Kyrgyzstan: Fear of land grab drives local rejection of key Belt & Road project
"Is anti-Chinese sentiment in Kyrgyzstan strong enough to freeze a key Belt and Road Initiative project?", 5 August 2021
When former Kyrgyz president Sooronbay Jeenbekov signed an agreement to build a massive trade and logistics center for Chinese goods in Kyrgyzstan during a state visit to China in 2018, two businessmen, one Chinese, the other Kyrgyz, saw an opportunity. [...] The project, estimated at 280 million US dollars, is to be built in a deserted plateau at 2,000 meters above sea level, around 40 kilometers from the village of At-Bashy, in northeastern Kyrgyzstan, on the main highway to the border with China. [...]
Guljan Aitbaeva, who runs a small shop in At-Bashy selling “Made in China” clothes, told Global Voices that ordinary residents were not informed about the construction of the logistics center. She herself learned of it through social networks and is concerned because she sees an echo of what happened in neighboring Tajikistan: “Tajikistan gave a piece of its land to China and this will happen with Kyrgyzstan too.”
In January 2011 Tajikistan agreed to give a part of its territory to China to resolve a century-old border dispute. Kyrgyzstan also reviewed its border with China in 2001 and lost some land in the process.
Using this precedent as a main argument, on 17 February 2020, 1,000 residents rallied against the project. The protest was organized by Mederbek Junusaliev, a local TV repairman, who collected signatures from local residents and appealed several times to the local administration. [...]
Fear of the effects of Chinese investment is not the only reason why locals in At-Bashy reject the project. Another concern is the likely lack of economic redistribution and endemic corruption, causing opposition to both the central government in Bishkek and to Chinese projects. [...]