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Conflict and contestation in Kyrgyz mining infrastructure

Authors: Troy Sternberg*, University of Oxford, Fiona McConnell, University of Oxford, Ariell Ahearn, University of Oxford
Topics: Human-Environment Geography, Asia, Development
Keywords: Conflict, mining, infrastructure, Kyrgyzstan, China's BRI
Session Type: Paper
Presentation File: No File Uploaded

Themes of mining, infrastructure and rural development present fertile grounds for contestation and conflict in Central Asia. In mineral-rich Kyrgyzstan, China’s Belt and Road Initiative brings development, tax revenue and political disorder. Extraction encounters weak rule of law, opaque business practices and volatile communities, conditions that lead to a litany of mining disputes. Kyrgyzstan’s relatively robust civil society and ineffective government embolden critique and protest yet also make lasting resolution difficult. This is exacerbated in rural regions that host Chinese mines as limited opportunities and information has led to drastic action in pursuit of jobs, environmental protection and community benefit. The common challenges across mine sites illustrates the need for more effective engagement and dispute resolution in the country.

In this talk we present research at 3 mining sites in Kyrgyzstan. Conflict includes violent protest and rock-throwing that closed a mine, concern over water contamination and environmental damage and arrest of citizens for community control. The cases identify the disconnect between Chinese mine ownership and licensing arrangements in the capital and practices and perceptions in rural communities. Framed by the government’s need for tax revenue vs interests of local villages, the forces of conflict makes negotiated settlement difficult and continued conflict predictable. Until the government perspective, legal processes and company engagement shifts contestation will be the defining tenet of BRI mining infrastructure in Kyrgyzstan.

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