Street crime, often the violent sort, is not unusual in Bishkek. Nor are accusations of police involvement. But complaints from the reticent Chinese Embassy are.
In a one-month period ending in late November, at least 20 Chinese citizens were robbed in Bishkek, reported The Global Times, a state-run English-language newspaper in Beijing, on December 17. One suffered a head injury. The Chinese Embassy has taken the unusual step of issuing an “emergency safety alert” warning its citizens to exercise caution and, in another statement, rebuking Kyrgyz authorities for failing to stop the attacks.
The surge in apparently targeted robberies follows the July murder of Chinese businessman Guan Joon Chan (name transliterated from the Russian), who was beaten to death shortly after reportedly arguing with local police over the protection money they demanded, Vechernii Bishkek reported at the time.
The Global Times estimates there are 80,000 Chinese citizens in Kyrgyzstan. Many work as traders in Bishkek’s Zhonghai market, part of the sprawling Dordoi complex.
Chinese businesspeople at Zhonghai told the paper that the number of actual robberies is likely much higher than is reported because victims are afraid to contact police. Some fear police are involved – a conclusion that will come as no surprise to anyone living in Bishkek, where police are known more as predators than crime fighters.
Li Quanjun, a Chinese businessman, told the Global Times that some robbers even acted in collusion with local policemen. Li's company suffered two premeditated robberies last year, leaving one of his employees dead and two heavily injured.
According to Li, all the suspects had been arrested, but to his astonishment one of the suspects was a policeman.
Wang [Xiaohuang, a Chinese businessman at Zhonghai] said he has helped many victims of the robbery by contacting the police, but found his own safety is at risk.
"Last Monday, when I drove with my wife back home after visiting a victim, two gunmen got out from a nearby car and began trying to smash our window," said Wang. "Fortunately, we kept calm and left safely."
"I guess that the two gunmen are accomplices of those arrested robbers, who want to take revenge for my frequent appearance at the police station," he said. Worrying about the safety of his pregnant wife, Wang said they rarely went out these days.
Chinese nationals are not the only victims of crime, of course. But, amid a general rise in xenophobia, Chinese are especially reviled by many Kyrgyz who fear their giant neighbor is swallowing their small country.
The impression Chinese are taking scarce jobs from Kyrgyz is also fueling resentment, as are concerns that Chinese mining outfits are ignoring environmental safeguards. Similar fears and bitterness are growing in neighboring Tajikistan, too.