Liu Jianchao, a spokesman from the Chinese Foreign Ministry, has reportedly said that China will "seriously consider" sending troops to Kyrgyzstan, RIA Novosti reports today. The same report though goes on to say that the Chinese Foreign Ministry has issued no official comment.
The Chinese comment follows a statement from Kurmanbek Bakiyev, Kyrgyzstan’s acting President, saying that he would agree to the deployment of troops from both the Shanghai Co-operation Organisation (of which Russia and China are members) as well as troops from the Collective Security Treaty Organisation (of which Russia is a member, but China is not).
If true, this would mark a major (and I mean seismic) shift in Chinese foreign policy as, other than the odd minor contribution to a UN peacekeeping mission, China hasn’t deployed it’s troops abroad for many a year (since the Korean War, I believe).
I’m somewhat sceptical that China will actually send troops to Kyrgyzstan, given the lack of precedent and the lack of any immediate security threat for China to face in Kyrgyzstan. However, it has to be said that Kyrgyzstan would be a relatively benign environment for China to experiment with a policy shift, so I wouldn’t rule it out entirely.
Update: Interfax has a quote from the Chinese Foreign Ministry – they’ve denied the story:
In response to a question from Interfax, a ministry spokesman said: "As you know, the SCO has never considered the question of setting up military bases."
Nathan at registan.net also notes that although China is unlikely to send troops to Kyrgyzstan, the decision of the Kyrgyz government to cosy up to China is not only unexpected, but unwise:
I had seriously hoped that the new Kyrgyz government would shy away from cooperation with China. If Im not mistaken, one of the public grievances of Kyrgyz protesters was that the government was giving the country away to China (probably an exaggeration based on ceding disputed territory in demarcation agreements).
Coming Anarchy also takes a look at the issue:
The US already has a base in Kyrgyzstan known as Manas Air Field and the Russians have one around 5 minutes away. Not only that, but they are considering opening a second. Looks like it might get pretty crowded there.