More on Karimov in China

by Nathan Hamm on 5/25/2005

RFE/RL carries a story with a few notable points.

Rana Mitter teaches modern Chinese politics and history at Oxford University in England. He says China’s problems in Xinjiang define how it has responded to the unrest in Andijon.

“I was actually just in Shanghai when the Andijon incidents were taking place, and so I got the chance to see how it was being portrayed over there. And one of the things that is very noticeable is that I think the way in which the Uzbek government, President Karimov, puts it — i.e., that this is an uprising by Islamic militants who want to undermine the state and so forth, which obviously is a perspective not shared by the European side in particular, and to some extent by some of those in the U.S. — is something the Chinese government has no particular interest in trying to undermine,” Mitter said.

Mitter says he would have been surprised if the events in Andijon had influenced China’s willingness to host Karimov.

“They feel that, because of what they perceive as a separatist problem in Xinjiang in western China, that the question of subversion from within is one that, first of all, they are genuinely worried about. But secondly, [it’s a question] they can play on as a security issue, that enables them to crack down within Chinese territory. To that extent, they have been and will continue to be very supportive of all the nondemocratic governments in Central Asia, including Uzbekistan, which continue to basically play down and often abuse human rights on the grounds that they are doing so for security reasons,” Mitter says.

And from my favorite former UK ambassador to Uzbekistan (see, I can find some common ground).

“I think it [the visit] will mean a huge amount to him. And it will enable him to be shown a great deal on domestic television in Uzbekistan, with powerful people, being treated as a great and important leader. And that’s the message. He actually loves doing state visits because Uzbek television — which is, of course, entirely state-controlled — will show nothing but images of that for the next three weeks. For him, it’s very, very important. We shouldn’t lose that perspective. From outside, we consider the diplomatic repercussions. He’s considering primarily the internal propaganda tool,” Murray says.

That also explains why Uzbek TV is so boring. My enduring memories of it are numerous clips of Karimov shaking hands with important people and some not-at-all entertaining but utterly fascinating musical interlude featuring an old man dancing with a baby bird firmly grasped in one hand.

Related: Glenn Reynolds says, “Karimov is cozying up to China.” While true, I would flip the perspective around and say that China is cozying up to Karimov and aggressively taking advantage of the situation to strengthen its hand in Central Asia.


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Nathan is the founder and Principal Analyst for Registan, which he launched in 2003. He was a Peace Corps Volunteer in Uzbekistan 2000-2001 and received his MA in Central Asian Studies from the University of Washington in 2007. Since 2007, he has worked full-time as an analyst, consulting with private and government clients on Central Asian affairs, specializing in how socio-cultural and political factors shape risks and opportunities and how organizations can adjust their strategic and operational plans to account for these variables. More information on Registan's services can be found here, and Nathan can be contacted via Twitter or email.

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