Questions of Responsibility Loom After Attack on Chinese Embassy in Kyrgyzstan
Chinese and Kyrgyz officials are investigating who launched a suicide bomb attack on the Chinese Embassy in Bishkek.
On Tuesday morning, a suicide bomber rammed a vehicle through the gates of the Chinese Embassy in Bishkek, the capital of Kyrgyzstan. Then he blew himself up, injuring three local workers who were on the property at the time.
“This was a suicide bomber; three people got injured; they were hospitalized,” Deputy Prime Minister Zhenish Razakov said in a video posted online. Embassy personnel were escorted off the compound shortly after the attack, which came just one day before the Central Asian nation’s Independence Day.
The bombing has raised questions as to why the Chinese Embassy, which is located near the U.S. Embassy, was targeted by the attacker, who has not been identified but whom Kyrgyz officials have labeled a “terrorist.”
China is the largest economic player in the region and has heavily invested in infrastructure to promote its “One Belt, One Road” project, a 21st-century version of the Silk Road that’s intended to connect China to Europe through its Central Asian neighbors. Although local governments have welcomed the influx of much needed foreign investment into the region, many Kyrgyz have grown to resent the initiative, seeing it as an opportunity for a foreign power to push further into Central Asia.
Beijing’s financial stakes in Central Asia are tied to Xinjiang, the far western Chinese region that borders both Kyrgyzstan and Kazakhstan and is already bogged down with its own internal struggles. Chinese officials there fear the strength of a separatist movement within the Uighur population of some 10 million Turkic speakers, who are mainly Muslims. Local media have said that Tuesday’s attacker appears to have been ethnic Uighur, although it is not yet clear where specifically he was from.
“The Foreign Ministry has immediately responded and asked the Kyrgyzstan side to take all effective measures to ensure the safety of Chinese institutions and personnel in the country, and to have a prompt and thorough investigation for the truth of the attack, and severely punish the attackers,” Hua Chunying, a spokeswoman for China’s Foreign Ministry, said at a news conference in Beijing shortly after the attack.
This is not the first time Chinese Embassy officials have been targeted in Kyrgyzstan. In 2002, unidentified gunmen shot and killed Wang Teng Ping, the Chinese Embassy’s first secretary in Bishkek, and his driver. And in 2000, Uighur separatists were blamed for an attack that left two other Chinese diplomats dead.
More recently, in 2014, as China came under scrutiny for its crackdown on the Uighur population, 11 Uighur men were killed trying to cross into Kyrgyzstan. Kyrgyz officials claimed at the time that the men were a security threat.
Photo credit: VYACHESLAV OSELEDKO/AFP/Getty Images