solving the Uyghur problem within the region is the best way to avoid outside interference, Nina Yau is sure. – It makes no sense for Central Asia to protest the policy towards the Uighurs, especially given that China’s support is beneficial from an economic point of view: the sale of oil and gas, industrialization and the like. This, in turn, gives regional countries the opportunity and resources to stay the course. The situation is a win-win for all parties.”
Since 2017, there have been reports from China of harassment of Turkic-speaking indigenous peoples, who profess mainly Islam, the forced sending of Uighurs, Kazakhs and others to “political re-education camps”, the confiscation of their passports, and the placement under so-called house arrests. In recent years, many members of Xinjiang’s indigenous ethnic groups have fled China for fear of detention. China’s policies are sharply criticized by Western countries, including the United States, which call what is happening in Xinjiang genocide. Beijing rejects the accusations, calling the camps “vocational training centers” set up to fight extremism and terrorism.
Central Asia support in solving the problem of Xinjiang. This means deporting any requested Chinese citizens of several ethnic groups– Uighurs, Kazakhs or Kyrgyz – back to China. Illegal border defectors are in most cases immediately sent back without ascertaining whether the person is seeking refugee status. This worked quite successfully for a while, but internal pressure from the Kazakh population on their government also led to the authorities slightly softening their position for ethnic Kazakhs. Kazakhstan’s political elites are now in a very difficult situation.
China also appreciates regional support for the Xinjiang issue in the international arena. Central Asian countries, which have consistently voiced their support for Beijing, have proven to be an important counterweight to Western voices, and it has become clear that Central Asian countries are more likely to side with China than the West. In addition, from time to time we see politicians from Central Asia talking in Chinese newspapers about supporting China’s policy towards Taiwan or supporting China’s national security law in Hong Kong. This is purely political influence of Beijing in order to form its own support group, although the region may not know or be interested in the situation in Taiwan or Hong Kong, but Central Asian leaders simply agree with Beijing’s position.
Beijing’s political influence is that Beijing should get what it wants. For a long time, China only wanted support on its domestic issues, but that is changing. Now China is dissatisfied with anti-Chinese sentiment among the local population in Central Asia and is asking political leaders to solve this in some way. This is a more direct intervention that can polarize the relationship between the political class of Central Asia and the local population. Repeatedly, representatives of the Chinese embassy came to complain about how poorly China is portrayed in the Kyrgyz media, they told Kyrgyz politicians that this is a bad practice of good neighborliness. The situation is similar in Tajikistan, there is a hidden message that the anti-Chinese position is a crime, so there are no protests there, citizens can be arrested for this. In Kyrgyzstan, police are also arresting and threatening leaders of anti-China protests, and at the moment, people can still complain about China, but China is already demanding that Central Asian governments prevent this.
China pressured Kazakhstan not to accept them as refugees because that would confirm suspicions about what was happening in Xinjiang. This began in the mid-2010s, ethnic minorities were already leaving Xinjiang illegally because their passports were being confiscated, and repressive policies began to spread. In Kyrgyzstan, there have been several cases in which Kyrgyz border guards who caught these “fugitives” were immediately brought back to China’s side, without going through the migration ministry’s legal procedure, as required in such situations. I am sure that there were similar cases in Kazakhstan.
Umedjon Majidi – Author of the blog series, Expert/Research Consultant, Civic IDEA
“Corrosive capital” – financing that lacks transparency, accountability, and market orientation flowing from authoritarian regimes into new and transitioning democracies. It applies directly to big authoritarian countries which play a key role in Central Asia. Major economies such as Russia and China lack true forms of transparency, accountability, good governance in their foreign aid and capital granting schemes. It exploits and exaggerates governance gaps to influence economic, political, and social developments in recipient countries. The corrosive capital is understood as an influx of money that exploits weaknesses in governance and risks amplifying them, with the result of large agreements that are not well-documented, ending with countries losing ownership of key resources to their donor.
China deploys corrosive capital into these societies and the lack of transparency does real damage to accountability of institutions, good governance and breaks on public sector reform efforts. These practices not only affect Central Asia, but ripple in the Western Balkans, Eastern Europe and Africa as well. Tena Prelec analyzed that those non-transparent investments of China are often advanced through using informal political links or close relationship between top actors, bypassing competition rules and public procurement procedures; legislative changes introduced to favor investors and the political cultures underpinning these linkages are significant. The Belt and Road Initiative is coming to the participating countries with limited transparency and weak governance standards that could facilitate corruption and fraud around its projects. TI’s Corruption Perception Index indicates that countries along the initiative among the most corrupt countries in the world. Many countries that have taken Chinese loans are now reconsidering their deals with China due to allegations of corruption and low transparency.
A significant amount of capital influx comes to the region without an oversight and transparency on the funds, ruling kleptocratic elite will consider it as a new source of rent – illicit practices in the political system actively practices and China’s BRI will both create challenges to advance good governance and curbing corruption. In this light, advancing good governance and curbing corruption is a challenging task for Tajikistan. Tajikistan is a country whose ruling elite have historically shown skill in capturing state resources in corrupt schemes. This presents a danger that any investment or aid coming to the country will ultimately benefit the ruling elite.
Corruption is a result of the confluence of a weak state and powerful criminal networks that mix illicit with licit activities with state and non-state actors. Only privileged groups can not only participate in and enrich themselves through corrupt practices, but also through legal and semi-legal activities (including lobbying). These groups traditionally consist of the country’ president, the family of the president and their associates.
In April 2019 during the second Belt and Road Forum, Xi Zinping vowed “zero tolerance” for corruption, pledged more transparency, good environmental practices and expressed the commitment of China to open up. and that the cooperation within BRI initiative “will be open, green and clean”. Cooperation within the BRI “will be open, green and clean”, he said.
One of the elements of traditional Chinese social fabric is Guanxi, which to be used for achieving political goals. Guanxi is translated as corruption, a bribe (facilitation payment) or nepotism. It provides an exclusive access to resources and operates through informal connections. The Tajik equivalent would be Taghabazi, using once (uncle) relative or friend as a connection to reach political goals. Guanxi and local Central Asian traditions of graft creates a perfect opportunity for more corruption but less governance and integrity.
Tajikistan is a source of copper, zinc, titanium, aluminum, gold, pig iron, radioactive isotopes and other mining metals and stones – all needed for Chinese economy. China prioritizes building hard infrastructure, which China believes will catalyze the improvement of investment climate, good governance and human skills. However Chinese firms engaged in BRI lack transparency on contract negotiation, lack corporate social responsibility, have a low degree of respect for environment and governance laws. The socio-economic impact of the Chinese BRI is minimal since China employs mostly Chinese citizens in infrastructure and other projects.
Beijing provided a state loan of $280 millions to Tajikistan to renovate Dushanbe-Chanak Highway connecting Tajikistan capital city Dushanbe with Uzbekistan border city of Chanak. This project was completed in 2010 by China Road and Bridge Corporation. However, when the project was completed, the Dushanbe elite thought it could be used in a scheme and soon the highway transformed into toll road to be run by unknown company Innovative Road Solutions. This company has no corporate history, no prior experience in running highway projects and was registered in British Virgin Island, effectively becoming an offshore company located in a hyper secret tax haven. According to reporting from Deutsche Welle, it was traced to be belonged to Mr. Jamoliddin Nuraliev, the Son-in-Law of the President of Tajikistan. Furthermore, the company was exempted from dozens of taxes.
Apparently, the contribution to Deutsche Welle paper was made by Journalist from Tajikistan Mr. Khayrullo Mirsaidov, who later ended up in prison. It is most definitely linked with this publication, which is sensitive to Tajikistan’s ruling elite. Chinese business and individuals have a “cover” in Tajikistan, when a violation occurred by that can be traced to Chinese individuals, it usually gets covered up. This is one example of how BRI offered a rent-seeking opportunity to connected insiders and the local elite. It will likely continue to provide incentives to engage in illicit income. According to Tajik economist, annual revenue of this toll road will be $49 million.
They don’t listen to World Bank Doing Business rating, they just take risks and do and work with local people, fixers and senior government officials. Jacob Mardell observed while travelling to Tajikistan in 2019 an arising group of fixers – lawyers who help Chinese individuals and businesses and play as an intermediate between China and Tajik government. According to one of the fixers, “as a foreigner you need a krysha (roof) to work in Tajikistan – a local can protect you”, Chinese people work with local people, they know how to work – who to bribe – whom to make connections.
To fight with corrosive capital will not be an easy task for a developing state like Tajikistan. It will have to improve the quality of institutions and ensure the rule of law, improve governance. It will be especially challenging when the sole donor of infrastructure investment is not the traditional donor who provides aid on conditionality of good governance reform.
In Tajikistan it’s necessary to scrutinize the BRI loan and credit projects to assess possible risks, governance and ecological impact and minimize corruption, these funds should be returned eventually. Public discussion about equality, justice, governance and equal business opportunities should be hold beneficial not only for Tajikistan future but for China’s BRI trust, image and legitimacy. More professional civil servants with mortal integrity are needed to fight against corrosive capital. Civil society activists need to strengthen their oversight on investment and aid implementation. Civil society in Tajikistan was significantly circumscribed. For building huge infrastructure objects, the country should have a greater regulation, transparency, law enforcement, integrity of elect officials and member of the parliament, and civic activism so collectively can overcome the negative externalities caused by adaptive governance approach promoted by China
Umedjon Majidi – Author of the blog series, Expert/Research Consultant, Civic IDEA
On December 6-7, in Berlin, Civic IDEA, together with its partner experts from Central Asia, participated in China In The World (CITW) Summit and led two sessions: “Economic Security – Impact of BRI” & “Shifting loyalties: Central Asian states leaning towards China in the light of Ukraine War”. The CITW is held annually and brings together activists, academics, civil society members, journalists and other stakeholders to improve understanding of China’s global influence and strengthen democratic resilience. The Taiwanese NGO Doublethink Lab organizes CITW summits to encourage dialogue, exchange ideas, and promote new collaborations. During the sessions, the speakers and the audience discussed the PRC’s Belt and Road Initiative and its impact on Kazakhstan, Uzbekistan, Tajikistan and Georgia, Digital Silk Road (DSR) and its incentives, notorious Chinese companies affecting the economic and technology and political sectors, as well as Central Asia’s and China’s positioning on Ukraine war.
The speakers involved:
Tinatin Khidasheli – Chairperson, Civic IDEA
Ani Kintsurashvili – Senior Researcher, Civic IDEA
Abbos Bobokhonov – Research Fellow, Institute for Advanced International Studies
The sessions were moderated by Salome Svanidze – Executive Assistant, Civic IDEA. Civic IDEA is particularly grateful to Doublethink Lab, the Open Society Foundation in Kazakhstan and U.S. Consulate General in Almaty.
The complicated geopolitical situation that has arisen as a result of the war in Ukraine, as well as large-scale Western sanctions imposed on Russia and Belarus has raised a new question about how the Belt & Road Initiative will develop in the future. This is especially of concern to Kazakhstan, which has managed to take an important role in transcontinental routes. The blocking of the Russian, Belarusian and Ukrainian directions puts an end to the most important routes going to Europe. Bypass routes through the Caspian or the Middle East are working, but the cost of transportation and the labor costs of the trans-Caspian route are significantly inferior to the sea routes.
Under these conditions, BRI partners, including Kazakhstan, are setting the task of cultivating new points of growth in such areas as artificial intellect, big data, digital finance, e-commerce, and green energy. The implementation of this approach largely explains the sharp increase in trade turnover between Kazakhstan and China in 2022. The trade turnover between Kazakhstan and China in January-July 2022 reached $13.5 billion, which is 38.3% more than in the same period in 2021, which was then $9.7 billion. Moreover, the volume of Kazakhstani imports for seven months of 2022 from China is a record result for such a period: in 2022 Kazakhstani imports from China amounted to $5.5 billion, with an increase of 22.6% compared to the same period in 2021. Over the seven months of last year, imports amounted to $4.5 billion. The main growth in imports is observed in the commodity group “machinery, equipment, vehicles, devices and apparatuses” – by 19.4% (for the seven months of 2022 – $3.1 billion, for the seven months of 2021 – $2.6 billion).
In general, the program for development of IT industry within the framework of BRI has been called the Digital Silk Road (DSR). The DSR is a government initiative where Chinese companies are key players. Chinese telecommunications giants such as Huawei and ZTE, as the largest telecommunications service providers and major 5G technology providers, are successfully achieving their goal of dominating the 5G market worldwide. Leading Chinese video surveillance companies such as Hikvision, Dahua and Huawei are among the main providers of surveillance services and technologies in developing countries, including Kazakhstan. According to a Fudan University report, it is noted that over the past two years, 201 Chinese companies in the digital field have completed 1,334 overseas investment and cooperation projects, 57% of which are related to DSR. In general, by developing next-generation telecommunications infrastructure, smart city technology and surveillance systems, data centers and storage infrastructure, and other high-tech tools, Beijing is seeking to increase its role in Internet telecommunications governance and cyberspace regulation.
The rapid development of the IT sector in Kazakhstan, on the one hand, has a positive impact on the economy and makes the country more attractive for investment. On the other hand, the transfer of Chinese surveillance and censorship technologies is worrisome, and could further shrink civic space in Kazakhstan. The greatest concern is not only the import of Chinese technologies, but also the possible import of Chinese approaches to organizing the work of smart cities, which can now be called cities of surveillance and censorship. Smart cities built on Chinese surveillance technology promise increased security and convenience for residents, but at what cost?
The examples of China itself are widely known. The most well-known measure of the Chinese government “to combat cybercrime” (in fact, for content restriction and total surveillance) is the so-called Golden Shield, or Dragon Firewall. It is a nationwide electronic barrier that filters and controls information flows in such a way that all Internet user data in China passes through a limited number of checkpoints (gateways), operated by a limited number of Internet providers. Since 2006, the entire Chinese segment of the Internet has come under the control of this state system.
In Kazakhstan in the past few years, has been actively implemented the Smart City projects, within the framework of which CCTV cameras are installed on the streets of cities to ensure law and order and comply with traffic rules. For video surveillance systems implemented in Kazakhstan, Chinese products are mainly used.
Since 2017, Sergek hardware-software complexes (which means “vigilant” in Kazakh) have been operating in the biggest cities of Kazakhstan, which are supplied by Korkem Telecom (a subsidiary of Open Technologies Group). These companies are Kazakh, but Korkem Telecom’s technical partner is Chinese Dahua Technology.
Sergek is an intelligent video monitoring, analysis and forecasting system that includes:
– A network of video recording modules that control key areas of the urban space – highways, squares, road junctions, house adjoining areas;
– Image recording and recognition system;
– Intellectual system of information processing and analysis.
Sergek has computing power and special software that allows real-time processing of significant amounts of information. Hikvision, another Chinese manufacturer of CCTV cameras and security equipment, has been operating in Kazakhstan since 2015. Hikvision cameras in Kazakhstan monitor road safety as part of the Smart City projects, and are also used in the Unified Video Monitoring System of Almaty. This system should implement situational video analytics: recognize faces and license plates on cars.
In September 2019, Reuters, citing unnamed intelligence sources and security experts, reported that hackers working for the Chinese government had hacked telecommunications networks in several countries, including Kazakhstan, to track down Uyghur tourists in Central and Southeast Asia. China seeks to monitor Kazakhstan because it is the historical homeland of many residents of China’s Xinjiang Uygur Autonomous Region; over the past few years, Chinese authorities have arrested more than one million people in Xinjiang.
China has a lot more technical capabilities than it seems at first glance, and it’s not just about cameras, but also about Chinese-made mobile devices that are in high demand in Kazakhstan due to their low price, Kazakh cybersecurity experts say. Kazakhstani researchers consider the risks from the penetration of Chinese surveillance and censorship technologies to be very high, and point out that this aspect of the implementation of DSR initiatives occupies an undeservedly small place in public discussions on the topic of BRI in Kazakhstan.
In January 2022, in Kazakhstan broke out protests, related to rising gas prices, which very quickly turned into political protests. A large number of citizens were detained – about 7,000 people, according to the Ministry of Internal Affairs – who were detained based on data from street surveillance cameras. In response to an official request to the Ministry of Internal Affairs whether Face ID cameras and artificial intellect systems were used during the detention of protesters, the Ministry of Internal Affairs replied that such systems were not used. However, given the scale of the protests, and the large number of detained participants, this is hard to believe.
China’s acceptability in Tajikistan comes after Russia – the Tajik people and the Tajik government; why Russia is popularly accepted as a significant or dominant power – is clear; China comes after Russia. According to the Kenan Institute (based on a Central Asian Barometer survey), 54% of people strongly favor/support (in contrast, 73% strongly favor Russia and 40% strongly prefer the United States); 30% are somewhat favorable, and only 13% don’t know or refused to answer; 20% of people think that China is a reliable and friendly great power – it’s significant considering the number of percentages for Russia is 78% and for the US is 2%. Elizabeth Wood and Thomas Baker summarized the Central Asian Barometer Survey on Public Perception of China in Central Asia conducted from 2017-to 2021: China’s public diplomacy wins the Tajiks’ admiration through culture, language, and civilization; the degree to which citizens and leaders view the PRC favorably could also be instrumental in advancing other economic, geopolitical, and security interests.
Tajikistan presents high approval rates for the leadership of the PRC (63 percent on average). In contrast with the USA, it is less favorable (35 percent on average). Tajikistan is the case of China’s “extract” strategy, in which there are significant economic interests for the PRC, and the PRC has maintained high approval rates there.
Favorability ratings may indicate appreciation for a foreign power’s norms, rules, and values and China’s engagement to contest the US hegemony in the region. According to the Gallup World Poll, 2006-2020, based on AidData Analysis: How do citizens and leaders in SCA countries view the PRC versus other great powers? Consistently favorable (Pakistan and Tajikistan), China is perceived in Tajikistan as a great friend as it offers help without strings attached (this narrative was established by president and elite circles). The State imposed this narrative which welcomes blind emerging dependency on Chinese investment. Tajikistan. This will see Chinese investment in all spheres of economy. The leading government parliament-based newspaper Narodnaya gazeta described China in 2014 as “Good neighbor, true friend and reliable partner”. The leading scholars, experts on China in Tajikistan, Abdugani Mamadazimov and Rashid Gani Abdullo express their optimism that the Chinese vector of Tajik foreign policy as the “path toward future well-being of independent of Tajikistan”.
In Tajikistan construction sites, where Chinese labor are present. Unfortunately, with the lack of reporting about BRI, or even the lack of any systematic discussion of challenges and risks characterize Tajikistan in BRI, there is no public discussion and awareness about China’s BRI rapidly increasing control of resource extraction in Tajikistan. The general public has limited access to information related to Chinese involvement.
Umedjon Majidi – Author of the blog series, Expert/Research Consultant, Civic IDEA