Buying Influence: US Cash Key to Keeping Kyrgyzstan Base

Chinese Envoy Surprisingly Frank in Advice to US Counterpart: Bribe Them

An early foreign policy travail for the Obama Administration was the announcement by then-Kyrgyzstan President Kurmanbek Bakiyev in February 2009 that the Manas Air Base would be closed and the US evicted.

The US Ambassador, Tatiana C. Gfoeller, confronted her Chinese counterpart Zhang Yannian at a February 13, 2009, saying she had heard the Chinese had promised $3 billion in aid (in the form of subsidized trade) to Kyrgyzstan to close Manas.

Surprisingly frank for a diplomat, Ambassador Zhang mocked the suggestion, saying China didn’t really care what happened to Manas and was only interested in economic ties. He went on to say China had to make the aid covert through trade because “if our people found out, there’d be a revolution.”

Despite denying this, Zhang appeared to confirm that China was urging Kyrgyzstan to get closer to Russia, apparently to spite the US for releasing the Gitmo Uighurs to Germany, and that it was “probably true” that Russia had tied its own $2 billion aid package to the closing of Manas.

When pressed for advice on keeping Manas, Zhang advised the US to bribe the Kyrgyz government. “This is all about money,” he insisted, saying “just give them $150 million in cash per year and you will have the base forever.” Zhang’s aide then jumped in adding “or maybe you should give them $5 billion and buy both us and the Russians out.”

The US apparently took the advise, pledging an extra $117 million in cash to the Bakiyev government and then primising another $40+ million in additional rent on the base annually. The Kyrgyz government agreed and the base remained under US control through the anti-Bakiyev coup the following year. The new interim government, though closer to Russia, also seems open to keeping the US in the base.

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Author: Jason Ditz

Jason Ditz is news editor of Antiwar.com.