By Paul Goble
Having watched Beijing dominate the indigenous Turkic population of Xinjiang (Eastern Turkestan) by means of the dispatch of Han Chinese to that region, many people in Kyrgyzstan fear that the same fate could await their country, given what some of them see as the massive and uncontrolled influx of Han Chinese.
In an article in the Kyrgyz newspaper “Sayat press” a week ago, Turdugul Karimova says that “according to unofficial data, there now live in Kyrgyzstan more than 100,000 Chinese,” most of whom are engaged in trade in the marks of Bishkek and other major Kyrgyz cities (www.gezitter.org/society/1901/).
Nearly all of them have arrived over the past 20 years, the Kyrgyz journalist writes, with some 150 to 200 ethnic Chinese arriving in Kyrgyzstan every month, only some of whom then return to their own country. As a result, “Chinatowns” are being formed in that Central Asian state, and its residents are asking “how is the spread of Chinese influence to be stopped?”
Relations between the Turkic Kyrgyz and the Han Chinese have a long history. At one point, according to Kyrgyz historians, “the Kyrgyz seized China and established a khanate there for 300 years,” Karimova writes, and in the Manas, the national epic, there are accounts of various wars between the two peoples.
In the past, the Kyrgyz journalist says, the Kyrgyz were deeply suspicious of the Chinese and “did not allow” them to come onto Kyrgyz lands because of the fear that the enormous difference in the size of the two peoples would mean that the Kyrgyz would soon drown in a Chinese sea.
Such attitudes continue. Kuseyn Isayev, a Kyrgyz sociologist, for example, observes that “if into the country arrives one Chinese, after ten days there will be 100 chinese and after 100 days, a 1000 and thus, having increased so rapidly in numbers, they will quickly conquer the entire country.”
After 1991, however, the Kyrgyz not only opened the border with China but “gave away to China the very valuable land of Uzengy-Kuush, where there should have been constructed three electrical stations and where there is valuable agricultural land.” This territory, Isayev says, has now been “lost forever.”
The Kyrgyz interior ministry is responsible for regulating the flow of immigrants into the country, but it is clearly failing to do so, Karimova writes. Many Chinese come on short-term visas and then remain in violation of the terms of their entrance. As a result, the number of Chinese in Kyrgyzstan is constantly growing.
According to specialists, she continues, “if this phenomenon is not stopped at the state border, then several years from now, the Chinese may completely ‘drown’ Kyrgyzstan.” But “unfortunately, now from the side of the official powers, there are no measures being planned or carried out to limit the number of Chinese coming into the country.”
One of the consequences of the influx of ethnic Chinese, Karimova says, is a dramatic increase in intermarriage between Han Chinese men and Kyrgyz women. A few years ago, such unions were a rarity, but now “they have become an ordinary thing,” further breaking down Kyrgyz defenses.
Isayev notes, Karimova reports, that “thanks to such a policy, China signified all of Eastern Turkestan.” And he argues that “the time has come for the Kyrgyz to think about their own honor and worth.” The residents of Kyrgyzstan “must not sell their holy land which they received from their ancestors.”
First of all, the Kyrgyz journalist says, “it is necessary to limit” the presence of Chinese traders in the bazaars. The Chinese there are becoming rich “by working in the largest bazaars,” benefitting from the willingness of the Kyrgyz to allow them to do so, something neighboring Central Asian countries do not.
Karimov notes that except for Kyrgyzstan, “not in a single post-Soviet country are Chinese citizens permitted to freely trade in bazaars. This is controlled by special laws.” Kyrgyzstan adopted such a law in 2007, she says, but “unfortunately a little later, a moratorium was declared on this law.”
According to Karimova, “specialists consider that the time has come” to restore this law. Otherwise, they say, the consequences will be disastrous. But tragically in their view, the current leaders in Bishkek are occupied with their own “personal interests, and no one is focusing on this circumstance which threatens the future of our country.”