Discussion Section: Should China Send Troops to Kyrgyzstan?

You are, no doubt, already aware of the unrest in Kyrgyzstan:

After three days of ethnic rioting that spread across the south of this strategically important Central Asian nation, many streets in this city lay in smoldering ruins on Sunday night.

The official death toll rose to more than 100, and thousands of refugees poured across the border into Uzbekistan as the authorities were unable to contain the murderous mobs.

Whole sections of Osh, where longstanding tensions between the Kyrgyz majority and the Uzbek minority exploded into violence Thursday night, were all but deserted on Sunday, and heavy black smoke still billowed from Uzbek enclaves set afire by Kyrgyz gangs.

Heavily armed police officers guarded intersections, and troops patrolled in tracked artillery vehicles, but few pedestrians or motorists were visible.

Readers may also be aware that the Kyrgyz government has asked both the United States and Russia for military aid and rubber bullets to quell what is beginning to sound like a genocide. Washington apparently turned them down outright, and Russia is holding out for the approval of other local powers before deploying troops.

Unlike Russia, China actually borders Kyrgyzstan. As far as I’m aware, Kyrgyzstan hasn’t asked them for aid, but an email from a friend of mine this morning raised some interesting questions I thought I would pass on to you all. Here’s part of his email:

“[…] AP is reporting more than 75,000 ethnic Uzbek refugees have fled the country as mobs of Kyrgyz men attack their villages and slaughter the inhabitants. The city of Osh, which is the country’s second-largest and heavily Uzbek, has apparently largely been destroyed. It’s being to sound vaguely like genocide, and the government says it can’t quell the disturbances on its own. Russia says it won’t send troops, but maybe China would? China is interested in Central Asian energy resources and China and Kyrgyzstan are both in the Shanghai Cooperation Organization.”

China would certainly be hesitant to deploy military resources of any kind outside its own borders, given that the fact that they’ve never done that before (which, of course, isn’t true) is part of the domestic propaganda narrative (after all, only imperialist countries invade other countries). Still, they certainly could help, and if the Kyrgyz government needs help, why shouldn’t they? It might be in their own interests, as my friend suggests above, but more to the point, it seems like the right thing to do.

However, what with preparing for the move in a couple days I have not been following this story too closely, so I leave the analysis to you. Thoughts?

0 thoughts on “Discussion Section: Should China Send Troops to Kyrgyzstan?”

  1. I think that Kyrgyzstan is ‘virtually’ owned by Russia and unfortunately, this is supported by Russia’s version of ethnic cleansing. To further complicate this, US has a base there. To be against Russia and US’ interest is a no win situation for China.


  2. Not going to happen – even though it would be a great opporunity for the powers to be in Beijing to effectively cut a good deal of the illegal drugs/goods trading in the XinJiang Province. For all the pomp and parades, the PLA is still smarting from the Vietnam Fiasco and the CCP does not want to be drawn into a conflict where it could leave itself open to an oil embargo by OPEC.

    It will get involved if incidents occur at the Kyrgyzstani/P.R. Chinese border – but from the looks of it – that is a very remote probability.


  3. China has not deployed even a single soldier on foreign soil, and has always been hesitant to do so; unless under the UN banner. In fact, China is the largest contributor to UN peacekeeping missions among the permanent members.
    Sending forces abroad simply goes against every tenet of Chinese foreign policy, which has always been that of avoiding conflict as much as possible.
    As far as Chinese investments in Kyrgyzstan are not affected, it will not send troops even if requested; and perhaps not even then, simply because it is not in its nature to do so. In any case, SCO observers are on their way.

    There are in fact many examples where China has not interfered in sovereign issues of other countries even when its own national interest was affected.

    Custer, regarding the wikipedia link:

    Nowadays there is an increasing body of opinion which refers to the Sino-Vietnamese war as evidence of China’s ‘aggressiveness’ and tendency to wage war. However, during the time, the sole Chi­nese objec­tive was to “teach Viet­nam a les­son”. It was simply a result of years of deteriorating relations between the two countries. China’s main aim was to teach the Viet­namese that Viet­nam could not attack Chi­nese client states, in this case Cam­bo­dia, with impunity. The major objec­tive of the Chi­nese attack was to seize three provin­cial cap­i­tals: Lao Cai, Cao Bang, and Lang Son. Need­less to say, after doing so, the PLA with­drew to its own territory, incurring considerable losses; with its major objective remaining unfulfilled – that of deterring Vietnam from installing a puppet regime in Cambodia.
    China did not occupy even one INCH of extra ter­ri­tory com­pared to that before the war. The Sino-Vietnamese border dispute was subsequently resolved by China keeping half the disputed territory.

    Now, there will always be people who will justify the war as saying that some Chinese leaders waged it to ‘consolidate’ power, or to ‘divert attention’ from domestic problems. Similar myths are circulating about Mao’s decision regarding the 1962 Sino-Indian war.

    In fact, adherents of the so-called ‘diversionary war’ theory choose to ignore the fact that Chinese leaders were more likely to compromise in disputes when confronting internal threats to their power, like rebellions or ethnic unrest. Hence, in China’s case, the exact opposite of the ‘diversonary’ war theory has been true. A series of violent incidents in Xinjiang in the 90’s resulted in China concluding peaceful resolutions regarding its border disputes with all former Soviet republics by keeping very small amounts of the disputed (and resource rich) lands for itself. In Kyrgyzstan’s case, China received only 32% of the total disputed land of 3656 sq.kms. The corresponding figure for Tajikistan regarding the disputed Pamir mountains is only 4% (allegedly, a terrorist camp was operating from the disputed area – a fact which may not have been completely unrelated).

    In fact, China’s efforts to compromise and avoid conflict have been at its maximum when regime insecurity was most acute: the revolt in Tibet, the failure of the Great Leap Forward, and separatist violence in Xinjiang etc.
    In any case, since China is not a multi party ‘democracy’, it doesn’t need to justify its rule by waging war and succumbing to popular rhetoric, as was the case with India’s posture in 1962 (which provoked China to attack).

    BTW, I’m surprised that the US refused such an opportunity. One would have expected it to seize the slightest excuse to interfere and send more troops, to gain the upper hand in the so called ‘New Great Game’ of Central Asia. And here was an open invitation from the host country itself!


  4. Maitreya,

    Good comment you wrote up. Yes, I do think that the US has the most to gain by helping out Kyrgyzstan because they have an excuse to keep their base there. Yet they refused it because they cared more about relations with Russia than them. Russia wasn’t totally heartless though, they sent humanitarian aid there.

    Russia didn’t say that they would not send help, but they rather sent it under a UN coalition. I would not be surprised that some UN Resolution comes up and China will be sending peacekeepers under the UN flag instead.


  5. @ Maitreya: Ah, I see. So it doesn’t count as deploying troops to foreign soil if you’re just deploying them to “teach [the other country] a lesson”! Who knew! Man, I bet Bush wishes he had known that when he decided to invade Iraq…

    Seriously, that’s some US-government-level rationalization you’ve got going on there.


  6. @pug_ster: Thanks. I too think that a UN coalition would indeed be better.

    @Custer: Thanks for replying.

    You will observe that I have put that phrase in quotes to indicate that the Chinese themselves said it; and from the sentence prior to it is clear that my reference was to China being labelled ‘aggressive’ by many analysts and historians. It was only meant to be the beginning of my subsequent explanation , which was that diversionary war does not even come close to describing the motives for either the Sino-Indian or Sino-Vietnamese wars. I only included their reason to put things in perspective. I think you took that statement completely out of context.

    Also, the Sino-Vietnamese war doesn’t count as ‘deploying’ troops per se, because as I mentioned, the Chinese troops retreated immediately after their limited srategic objectives were accomplished; and the same thing had happended 17 years earlier during the Sino-Indian war.
    The comparision with Iraq is equally erroneous. US troops remain in Iraq to this day. All of us know why Bush invaded Iraq, justifying it by giving the false excuse of WMDs.


  7. Ah, so it doesn’t count as deploying troops as long as they retreat after accomplishing their goals? WHAT? I’m not arguing your history but I think it’s beside the point. My point was just that China HAS deployed troops in the past. And regarding whether or not it “counted”, I think there’s a pretty simple answer. Did china send troops to another country at any point, for any reason, for any period of time? If yes, then they “deployed troops” because that’s what the words “deploy troops” mean.


  8. Yes China has ‘deployed’ troops in the past, and I’ve never explicitly said otherwise. However, I think that to call the Chinese invasion of Vietnam an act of ‘deploying’ troops is a bit too pedantic, that is why I used the phrase ‘per se’. Of course you are technically correct in using the word ‘deploy’, hence the phrase ‘per se’. Deploying troops generally means that the troops occupy enemy territory for a prolonged period of time and do not move or retreat. And in China’s case, in both wars the ‘deployment’ period was less than a month, which is the least possible period, given that the time required to march back during those conditions should also be taken into account.

    In any case, this is a trivial side issue and need not detain us. I just think that you paid more attention to the letter than to the spirit by drawing a comparision with Iraq. My major point was that the comparision is a bit far fetched and the motives behind the Sino-Vietnamese war cannot be explained by the diversionary war theory.

    Also, I don’t see how exactly ‘my history’ is ‘beside the point’. I was trying to counter the argument made by some historians (on the wikipedia article which you linked to) that Deng Xiaoping used the war as a diversion to seize or strengthen his power.


  9. I think you’re incorrect to suggest that “deploying troops” generally means prolonged occupation. Certainly, people do sometimes use it that way, but that’s not what the word means, nor is that the general assumption when people say someone has “deployed troops”. For example, if you asked people on the street whether or not Beijing deployed troops to quell the student protests in ’89, they would say yes, despite the fact that the military did not occupy the city for a particularly long time after accomplishing their goal. Similarly, if you asked Americans whether the US deployed troops to Iraq during the first Gulf War, I think most people would say yes, despite the fact that that, too, was a relatively short conflict and they began pulling out fairly quickly (perhaps not quite as quickly as China from Vietnam, but it certainly wasn’t a long term occupation).

    In any event, I wasn’t comparing the Sino-Vietnamese war to the current Iraq war, I was just suggesting that the “we were just teaching them a lesson” rationalization for invasion sounds like something the Bush administration might have used, in that it’s very weak and doesn’t make a ton of sense. It was mostly just a joke.

    The history is beside the point because my mention of the Sino-Vietnamese war in the original post was just a brief parenthetical aside that had pretty much nothing to do with the main point or the question I was posing. My intention was never to discuss China’s intentions with the Sino-Vietnamese war or its other border disputes, I was just quickly mentioning that one factor China might consider when analyzing whether to help the Kyrgyz gov’t would be how it would fit into the “China doesn’t invade other countries or interfere in their internal affairs” narrative.


  10. @ Maitreya: Your explanation of the causes of the Sino-Vietnamese war seems somewhat simplified. The Chinese explanation of protecting its client states at face value might be true on a superficial level, but the deeper issue at stake was Chinese / Soviet competition for dominance in SE Asia, since Vietnam was firmly in the Soviet camp by that time. Considering Cambodia provoked the war by leading attacks on Vietnamese soil, Chinese retaliation can only seen as a cynical play in a power game in the region (not unlike your characterization of the US being inclined to play a “New Great Game” in Central Asia).

    In any case, I am very glad the United States refused to get involved, at least at this stage. I wouldn’t want to see something like that until there are commitments from other countries and time frames on the table. It would be interesting and possibly beneficial for the United States and China to cooperate on peacekeeping work in Kyrgyzstan under the UN flag.


  11. So… the consensus of majority of the folks that have commented that the PLA may be deployed if P.R. China gets a green light for peacekeeping?

    Call me a bit pensive – but I have a feeling even that would not get the CCP to approve the action. It is one thing to have a small force rotating in and out of Africa and parts of the Middle East – it is another to deploy a large force in a former Soviet Territory – with Russian and American Bases.


  12. Nice quality debate on all sides.

    It’s ironic how Russia lost no time in invading Georgia in 2008 under the guise of helping a tiny ethnic minority, the Ossetians, yet when the Kyrgyzstan government asks for help in protecting their Uzbek minority, Russia dallies.



  13. @Custer

    Again I see that you are comparing apples and oranges. I know what the dictionary meaning of ‘deploy’ is, but I am of the opinion that the general usage of the word is a bit more restricted than that i.e. looking at not only in letter but in spirit. Yes, China ‘deployed’ the army in Tienanmen; but is that even remotely comparable as the US ‘deploying’ its army in Iraq; and is that, in turn, even remotely the same as China ‘deploying’ its army in Vietnam? Yes – The army was ‘deployed’ in both cases, but I think it is a grave injustice to mention them together and compare them as you did to prove your point.

    I don’t think that people sometimes use the word ‘deploy’ that way as you said, I think that people generally use the word that way. We can agree to disagree on that.

    These two events are not ‘similar’ by any standard. Such unrelated questions are generally asked one after the other in surveys to make them look unbiased. (http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0086831/quotes)

    BTW, I have never said that “it doesn’t count as deploying troops to foreign soil if you’re just deploying them to “teach [the other country] a lesson””, nor have I ever said that “it doesn’t count as deploying troops as long as they retreat after accomplishing their goals”. You completely took my statements out of context, put words in my mouth, focused on one point after isolating it and didn’t look at the big picture. My whole point was, that China ‘deploying’ troops in Vietnam (and then immediately retreating) is not even remotely comparable to the US deploying troops in Iraq (92,000 of whom are still there after 7 years). In that case, one can also argue that China ‘deployed’ its army to India in 1962; or that India ‘deployed’ its army to Bangladesh in 1971. No historian uses such statements – that’s like only focusing in the letter and not in the spirit of the word ‘deploy’ as it is generally used; but almost everyone uses such statements regarding US occupations, or the act of deploying troops to secure one’s own borders etc. That’s the general usage in my opinion.

    In you original post you said: China would certainly be hesitant to deploy military resources of any kind outside its own borders,….; and the post was with reference to whether or not China should ‘deploy’ troops in Kyrgyzstan. Now, is this ‘deployment’ even remotely comparable to the Chinese ‘deployment’ of troops in Vietnam, whose wikipedia article you linked to in the next line? You were trying to relate the Chinese invasion of Vietnam to the hypothetical act of China deploying troops in Kyrgyzstan. Kyrgyzstan was asking help from third parties to ‘deploy’ troops to help with riot control, an entirely different situation China’s ‘deployment’ of troops to Vietnam, to say the least.

    In any case Custer, I think that this matter is purely one of personal opinion. Different people will have different opinions, and as such I would say that this is a side issue. Let’s just agree to disagree on this topic.

    I think that this is the fault of the poorly constructed English language and its lack of quality (not quantity) vocabulary. Hence, one word has to be used to describe varied meanings.


    BTW, I am curious as to why you linked to the section of the section of the wikipedia article which deals with diversionary war in particular, and not the whole article. If your point really was to prove that China has deployed troops in the past, you could have directly and as easily linked to the main article. It is due to this reason that I discussed that topic at length in my first comment.

    As far as the “teaching a lesson” issue is concerned, as I’ve said earlier, I put that in quotes to indicate that that was the Chinese explanation and I only included it to put things in perspective. I agree that it is a silly excuse. The reasons as to why China sought to ‘teach Vietnam a lesson’ (which they couldn’t) are again not comparable to the reasons for the US invading Iraq, as we all know.

    I’ve only included the reasons which I did to bring home the point that the Sino-Vietnamese war was not a diversionary war in any way. I’ve simplified the reasons because the thread is not about that war per se. Indeed there are other reasons pertaining to geopolitics. One reason also cited is the mistreatment of ethnic Han in Vietnam. In any case, reasons are many – but none of them can be explained by the diversionary war theory.

    I am also glad that the US refused to get involved, but a bit surprised.


  14. The question of whether China will “deploy” troops to Kyrgystan will be answered soon if the chaotic situation worsens. China would use the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation (SCO) as cover.

    China is in transition from its “non-interference” foreign policy to one of protecting its vital interests.

    Kyrgyzstan is an important trade partner, stands astride vital routes to China’s Central Asian export markets, notably Kazakhstan. More significantly, given the recurring unrest in China’s western, largely Muslim province of Xinjiang , the ethnic Uygur population of Kyrgyzstan is estimated at up to a quarter of a million. That makes the country’s stability a key security concern for Beijing.

    China was also mindful of defending its spreading pipeline network in Central Asia. Logic will dictate protecting those costly and valuable assets.

    China’s efforts to acquire three aircraft carriers are a reflection of a growing, robust foreign policy. This will new policy will include “deploying” Chinese troops outside of China’s borders in the full definition of the term.


  15. Was there something objectionable in my post?

    Is it your policy that you will delete ideas you don’t agree with?

    Would like to know. If true will not post again.

    [Your IP has been banned for pretending to be Kai Pan, hence the comments not appearing -ed.]


  16. “It’s probably better to have him inside the tent pissing out, than outside the tent pissing in.”

    Lyndon Johnson on FBI Director J. Edgar Hoover, as quoted in The New York Times (31 October 1971)


  17. Thanks for the explanation.

    Kai Pan was very unfair and hypocritical in blocking or deleting views or comments that disagreed with his pompous, bombastic views.

    I used satire and ridicule to show the stupidity and illogic of Kai Pan’s view and opinion. His method of debate is to cut off comments or posts that exposed the weakness of his logic. He used this approach at ChinaSmack and at his own blog.

    I used no obscene language or profanity in my debate.

    I believe, I used well-thought-out arguments backed up by current events and historical reference.

    Since Kai Pan unfairly used his position as moderator to stifle debate, I used an asymmetric form of debate to counter his hypocrisy and unfairness. I have never used this approach with other blogs, including yours, and the many others I comment on.

    My disagreement is with the arrogant, autocratic, and hypocritical manner in which Kai Pan ran his blog. You and Maitreya expressed differences of opinions but I don’t believe, (I hope not) you banned him from posting his arguments. Your differences are well-thought-out and vigorously expressed. I agree with this style. This is how debate is conducted in a democratic society.

    Kai Pan is a product of a feudal, autocratic society and his brief exposure to the socratic form of debate gave him just enough insight to be “stupid and hard-working.” He practices the same methods the PRC applies to views and comments they cannot control – ban or censor them.

    I would like to contribute to the discussion on China because I believe I can make a valuable contribution.

    If you review my previous comments, you will notice that my comments are pertinent to the posted topic.

    If you still believe I should be banned from contributing to the “commentary on modern Chinese social and political issues,” well, I rest my case.


  18. @ Hank: Man, I wrote a long response to this and then it somehow got eaten by the system. I blame the crappy internet at this hotel. Anyway, here’s the short version:

    (1) What you did was in no way a “form of debate”, it was stealing someone else’s online identity in order to construct a straw-man version of their argument to shame them.

    (2) Whatever Kai has done, he has no control over the comments here, so even if two wrongs did make a right, that reasoning isn’t applicable your comments on this site.

    (3) Your comments will remain automatically moderated for the time being, but I will approve them when I see them, assuming they follow all the stipulations of our comments policy.

    (4) Any further violations of that policy or of the general spirit of productive debate on this site will result in a permanent ban and your future comments being automatically deleted by the system as soon as you submit them.

    If you have any questions feel free to contact me.


  19. @ c. custer

    You are absolutely right.

    I have no beef with this blog, however, you stated that my posts were rejected because of “stealing” Kai Pan’s identity. I did not make any post on this blog under his identity, therefore, my post should have been treated as a normal post. Anyway, that’s besides the point.

    My disagreement with Kai Pan goes back to the time when he continuously rejected my posts because I criticized the racist and cowardly way he supported the attacks on a little black Chinese girl who came under vicious attacks from Chinese netizens.

    Some moderators abuse their position as “owners” of a blog. By posting a blog on the internet, one, by definition, invites comments, criticisms, support, etc., from the general public. If a moderator does not want to attract criticism or negative views, he should not post a blog.

    Of course, in the world we live in, there are people who have a destructive agenda and these people can be disruptive.

    In Kai Pan case, he purposely blocked or deleted any post that exposed his comments or views to ridicule. He justified his so-called prerogative as moderator by labeling critics he did not like as “trolls.”

    I read his little spiel on twitters explaining to the public that he was not responsible for questionable postings under his name. Obviously, he experienced the “unfairness” of this act. Well, what goes around, comes around.

    I don’t make an issue of creating problems for people who disagree with me or with whom I disagree. However, in Kai Pan’s case, with his pompous, arrogant, racist behavior, I decided to show him that two could play the game. I don’t regret any discomfort (I hope) I caused him.

    Moderate my comments as you see fit, however, I do not believe you will find anything that will justify a permanent ban.

    Thank you for your consideration.


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