Kyrgyzstan’s deputy prime minister, Jenish Razakov, said the bomber had died and three Kyrgyz nationals working as security guards were injured.
A source at the Bishkek police told AFP that the Mitsubishi Delica car smashed a gate on the embassy before blowing up in the centre of the compound, close to the ambassador’s residence.
Another source with the Central Asian nation’s security service said an “explosive device” had been placed inside the vehicle.
Hua Chunying, a spokeswoman for China’s foreign ministry, said China was deeply shocked by the “extreme and violent attack”.
“We are demanding that Kyrgyzstan find out the truth rapidly and punish [those responsible],” she told a press conference in Beijing.
Asked whether other Chinese diplomatic facilities had stepped up security measures following the attack, Hua said: “We attach great importance to the safety of Chinese personnel abroad. We have always taken protective measures to ensure the safety of Chinese personnel overseas.”
Blame for Tuesday’s attack is likely to fall on militants from the Uighur ethnic minority who are waging what some describe as a low intensity insurgence against Chinese rule across the border in the Chinese region of Xinjiang.
Raffaello Pantucci, the director of international security studies at the Royal United Services Institute, said Kyrgyzstan had a large Uighur community and that Uighur militants were the “obvious candidates” for the bombing. “It certainly would stack up in many ways,” he said.
Pantucci, a Xinjiang expert, said the attack appeared to have specifically targeted the Chinese embassy, which is in an isolated compound outside the centre of Bishkek. “The Chinese embassy isn’t exactly in the heart of town,” he pointed out.
China has been waging what it calls a “people’s war on terror” in the restive western region since 2014, when Uighur extremists launched attacks on civilians, including the bombing of a street market in Urumqi, Xinjiang’s capital.
That war has seen dozens killed and many thousands detained on terrorism charges.
“[We must] make terrorists become like rats scurrying across a street, with everybody shouting ‘beat them!’,” President Xi Jinping declared last year.
However, critics accuse China of responding to the attacks with a campaign of fear, harassment and repression in Xinjiang. They argue that rather than simply targeting terror groups, authorities have instead launched a frontal assault on conservative Islam.
Critics of the crackdown believe it is breeding even greater resentment against Chinese rule that is likely to fuel further bloodshed.
Pantucci said there was no significant history of attacks on Chinese interests in Central Asia but there did seem to be a growing trend of such incidents around the globe.
As well as Tuesday’s attack, the academic pointed to the deadly 2015 bombing of Bangkok’s Erawan Shrine, which was a popular destination for Chinese tourists.
“If we take that [Thailand attack] and we take this – if it proves to be linked to Uighur militants – you are seeing a problem which is really starting now to export itself globally … that really lived in southern Xinjiang and then spread across the province, then spread across the country, and now is showing up globally.
“You are dealing with a problem that is metastasising negatively in a way that is really quite worrying.”