* Several hundred activists gather in Almaty
* Opposition fears Chinese resource and land grab
By Robin Paxton
ALMATY, May 28 Opposition activists in
Kazakhstan called on the government on Saturday to stop Chinese
investment in the country's natural resources, saying Beijing
could be preparing a land grab in Central Asia.
Several hundred people gathered in Almaty, the country's
largest city, for an officially sanctioned rally against Chinese
expansion into Kazakhstan, a vast former Soviet republic holding
3 percent of the world's recoverable oil reserves.
"Chinese relations to resource exploitation have imperialist
undertones," said Vladimir Kozlov, leader of the unregistered
Alga! opposition party.
China's growing clout in Kazakhstan and other former Soviet
republics in Central Asia is underpinned by billions of dollars
of investment in the region's oil, gas and metals reserves,
including a $10 billion "loan-for-oil" deal agreed in 2009.
Beijing's foray across its 1,530 km (960 mile) border with
Kazakhstan represents a challenge to Russia, which sees the
country as part of its sphere of influence, as well as to
European hopes that it can be a major new supplier of energy.
Opposition leaders, who addressed the crowd in a small park
in the outer suburbs of Almaty, said Chinese loans were being
used by the billionaire shareholders of oil and mining companies
to further their own ambitions.
"The Chinese have only one aim -- to take our land," said
Aliam Turdiyeva, 42, who described herself a social activist.
"The Chinese are not to blame. It's our corruptible officials."
Activists waved red and white banners bearing slogans such
as: 'The fate of our land is the fate of our people'.
The government denies that China could grab land. Kazakh law
permits foreigners to lease land for agricultural use for a
maximum period of 10 years but forbids them from owning land.
Kazakhstan, a mainly Muslim country of 16.4 million people,
has attracted more than $120 billion in foreign investment since
gaining independence in 1991.
Official data show Chinese investment in Kazakhstan had
reached $5 billion by the end of last year, slightly less than 4
percent of the country's total foreign direct investment.
Chinese companies control 22.5 percent of Kazakhstan's oil
output, though the government forecasts this will decline to
19.3 percent in 2015 and 8.9 percent by 2020.
China's Foreign Ministry, referring to its plans in Central
Asia, has previously said it has "no plans to garrison its
people in foreign lands". [ID:nLDE72E1LH]
Pensioner Semyon Badyanov, 75, said foreign investment had
degraded Kazakhstan's industrial base. The engine factory where
he once worked has long since closed down, he said.
"Our natural resources are in the hands of foreign
companies. How much of the profits that they generate remain in
the hands of the people?" he said.
Kozlov said he was concerned about the long-term effects of
Kazakhstan's indebtedness to China.
"We see the potential for a situation whereby one day, when
it comes to repaying nearly $20 billion to China, we will have
no money and no oil -- because the oil is no longer ours," he
"We will start giving away our territory. We have lots of it
and we have a common border, so the map could be redrawn to give
away a couple of thousands hectares here and there."
(editing by Elizabeth Piper)