Uzbekistan & China: Economic Ties Eclipse Rights Abuses
As Uzbek President Islam Karimov prepares to visit to China this week, a human rights group in Tashkent is warning that the two nations' economic ties are growing thanks, in part, to their shared disregard for human rights.
But the Expert Working Group, one of the few human rights organizations still working in Uzbekistan, released a reminder on June 4 of the other things China and Uzbekistan share, like abysmal human rights records.
Uzbekistan sees China as a very convenient partner, in particular because of China’s silence over human rights situation in this Central Asian country. It is for that reason statements in the Uzbek mass media on “strengthening bilateral cooperation in the field of human rights” and “the Uzbek support for the Chinese position on the issues of Taiwan, Xinjiang and Tibet” raise irony and offend the ear.
Ties between the two Central Asian neighbors have undoubtedly grown over the past decade. In 2009, a pipeline opened connecting China to natural gas fields in Uzbekistan (as well as Turkmenistan and Kazakhstan). Chinese investment has been pouring into the Uzbek economy at a brisk clip. In April, China announced it would spend $15 billion for oil and gas exploration in Uzbekistan. In fact, China, the Expert Working Groups says, is Uzbekistan’s number one investor:
China buys from Uzbekistan cotton. […] The Chinese investors in Uzbekistan are mostly engaged in [the] energy sector, transport and communication systems, machinery, construction, agricultural economy, finances and developing uranium.
China has even mentioned that it would like to help beef up the Uzbek military, through some sort of vague joint cooperation. And China’s top military official just made Uzbekistan the first stop on his Central Asian tour, where he thanked Tashkent for standing by Beijing on such thorny issues like Xinjiang and Tibet.
So as Chinese capital builds up Uzbekistan, the Expert Working Group warns that bilateral disregard for human rights may grow as well.