It’s rare a Chinese businessman publicly airs a complaint about doing his job in Central Asia. So an op-ed complaining about the deteriorating situation for miners in Kyrgyzstan, published by a state-run Chinese media outlet, deserves flagging.
Last week protestors in Kyrgyzstan’s northern Chui Province succeeded in shutting down work at the Taldy-Bulak Levoberezhnyi gold field. Local news agencies reported that several hundred locals picketed the headquarters, in Orlovka, on October 22, demanding the company be closed. China's Superb Pacific Ltd was working to prepare the site, scheduled to go into operation in 2014. Some media reported that Chinese and Kyrgyz workers engaged in a mass brawl. Radio Free Europe said protestors were angry over what they called the Chinese company’s illegal sacking of Kyrgyz citizens and polluting of the local environment.
Approximately 250 Chinese workers reportedly were evacuated and operations suspended indefinitely.
In response, the head of the Chinese Chamber of Commerce in Kyrgyzstan, Li Deming, wrote in the English-language Global Times (a baby of the Communist Party’s People’s Daily) on October 28 that doing business in Kyrgyzstan is “not easy.”
“Resistance from locals, which is usually ignited by opposition parties, trap many foreign companies working in this country in an unstable and risky situation,” Li wrote. He added that more than 50 Chinese companies work in Kyrgyzstan’s mining sector, but blamed government corruption and mismanagement of licensing for enraging locals. “If the Kyrgyz government doesn't fix its own problems, we can foresee more undesirable results from foreign resources projects.”
The violence in Orlovka was not unusual. Both Chinese and Western companies have experienced regular attacks on their facilities in recent years.
In August 2011, some 300 locals beat up three Chinese miners at the Solton-Sary gold mine in Naryn Province, accusing the Chinese of ignoring environmental safeguards and treating Kyrgyz workers poorly. Three Kyrgyz police who tried to protect the site were also attacked. At the time, the Chinese ambassador criticized Bishkek for failing to protect the interests of foreign investors.
Last month dozens of people in Jalal-Abad Province, in Kyrgyzstan’s south, attacked a Chinese base camp for workers building a road to the Charaat gold mine and seized some equipment. They said they were angry that Chinese trucks were damaging local roads.
As Li suggested in his Global Times op-ed, few take protestors’ stated reasons for unhappiness at face value anymore.
Kyrgyzstan has been suffering from a spell of resource nationalism. The affliction was vividly on display earlier this month when a lawmaker led a group of protestors over the fence surrounding parliament in Bishkek. He and two other deputies were arrested after calling on their supporters to attack the building. The protest was ostensibly organized to demand the nationalization of the country’s largest gold mine, though the deputies appeared to use the occasion to distract from their other legal problems.