Earlier this week, senior leaders from China and Kyrgyzstan met in Beijing to discuss how the two countries could work more closely together in combating regional terrorism. The meeting came against the backdrop of a violent summer in China’s north-western province of Xinjiang, which shares an 850-kilometre border with Kyrgyzstan.
After the meetings, Meng Jianzhu, Chinese Minister of Public Security, expressed the importance of the enhanced ties and noted that they would ‘improve the capability to prevent and fight terrorist acts in order to safeguard security and stability in both countries and in the region.’ Public security officials in Beijing are concerned about migrant flows between the two countries and the potential of cross-border havens for accused criminals and terrorists.
China is especially concerned about Uighur militants in Xinjiang, and continues to pressure its western neighbours—including Kyrgyzstan—to clamp down on their transnational connections. As The Diplomat’s Jason Miks reported yesterday, the tense situation in Xinjiang has been escalating this summer, with violence breaking out in Hotan and Kashgar. The latter is less than 350 kilometres from the Kyrgyz border.
Kyrgyz officials agreed that terrorism in the region was a mutual threat and needed to be dealt with in a cooperative manner. The discussions resulted in an agreement on setting up a border security hotline as well as improving cooperation between law enforcement officials on both sides of the border. Bishkek is wary of being labelled by Beijing as a base for militants, specifically ones from the East Turkistan Islamic Movement (ETIM), who China claims have been trained in jihadi camps in northwest Pakistan.
But while combating the ETIM is important, China’s outreach to Kyrgyzstan is more nuanced. China views increased engagement with its Central Asian neighbours as a key element in its tacit strategy to hedge competing influences from other regional players, such as Russia, India and the United States.
Chinese trade with Kyrgyzstan has surged, increasing five-fold since 2004. There have also been discussions about China establishing free trade zones in Xinjiang—including Kashgar—to increase trade and cooperation with Kyrgyzstan. It will be interesting to see if the incentives are enough elevate Beijing’s influence.