A suicide bomber attacked the Chinese embassy in the Kyrgyz capital Bishkek last Tuesday using a car, killing himself and injuring three local employees. The State Committee for National Security of Kyrgyzstan described the incident as a terrorist attack and initiated a criminal investigation. Central Asia has seen a number of terrorist attacks in recent years, and Kyrgyzstan is on the front line of anti-terrorism operations. China’s interests in Central Asia have been increasingly threatened, and thus the Chinese government should strengthen its capability to guard its interests abroad.
With the relocation of international terrorism and the infiltration of exterior terrorist groups, the “three evil forces” of extremism, terrorism, and seperatism have become more rampant in Central Asia. About 2,500 to 4,500 young people from ex-Soviet Union regions are reported to have been recruited to the Islamic State (IS) to fight in Iraq and Syria in recent years.
Since 2015, many IS fighters have returned to Central Asia and colluded with local terrorists. The situation in Afghanistan has deteriorated since last year. The Taliban, together with other armed groups, seized a number of administrative centers in northern Afghanistan, and some militants have sneaked deep into Central Asia, and are responsible for several terrorist attacks there.
Earlier this year, an armed group attacked a Turkmen border post and trespassed across the borderline to plunder. Nearly 30 terrorists attacked two gun shops and an army unit in northwestern Kazakhstan’s city of Aktobe in June, resulting in civilian and military casualties. A police station and a security service office in Kazakhstan’s largest city Almaty were attacked in July, causing several deaths. A number of terrorist attacks have been detected and prevented by force departments.
The bombing at the Chinese embassy reflects the fragile security situation in Kyrgyzstan. The country saw two unexpected regime changes in 2005 and 2010, and the political situation in Bishkek is particularly unstable, perplexed by the global financial crisis and economic downturn. In fact, Kyrgyzstan’s security departments, for a long time, have not stretched themselves to prevent and fight against terrorism.
As a result, Hizb ut-Tahrir and other extremist religious groups are rampant in Kyrgyzstan. Terrorist attacks targeted at China have taken place in Kyrgyzstan several times. In 2002, Wang Jianping, a Chinese diplomat in Kyrgyzstan, was shot dead by East Turkestan terrorists at the city center of Bishkek. In 2003, East Turkestan terrorists shot 18 Chinese civilians to death and burnt their bodies in Kyrgyzstan. The blast at the Chinese embassy this time is another evil terrorist attack against China.
As a neighbor to Central Asia, China should be more capable of handling security threats in the Central Asian countries. With a higher degree of opening-up, China, in recent years, has invested an increasing number of projects in Central Asia, and more Chinese citizens travel to Central Asian countries for study and work. Chinese employees and institutions are thus more prone to be targeted by terrorists, who attempt to cause a sensation and to realize their political aims.
Terrorism exerts tremendous influences on the international situation, and no country can wall itself off from it. At present, Russia and Kazakhstan have explicitly claimed that they will strengthen anti-terrorism cooperation. Russian Foreign Ministry spokesperson Maria Zakharova “strongly and unequivocally” condemned the blast at the Chinese embassy and stressed the need for anti-terrorism cooperation.
The Kazakh Foreign Ministry sharply criticized the bombing and pledged support for Kyrgyzstan in the investigation over the incident. Central Asia has a complicated security situation, and exterior terrorist groups are intensifying their efforts to infiltrate their influences there. Given this situation, China should strengthen cooperation with other regional countries, and take full advantage of the Shanghai Cooperation Organization to fight against all forms of terrorism and thus ensure security and stability in the region.
[The author is a PhD candidate at the Institute of Russian, Eastern European and Central Asian Studies, Chinese Academy of Social Sciences. firstname.lastname@example.org]