Kyrgyzstan and China: The Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO), including relationship between China and Kyrgyzstan; activities of the organization involving the two countries (2012-2015) [ZZZ105073.E]

Research Directorate, Immigration and Refugee Board of Canada, Ottawa

1. Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO)

The website of the SCO states that it is a "permanent intergovernmental international organisation proclaimed on 15 June 2001 in Shanghai (China)" (SCO n.d.). Sources state that the organization was founded by the Republic of Kazakhstan, the People's Republic of China, the Kyrgyz Republic, the Russian Federation, the Republic of Tajikistan and the Republic of Uzbekistan (ibid.; Asia Times n.d.; The Diplomat 29 Aug. 2014).

The SCO website indicates that its goals are "strengthening mutual confidence and good-neighbourly relations among the member countries" (n.d.). A March 2011 white paper by Human Rights in China (HRIC) [1] titled Counter-Terrorism and Human Rights: The Impact of the Shanghai Cooperation Organization, reports that the SCO was founded in June 2001 to enhance economic cooperation and enhance security in Eurasia (372). A September 2012 article by Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty (RFE/RL) notes that the organization's charter "calls for members to protect human rights by working together" (2 Sept. 2012).

Sources report that SCO member states are using the organization as a "vehicle for human rights violations" (FIDH Aug. 2012, 1; The Diplomat 11 Sept. 2013). The 2011 white paper by HRIC similarly reports that the SCO's counter-terrorism framework is used as a "vehicle for social and political control over ethnic groups and other vulnerable targets" (4). In the September 2012 article, RFE/RL quotes a law lecturer at the University of Greenwich, who worked on Shanghai Cooperation Organisation: A Vehicle For Human Rights Violations, an August 2012 report prepared by the International Federation for Human Rights (FIDH), as stating that the SCO is more concerned with border issues and security than with protecting human rights (2 Sept. 2012). Sources report that the SCO's top priority is its security agenda and that many of its policy documents involve joint approaches to terrorism, separatism and extremism (CACI and SRSP 14 Aug. 2014a; Asia Times n.d.; The Diplomat 11 Sept. 2013). Similarly, according to EurasiaNet [2], the SCO is "primarily a security organization" (25 June 2014).

In correspondence with the Research Directorate, the Director of the International Development Studies Program at the Elliott School of International Affairs at George Washington University, whose research includes Central Asia and the Uyghur population of Central Asian China, and who has published extensively on this community, indicated that, when the SCO was first established, China's main interest as part of the organization was "ensuring that Central Asian states assist with China's interests via politically motivated Uyghurs in China by seeking to prevent the proliferation of Uyghur political movements advocating either for independence or the better observation of the rights of the Uyghurs of China" (4 Feb. 2015). Corroborating information could not be found among the sources consulted by the Research Directorate within the time constraints of this Response.

2. Relationship Between the SCO, China and Kyrgyzstan

In correspondence with the Research Directorate, the Director of the Central Eurasia Initiative at the University of Toronto stated that the "withdrawal of NATO from Central Asia, combined with the rising role of China in the region, mean[s] that China's political and economic agenda overwhelm that of neighbouring Kyrgyzstan" (3 Feb. 2015).

2.1 Uyghur Population in Kyrgyzstan

In correspondence with the Research Directorate, an independent researcher who has conducted research on the Uyghur population in Central Asia stated the following pertaining to the Uyghur population in Kyrgyzstan:

[O]n the government level, discrimination is widely applied due to Chinese influence through SOC and other bilateral agreements. Kyrgyzstan is one of the countries Uyghurs [escaping the Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region (XUAR) in China] cross by. Therefore, Beijing pays a lot of attention to control Uyghurs in Kyrgyzstan. Anyone who helps Uyghur refugees will be either threatened or punished by Kyrgyz authorities, especially its secret service or Sluzhba Nationalinocy Bexopasnosti - National Security Service. (4 Feb. 2015)

For further and corroborating information on the treatment of Uyghur Refugees by Kyrgyzstan authorities, see KGZ105071 and KGZ105072.

According to the Director of the International Development Studies Program at George Washington University, "China, via the SCO, influences supporting countries (including Kyrgyzstan) to shut down ... Uyghur political activity" and "many" Uyghur political activists in Kyrgyzstan and Kazakhstan "have been harassed by state security organs" (4 Feb. 2015). Corroborating information could not be found among the sources consulted by the Research Directorate within the time constraints of this Response.

3. Activities of the SCO
3.1 Anti-Terrorism and Security Initiatives

A 25 November 2014 article by EurasiaNet reports that the SCO requires its members to "align their separatism and anti-terrorism regulations with the Chinese government's standards, which are vaguely defined, thus giving Beijing leeway to brand any individual or group it finds problematic as a potential terrorist threat." The 2012 report by FIDH states that the "2005 Concept of Cooperation of SCO Member States requires them ... to give mutual recognition of acts of terrorism, separatism and extremism, regardless of whether legislation of the SCO Member States includes the act in the same category of crimes or whether it describes it using the same terminology" (FIDH Aug. 2012, 9). The same report states that the "lack of a precise definition of the subject matter at the core of the SCO's existence" allows for a "wide range of interpretations, some of which may be used to enable human rights violations" (ibid., 10). When an SCO state requests an individual's "expulsion and extradition on terrorism charges, or suspicion thereof, these requests must be unconditionally complied with by recipient Member States" (ibid.).

EurasiaNet reports that the SCO opened an "anti-terrorism center," the Regional Anti-Terrorism Structure (RATS), in Uzbekistan in June 2004 (EurasiaNet 25 Sept. 2012). According to the same source, RATS fosters joint action and coordinates policies on potential terrorist threats in SCO member states (ibid.). The March 2011 white paper by HRIC states that RATS is "a framework for coordination, information and analytical support for the competent agencies in the SCO member countries with relevant material on combating terrorism, extremism, and separatism" (31). In 2012, EurasiaNet quoted a RATS representative as stating that the SCO is not a "military bloc" and that the organization "focuses exclusively on terrorism and related illegal trans-national activities" (25 Sept. 2012).

HRIC reported in 2011 that SCO member states use the organization's counter-terrorism framework to target their own populations through repressive means (30 Mar. 2011). Corroborating information could not be found among the sources consulted by the Research Directorate within the time constraints of this Response.

A June 2012 article by New Europe, a European political newspaper based in Brussels (New Europe n.d.), reports that Kyrgyzstan's president, Almazbek Atambayev, and the Deputy Chief of the general staff of China's People's Liberation Army, Ma Xiaotian, met following the SCO anti-terror military exercises in Tajikistan, to discuss strengthening the security cooperation between the two countries (ibid. 19 June 2012). The New Europe article states that Kyrgyzstan's president said that "his country is keen to strengthen cooperation with China in various fields including defence and security" (ibid.). The same source reports that Ma stated that China and Kyrgyzstan have successfully conducted security and defence operations within the SCO framework (ibid.).

RFE/RL reports that the leaders of the SCO met in Bishkek in 2013 for a summit focused on economic development and regional security cooperation, particularly with regard to the situation in Afghanistan (RFE/RL 13 Sept. 2013). The same article reports that the "SCO presidents" signed the "Bishkek Declaration," which reiterates the SCO member states' joint efforts and cooperation against separatism, extremism, terrorism and drug trafficking (ibid.).

According to a 2014 article by EurasiaNet, the SCO set up a "new anti-terror unit" in order to further increase the cooperation with Central Asia and Russia in its fight against Uyghur nationalist groups (16 June 2014). Corroborating information could not be found among the sources consulted by the Research Directorate within the time constraints of this Response.

According to the Director of the International Development Studies Program at George Washington University, the SCO is taking on a "larger anti-terrorism character, especially against the Uyghur threat" (4 Feb. 2015). The Director of the Central Eurasia Initiative at the University of Toronto similarly stated that

[t]he SCO's anti-terrorism activities have become particularly robust over the past several years, and this means that ordinary pious Muslim Uyghurs on both sides of the border between China and Kyrgyzstan find themselves victims of arbitrary arrest, detention, or at least close and targeted surveillance. In short, the increasing influence of China and China's deep suspicion of Uyghurs as "separatists" or "terrorists" has forced the Kyrgyz government, as well, to adopt a China-like policy regarding Uyghurs on Kyrgyzstani territory. (3 Feb. 2015)

In correspondence with the Research Directorate, a representative of the World Uyghur Congress (WUC), an "international organisation that represents the collective interest of the Uyghur people both in East Turkestan and abroad" (WUC n.d.), stated that the political freedom of Uyghurs "ranks below that of an ethnic Kyrgyz citizen" and further noted that

[w]ith regards to Uyghur civil society groups, and citizens in general, China maintains a definite sense of control over government policies there.

...

An important factor in this relationship is Kyrgyzstan's membership in the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO). The organization's ostensible goal is the promotion of regional cooperation between states on political, economic, and security grounds. What this effectively means, with regards to Uyghur asylum seekers and refugees, is that Uyghurs attempting to flee East Turkestan (Xinjiang) are arrested and immediately returned to China where they often face lengthy prison time. (ibid. 4 Feb. 2015)

For further and corroborating information on the treatment of Uyghur asylum seekers and refugees see Response to Information Request KGZ105071 and KGZ105072.

3.2 Military Exercises

According to EurasiaNet, in 2011, "under the auspices" of the SCO, member states have conducted counter-terrorism exercises in Kashgar, Xinjian province (EurasiaNet 9 May 2011). The same article notes that, while such exercises are "often conducted against hypothetical enemies," one military exercise by Tajikistan, Kyrgyzstan and China focused on the Uyghurs (ibid.). Corroborating information could not be found among the sources consulted by the Research Directorate within the time constraints of this Response.

In 2014, the SCO, including member states China and Kyrgyzstan, participated in an anti-terrorist exercise or "military drill" called "Peaceful Mission-2014" (The Diplomat 29 Aug. 2014; CACI and SRSP 14 Aug. 2014b) in China's "Inner Mongolia Autonomous region" (ibid.). Sources report that the aim of the mission was to counter terrorism, separatism, and extremism (ibid.; The Diplomat 29 Aug. 2014), what China refers to as the "three evil forces" (ibid.). Sources report that 7,000 servicemen participated in the mission (ibid.; CACI and SRSP 14 Aug. 2014b). According to an article in the August 2014 issue of the CACI Analyst, a periodical providing "analysis and information" on Central Asia (ibid. n.d.) [3], SCO's executive committee conducted a smaller anti-terrorist exercise with Uzbekistan and Kyrgyzstan in March 2014 (ibid. 14 Aug. 2014b).

3.3 Economic Partnership

The March 2011 white paper by HRIC states that

the scope and magnitude of economic cooperation, particularly through cooperative financing of large-scale infrastructure, transportation, and resource extraction projects, and notably led by disproportionately large investments by China, underpin the practical implications of the SCO's regional influence. (25)

According to the Director of the International Development Studies Program at George Washington University, China uses the SCO as a "vehicle for multilateral issues" including "joint sharing of security information" and the "development of favorable trade relations between China and the Central Asian states" (4 Feb. 2015).

According to remarks made by the then director of the Institute for War and Peace Reporting (IWPR) [4] during a roundtable held by the Institute of Public Policy [5] in 2012, the main areas of economic cooperation between China and Kyrgyzstan at that time included

transport and communications infrastructure, energy, mining, and cross-regional and cross-border cooperation. In particular, joint projects in transport and communications are actively promoted - the rehabilitation of roads "Osh - Sary-Tash - Irkeshtam" and "Bishkek - Naryn - Torugart." The negotiation process on the project of building the railway "China - Kyrgyzstan - Uzbekistan" is taking a very long time, more than fifteen years, but it is going on. (IPP 18 Apr. 2012)

The same source stated that, as of April 2012, China and Kyrgyzstan were also working on improving the power supply in the south of Kyrgyzstan, which is being implemented "thanks to" the government of China and the SCO (ibid.).

According to 2012 remarks given by the then director of the IWPR, as of 2012, the government of China was funding several social development projects in Kyrgyzstan, including a hospital in Osh, a new building of the National Hospital of the Kyrgyz Republic, and the construction of a high school in Bishkek (ibid.).

According to the China Daily, an English-language daily newspaper based in Beijing, the presidents of China and Kyrgyzstan issued a joint declaration [on strategic partnerships (Jamestown Foundation 2 Oct. 2013)] in September 2013 in which the countries agreed to

  • "make joint efforts to upgrade bilateral trade structure, create conditions for importing products of each other, expand trade volume, and improve the laws and regulations governing trade exchanges";
  • "encourage the establishment of new joint ventures and assembly plants";
  • "strengthen cooperation on energy and positively promote the implementation of electric grid projects" and the "renewal of a thermal power plant in Bishkek";
  • cooperate on how to improve "radio spectrum usage" and "digital terrestrial television broadcast";
  • "boost agricultural cooperation," including the development of agricultural technology centers in Kyrgyzstan; and
  • "promote contact" between Kyrgyzstan's states and China's provinces and "consider conducting transportation and logistics cooperation" between both countries' airports (China Daily 11 Sept. 2013).

The same article reports that China and Kyrgyzstan "expressed satisfaction" with the successful completion of a power grid upgrading project in southern Kyrgyzstan, and "hailed" the successful completion of road restoration projects in Kyrgyzstan (ibid.).

According to sources, in 2013, Xi Jinping, the President of China, proposed the concept of developing "an economic zone on the Silk Road" (IPP 20 Jan. 2014; EurasiaNet 25 June 2014). According to the BBC, the Kyrgyz Telegraph Agency, a privately-owned online news agency, reported in December 2014 that Kyrgyzstan prime minister Joomart Otorbayev told his Chinese counterparts that Kyrgyzstan supports China's initiative to create the "Great Silk Road economic belt" and that the country is ready to take an "active" part in the implementation of the project (16 Dec. 2014).

A 2014 article by Kazinform, a Kazakhstani news agency (Kazinform n.d.), reports that the SCO member countries agreed at the 13th SCO prime ministers meeting in 2014 in Astana, Xinhua, to increase cooperation through projects in areas such as high-tech technology, telecommunications, transport and logistics (ibid. 16 Dec. 2014). The same article states that the countries agreed to expand cooperation in banking, technology, finance, energy, innovation, customs, and agriculture (ibid.).

According to Kazinform, following the 13th SCO prime ministers meeting, China indicated that it would coordinate with other SCO members to "foster" the SCO "development bank," which is intended to be a long-term "stable financing platform for regional cooperation" (ibid.). A December 2014 article by WPS, a Russian "media monitoring agency" (WPS n.d.), similarly reports that, at a 15 December 2014 meeting of SCO member states, the Prime Minister of Kyrgyzstan spoke in favor of establishing the bank as soon as possible (ibid. 17 Dec. 2014).

This Response was prepared after researching publicly accessible information currently available to the Research Directorate within time constraints. This Response is not, and does not purport to be, conclusive as to the merit of any particular claim for refugee protection. Please find below the list of sources consulted in researching this Information Request.

Notes

[1] HRIC is a Chinese NGO with offices in Hong Kong and New York that engages in "case and policy advocacy, media and press work, and capacity building" (HRIC n.d.). Its activities "promote fundamental rights and freedoms and provide solidarity for rights defenders and their families" (ibid.).

[2] EurasiaNet is a website that "provides information and analysis about political, economic, environmental and social developments in the countries of Central Asia and the Caucasus, as well as in Russia, Ukraine, Moldova, Turkey, and Southwest Asia" (EurasiaNet n.d.).

[3] The CACI Analyst is published by the Central Asia-Caucasus Institute (CACI) and the Silk Road Studies Program (SRSP) Joint Center, a transatlantic, independent research and policy centre that is affiliated with the Paul H. Nitze School of Advanced International Studies, Johns Hopkins University and the Institute for Security and Development Policy in Stockholm (CACI and SRSP n.d.).

[4] The IWPR is an organization that "gives voice to people at the frontlines of conflict and transition to help them drive change" by supporting "local reporters, citizen journalists and civil society activists in three dozen countries in conflict, crisis and transition around the world" (IWPR n.d.).

[5] The IPP is an "independent analytical and research center designed to promote the practice of public policy and constructive interaction between governmental institutions, civil society, mass media and business structures" (IPP n.d.).

References

Asia Times. N.d. Brendan P. O'Reilly. "SCO Glimpses a New Eurasia in Bishkek." [Accessed 5 Feb. 2015]

British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC). 16 December 2014. "Kyrgyzstan Backs China's Silk Road Economic Belt Project - Premier." (Factiva)

Central Asia-Caucasus Institute (CACI) and Silk Road Studies Program (SRSP) Joint Center. 14 August 2014a. John C.K. Daly. "Shanghai Cooperation Organization Set to Expand." CACI Analyst. [Accessed 14 Aug. 2015]

_____. 14 August 2014b. Oleg Salimov. "Central Asian Republics Participate in SCO Drills in China." CACI Analyst. [Accessed 9 Feb. 2015]

_____. N.d. "About." [Accessed 10 Feb. 2015]

China Daily. 11 September 2013. "China, Kyrgyzstan Vow to Boost Economic Cooperation." [Accessed 5 Feb. 2015]

The Diplomat. 29 August 2014. Shannon Tiezzi. "China Hosts SCO's Largest-Ever Military Drills." [Accessed 5 Feb. 2015]

_____. 11 September 2013. Tyler Roney. "The Shanghai Cooperation Organization: China's NATO?" [Accessed 5 Feb. 2015]

Director, Central Eurasia Initiative, University of Toronto. 3 February 2015. Correspondence with the Research Directorate.

Director, International Development Studies Program, Elliott School of International Affairs, George Washington University. 4 February 2015. Correspondence with the Research Directorate.

EurasiaNet. 25 November 2014. Cristina Maza. "Kyrgyzstan's Uighurs Cautious, Still Fear Chinese Influence." [Accessed 5 Feb. 2015]

_____. 25 June 2014. Chris Rickleton. "Russia and China Talk Past Each Other at SCO Pow-wow." [Accessed 5 Feb. 2015]

_____. 16 June 2014. Joshua Kucera. "SCO, CSTO Increasing Efforts Against Internet Threats." [Accessed 5 Feb. 2015]

_____. 25 September 2012. Richard Weitz. "Uzbekistan: A Peek Inside an SCO Anti-Terrorism Center." [Accessed 5 Feb. 2015]

_____. 9 May 2011. Joshua Kucera. "Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan Take Part in Anti-Uyghur "Terror" Exercise in China." [Accessed 5 Feb. 2015]

_____. N.d. "About EurasiaNet." [Accessed 6 Feb. 2015]

Fédération internationale des ligues des droits de l'homme (FIDH). August 2012. Shanghai Cooperation Organisation: A Vehicle For Human Rights Violations. [Accessed 12 Feb. 2015]

_____. March 2011. Counter-Terrorism and Human Rights: The Impact of the Shanghai Cooperation Organization. [Accessed 12 Feb. 2015]

_____. 30 March 2011."Compromise of Human Rights Under Cover of Counter-Terrorism - Human Rights in China Releases a Whitepaper on the Shanghai Cooperation Organization." [Accessed 5 Feb. 2015]

_____. N.d. "About Us." [Accessed 9 Feb. 2015]

Independent Researcher. 4 February 2015. Correspondence with the Research Directorate.

Institute for Public Policy (IPP). 20 January 2014. "Constantine Syroezhkin: "Concept of Formation of 'Economic Belt on the Silk Road': Problems and Prospects." [Accessed 6 Feb. 2015]

_____. 18 April 2012. "Roundtable Transcript: "Foreign Policy Priorities of Kyrgyzstan." [Accessed 5 Feb. 2015]

_____. N.d. "About." [Accessed 6 Feb. 2015]

Institute for War and Peace Reporting (IWPR). N.d. "What We Do." [Accessed 11 Feb. 2015]

Jamestown Foundation. 2 October 2013. Igor Rotar. "Chinese Investment in Kyrgyzstan Hampered by Unstable Business Climate." Eurasia Daily Monitor, Vol. 10, Issue 41.

Kazinform. 16 December 2014. "Spotlight: SCO Members in One Voice on Deepening Cooperation." (Factiva)

_____. N.d. "About Kazinform." [Accessed 9 Feb. 2015]

New Europe. 19 June 2012. "Kyrgyzstan and China to Closely Cooperate on Security Issues." [Accessed 11 Feb. 2015]

_____. N.d. "About New Europe." [Accessed 11 Feb. 2015]

Radio Free Europe (RFE/RL). 13 September 2013. "SCO Summit Focuses on Afghanistan, Economic Cooperation." [Accessed 12 Feb. 2015]

_____. 2 September 2012. "Group Says SCO 'Vehicle' For Rights Abuses." [Accessed 5 Feb. 2015]

Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO). N.d. "Brief Introduction to the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation." [Accessed 5 Feb. 2015]

World Uyghur Congress (WUC). 4 February 2015. Correspondence from a representative to the Research Directorate.

_____. N.d. "Introducing the World Uyghur Congress." [Accessed 11 Feb. 2015]

WPS. 17 December 2014. "Russia Stands in the Way of Establishing the Development Bank of the Shanghai Cooperation Organization in Which China Would Play a Dominant Role. (Factiva)

_____. N.d. "About WPS." [Accessed 6 Feb. 2015]

Additional Sources Consulted

Internet sites, including: Amnesty International; Asian Human Rights Commission; Asia Society; ecoi.net; Freedom House; Human Rights Watch; International Committee of the Red Cross; International Crisis Group; IRIN; National Institute for Strategic Studies of Kyrgyzstan; UN – Office at Geneva, RefWorld; Xinhua News Agency.