December 4, 2023

Erkinbek Kamalov

Central Asian countries’ visa exemption policy towards Chinese citizens


Central Asian countries have been increasingly extending visa exemptions to Chinese citizens, raising concerns about potential repercussions in the region. Notably, Kyrgyzstan has taken steps towards this trend, allowing Chinese citizens with valid visas from developed Western nations to enter the country for a limited period. However, this move is viewed by some as a precursor to a comprehensive visa exemption policy, a decision that could have far-reaching consequences. This article delves into the unfolding dynamics of Central Asian countries' visa policies towards China, exploring the potential risks and implications, particularly in fostering anti-China sentiments among the local population.

Unfolding Visa Dynamics in Central Asia:

All neighboring countries of Kyrgyzstan in Central Asian region had granted various visa exemptions to Chinese citizens. Kyrgyzstani authorities also issued a decree according to which, Chinese citizens possessing valid visas to enter developed EU, USA and other highly developed western countries could be granted visa exemption to enter Kyrgyzstan for limited time (7 days). But this might be the first step towards a full visa exemption policy for Chinese by Kyrgyz authorities and it a matter of time. However, aforementioned gesture of Kyrgyz authorities could be a risky step and catalyze anti-Chinese sentiments among Central Asian local population in future.

Kazakhstan's Risky Leap: Visa Exemption and Data Exchange with China:

Kazakhstan granted visa exemption to Chinese citizens in May of 2023. Moreover, the Kazakh Senate went further by ratifying the deal with China on an exchange citizens' personal data of their citizens with one another. Amid concerns of rights watchdogs, the Kazakh Senate ratified aforementioned agreement on October 5 of 2023. Senator Murat Qadyrbek said the deal will would help to regulate visa-free travel between the two neighboring nations approved by an official Astana in August of 2023. Rights activists, however, say the personal data exchange may be used by Chinese government in its ongoing crackdown on indigenous ethnic groups in China's northwestern region of Xinjiang, including Kazakhs, Uyghurs, Kyrgyz, and others. The agreement allows each country to veto applications by its nationals for citizenship in the other, and will make Kazakhstan less safe for members of ethnic minority groups from China's Xinjiang region, while making it much harder for those still in China to flee the country to escape persecution, rights activists and emigre Kazakhs said. It also places mutually agreed quotas on visas and visa-free entry across the two countries' shared border. The deal effectively gives Chinese officials the power of veto over applications for Kazakhstan citizenship made by ethnic Kazakhs who hold Chinese passports, according to Bekzat Maksutkhan, who heads the Kazakhstan-based rights group Atajurt. Those who want to immigrate to Kazakhstan from China or vice versa now need to get the consent of the Chinese/Kazakh side. And also, the Kazakhstan government is obliged to repatriate anyone who immigrated from China and has become a Kazakh national, if the Chinese government requests it. Nurlan Kuhedubai, who emigrated to Kazakhstan from Xinjiang as a child and now lives in Almaty, says it is already much harder for Chinese nationals to settle in Kazakhstan than it used to be. The Chinese and Kazakhstan authorities have been joining forces to persecute Chinese Kazakhs over the past six or seven years, he told Radio Free Asia. They are preventing Kazakhs from emigrating to Kazakhstan." Rights activist Serikzhan Bilash said there is now a crucial bureaucratic hurdle in place that wasn't there before. Previously, someone applying for Kazakhstan citizenship could simply declare that they renounced their Chinese nationality, but under the new agreement, they must produce an official certificate from the Chinese government before they can cease being a national of that country, he told Radio Free Asia.

Kyrgyzstan's Delicate Negotiations: Examining the Prospects of Mutual Visa Exemption:

Kyrgyzstan is currently considering introducing a visa-free regime with China for 10 or 14 days for tourists, businessmen and students. Denis Berdakov, a political scientist and head of the Institute of Socio-Political Studies, told in his Telegram channel why it is necessary to do this and what the reasons are. According to him, the Kyrgyz Republic should initiate a change in the visa regime, even without waiting the same step from China. However, Kyrgyzstan is still in the stage of negotiation with China on mutual elimination of visa requirements for citizens of both countries. Kyrgyzstan proposed to China to abolish the visa regime. The Minister of Foreign Affairs of the Kyrgyz Republic, Jeenbek Kulubaev, announced this at a meeting of the Jogorku Kenesh (Kyrgyz Parliament) that the Kyrgyz Foreign Minister informed that while on a visit to China, he discussed this issue with his Chinese counterpart. The Chinese side said that the Kyrgyz side should offer security options. Everything will depend on our actions. But they are ready to consider this issue A number of local experts are already expressing their concerns about the creation of conditions for Chinese citizens where they can freely enter the Kyrgyz Republic without going through the currently mandatory procedures. However, there is fear of Chinese expansion. Some activists have concerns about the possible changes in visa procedure with China, citing the security aspect. Beishenbek Abdrazakov, Deputy Chairman of the People’s Kurultai (People’s summit), former MP, spoke that you cannot issue visas to representatives of countries where there are many citizens. And if they enter [our] country, then we need to carefully monitor this. There are certain risks. 200 years ago there were two Chinese in America, now entire [Chinese] cities and neighborhoods have appeared there. And in Russia too, Vladivostok has actually become a Chinese city. But these are major powers, and for small Kyrgyzstan this will be noticeable. At the same time there are liberal opinions on that too. For instance, Kyrgyz businessman Jodar Saidilkan believes that it is quite possible to reduce risks in the areas of security and illegal migration in this matter: “Not only for China, but also citizens of India and Pakistan could be allowed to enter [Kyrgyzstan without a visa], but only through airports. And also provided that they have visas to enter the US, UK, Schengen countries, as well as Japan, South Korea and the Gulf states. Only in this case will wealthy people come here who do not pose a security threat and do not intend to stay in Kyrgyzstan. And this flow [of tourists] will be enough for us. Today, Chinese citizens rank first in the world in terms of the number of travelers (tourists).

In the meantime, Kyrgyz government authorities had decided to allow Chinese citizens holding valid EU, UK and USA visas, as well as residents of Hong Kong and Macao, to enter and stay in the country without visas for up to seven days. The move has yet to be approved by lawmakers. Although, mutual trade and visa exemption will strengthen business cooperation between countries, but local authorities should not ignore concerns and hot discussions on social media platforms by locals regarding possible influx of Chinese citizens in case of full visa exemptions.


As Central Asian nations, including Kyrgyzstan, engage in discussions and negotiations with China over visa exemption policies, it becomes imperative to consider the broader implications of such decisions. While these measures aim to boost tourism, trade, and diplomatic ties, they also carry the potential to ignite anti-China sentiments among the local populace. The recent developments in Kazakhstan, with its visa exemption and data exchange agreement with China, serve as a cautionary tale. As Central Asian countries navigate the delicate balance between economic interests and national sentiments, it is crucial for policymakers to assess the long-term socio-political impact of these decisions. Striking the right balance between fostering international cooperation and safeguarding domestic concerns will be pivotal for the stability and harmony of the region in the face of evolving geopolitical dynamics.

Erkinbek Kamalov