Chinese PM Visits Bishkek as Embassy Bombing Remains Unsolved
China's prime minister, on a visit to Bishkek, called the security situation in Central Asia "complicated and severe" and promised to deepen security cooperation with Kyrgyzstan.
The Chinese premier, Li Keqiang, made the comments during a prime ministerial meeting of the Shanghai Cooperation Organization on November 2. The meeting took place as authorities continue to investigate an August suicide attack on the Chinese embassy in Bishkek, two months on it remains unclear who the organizers were or what were their motives.
The statements by officials from the two countries -- at least as they were reported by Chinese media -- suggested a China who was taking charge, and a Kyrgyzstan which was trying to keep China happy.
"Li expressed his hope that Kyrgyzstan will speed up the investigation and handling of the incident, provide support and assistance, and take necessary measures to ensure the safety of Chinese staff posted in Kyrgyzstan," the Chinese news agency Xinhua reported. Li also visited the embassy to check on the reconstruction.
Kyrgyzstan Prime Minister Sooronbay Jeenbekov in turn promised that Bishkek would "take all necessary measures to ensure the safety of the Chinese embassy and its staff" and "enhance cooperation with China in security law enforcement, fight the "three evil forces" of terrorism, separatism and extremism, and safeguard security and stability of the two countries and the region as a whole," according to Xinhua.
The SCO is a multilateral organization that includes China, Russia, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, and Uzbekistan. It has become more heavily focused on economic development in recent years, but it also is a venue for security cooperation. In September, the SCO held military exercises in Kyrgyzstan. China also has used the SCO as a forum for cooperating with Central Asian security and law enforcement forces on cracking down on Uighur groups who oppose Beijing's rule in the Xinjiang province of China, which borders Central Asia.
This year China has been markedly stepping up its security activities in Central Asia, setting up a counterterror organization with Afghanistan, Pakistan, and Tajikistan; building border posts for Tajikistan; and carrying out its first-ever joint exercises in Tajikistan. Credible reports emerged this week of Chinese military forces operating in Afghanistan's remote Wakhan corridor, which borders China and Tajikistan.
Little is known about the specifics of China or the SCO's role in the aftermath of the Bishkek embassy bombing, but a report in the Global Times suggests that it has been active:
In recent years, the SCO's profile has been raised, given the new security threats faced by the member states. The SCO provides these countries with an annual cooperative forum to address their interests and ease bilateral tensions. Meanwhile, it has built up capabilities to fight against the three evils, namely terrorism, separatism and extremism.
After a suicide bomber attacked the Chinese embassy in Bishkek in late August, injuring several embassy employees, investigators from the SCO worked on the case to find out who was behind the attack.
Last week Kyrgyz authorities announced that several military officers who had been caught stealing and selling weapons from state armories were found to have been connected with the embassy attack. That's somewhat farfetched given that no weapons were involved in the attack, which was carried out by a single man with a car bomb, and suggests that the authorities are having trouble getting to the real perpetrators. And it wouldn't be surprising if Bishkek is coming under some real pressure from Beijing to figure out what is going on there.
Joshua Kucera, a senior correspondent, is Eurasianet's former Turkey/Caucasus editor and has written for the site since 2007.