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.
China has now evacuated nearly 1,000 of its nationals from Kyrgyzstan, where ethnic violence has left at least 170 dead, Xinhua reports. Seven evacuation flights have been undertaken with at least two more planned. The air lift started earlier this week. Most of the evacuees are businessmen and their families or construction workers in the southern Kyrgyz towns of Osh and Karasu. The governments of South Korea, India, and Pakistan have organized similar air lifts.
Meanwhile Beijing is offering 5 million yuan ($731 million) in humanitarian aid in the form of medicine, medical equipment, food, drinking water, blankets and tents. Red Cross officials say there are shortages of basic necessities like food, water, shelter and medicine across the Uzbek-dominated south of the country where the violence has been most extreme and we are starting to get reports of atrocities. The officials guesstimate that “tens of thousands” of Uzbeks have been displaced within Kyrgyzstan while at least 75,000 refugees have fled into Uzbekistan.
China has dispatched two airliners to evacuate some 200 Chinese students and nationals caught up in the unrest in Kyrgyzstan. Xinhua reported that the first one is expected to land back in Urumqi overnight. Two further flights are planned for tomorrow. There are no reports of Chinese nationals being among the more than 100 reported dead in the outbreak of ethnic violence, but some Chinese-owned businesses are reported to have been looted.
Unlike Russia, China appears to have no plans for a military response. The prospect of civil war in Kyrgyzstan poses dilemmas for both Beijing and Moscow. Neither wants to be dragged into a potentially messy, ethnic conflict. But neither would be happy with a prolonged period of instability or civil war, which could easily spill over into neighbouring stans such as Kazakhstan, or even into the outer fringes of Russia and China itself.
Beijing and Moscow have been jockeying for influence in the region in recent years. Beijing won’t be thrilled to see a small Russian dominated peace-keeping force under the aegis of the Collective Security Treaty Organisation (the security pact between most of the former states of Soviet Central Asia) being deployed in Kyrgyzstan if the violence continues, but it may look upon it as the lesser of two evils, providing there is a fixed period to its deployment.