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Sinophobia in Central Asia marks China's economic rise

world Updated: Sep 08, 2010 23:32 IST
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In a spasm of violence this spring, after an angry mob toppled the Kyrgyzstan president, and ran amok against the authoritarian regime, they turned on a less obvious target: a popular Chinese-owned shopping mall stuffed with cheap clothes and electronics from China.

As China pushes beyond its borders in search of markets, jobs and a bigger voice in world affairs, a nation that once boasted of "having friends everywhere" increasingly confronts a problem long faced by the US: Its wealth and clout might inspire awe and wary respect, but they also generate envy and violent hostility.

Since the attack on the Guoying center in April, dozens of Chinese nationals in Bishkek have been assaulted or robbed.

In Indonesia and other parts of Southeast Asia, ethnic Chinese businessmen have long been viewed with suspicion and are often targeted in times of turmoil.

But the travails of their counterparts here in Kyrgyzstan represent a new phenomenon: They did not arrive generations ago when China was on its knees but came in the past decade as China boomed.

Some welcome China's surging presence as a counterbalance to the region's traditional and often overbearing overlord, Russia, which ruled Kyrgyzstan as a Soviet republic until the collapse of communism in 1991.

But China's economic presence, has stirred bitter resentment among many Kyrgyz, from jobless youths to local traders and manufacturers who cannot compete with Chinese goods.

Populist politicians in Kyrgyzstan and elsewhere in the region play on fears of a Chinese "invasion." Amid rising nationalist sentiment, China has become an easy target for populist potshots, despite the fact that it is Russia that remains the dominant power and, along with the United States.

The owner of the shopping mall gutted by fire said, "We don't know what to do. China is big and getting stronger, but here we are still outsiders."

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