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.
Umedjon Majidi – Author of the blog series, Expert/Research Consultant, Civic IDEA