Fears of a Chinese land grab are destabilizing Kazakhstan

Published May 22nd, 2016 - 07:38 GMT
Kazakhstan president Nursultan Nazarbayev has been in power since 1989. (AFP Photo/Ilyas Omarov)
Kazakhstan president Nursultan Nazarbayev has been in power since 1989. (AFP Photo/Ilyas Omarov)

In recent weeks, a series of large demonstrations have taken place in Kazakhstan, a country that typically experiences very little popular protest.  

BBC explains that the gatherings, which have been violently suppressed by the country’s police, are in response to a new law that would allow foreigners to rent agricultural land in Kazakhstan for 25 years.

“The law fuels one of the protesters' biggest fears - that Chinese investors will come and buy out their land,” BBC explains. China borders Kazakhstan, and has been investing a lot in Kazakhstan’s energy and infrastructure industries in recent years. 

On Saturday, in Kazakhstan’s biggest city, Reuters reported that police in riot gear chased and detained dozens of protesters (and some journalists, too), shoving them into police buses and cordoning off the main city square, where protesters had gathered.  

The protest was over the recent law, passed in November and set to take effect this summer, that expands the abilities of foreigners to lease agricultural land, the Sputnik agency reported. Protests also occurred in several other cities throughout the country. 

Kazakhstan (population 18.1 million) is over 70 percent Muslim and 26 percent Christian. Its president, Nursultan Nazarbayev, has been in power since 1989 and has a poor human rights record. His government “heavily restricts” freedom of speech and freedom of religion, according to Human Rights Watch, and has detained people for “practicing religion outside state controls.”

Nazarbayev has said he wants to build a large arms manufacturing industry in Kazakhstan and has hosted defense expos recently in order to host companies from Turkey, Israel, France in an attempt to woo their business. 

Kazakhstan also sells weapons to Jordan. In January, a Kazakhstani engineering company announced that it had sold dozens of armored military vehicles and .50 caliber machine guns to the Jordanian government. 

Kazakhstan has also played host to meetings of Syrian rebel groups.   

The recent demonstrations may show that the people of Kazakhstan are finally fed up with their leadership.   

-Hunter Stuart

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