Kyrgyzstan Airlift Concluded

The evacuation of Chinese nationals from Kyrgyzstan has been completed with a ninth flight bringing out the last of 1,299 people airlifted home, Xinhua reports. The evacuation started three days ago after ethnic violence broke out between Kyrgyz and Uzbeks, which has left at least 187 dead and the country facing what the Red Cross is calling “an immense” humanitarian crisis.

Many of those evacuated were businessmen and their families and construction workers in Osh, the southern Kyrgyzstan town close to the Uzbekistan border, and who come from Xinjiang. A foreign ministry official said the “vast majority” of Chinese nationals in Osh had been evacuated though some Chinese were remaining in Kyrgyzstan.

When ethnic violence broke out between Kyrgyz and Uzbeks 20 years ago, the old Soviet Union sent in troops to restore order in short order. Russia is unlikely to play a similarly firm role this time round, though it will be part of any international or CSTO peacekeeping force that goes into Kyrgyzstan. The current provisional government that ousted that of Kurmanbek Bakiyev in April clearly has no control of the country. While the geopolitics are complicated by Russia’s traditional influence and the presence of a U.S. military base, there is a high probability that the interim government could collapse and Kyrgyzstan, or at least its southern part, fall into ungovernable chaos.

The most troubled area is in southwestern Kyrgyzstan where Kyrgyzstan, Uzbekistan and Tajikistan meet in the Ferghana Valley but, to the east, China shares a long border with southeastern Kyrgyztsan and will be regarding the prospect of a lawless state on one side of it with great concern, especially as its own side of it has Muslim minority issues of its own with Xinjiang’s Uighurs.

The chaos also underlines an aspect of China’s policy of using its money to extend its influence across the stans (and by extension curtailing that of Russia and the U.S.) by developing commercial and economic links and providing ample dollops of patronage for local politicians. It is a policy that depends on there being stability.

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