Skip to main content



Astana’s economic ties with Beijing leave it with a headache in dealing with public anger over the internment of its nationals in Xinjiang’s ‘re-education centres’


Police patrol the streets of Kashgar in China’s Xinjiang Autonomous Region. Photo: AFP

Kazakhstan’s government is facing growing popular resentment against China, one of its major economic partners, as accounts emerge of Chinese-Kazakhs and Kazakh nationals being sent to “political re-education camps” in China’s Xinjiang region.

In a widely followed case, a Kazakh court on Wednesday allowed an illegal Chinese immigrant to stay in the country after she gave details about an indoctrination centre in Xinjiang where she had been employed. “In China, they call it a political camp. Officially, this is a training centre where people study Chinese ideology. But in reality, it’s a prison in the mountains,” Sayragul Sauytbay, a Chinese of Kazakh ethnicity, told a court hearing in July, Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty reported.

Sayragul Sauytbay, 41, an ethnic Kazakh Chinese national and former employee of the Chinese state, was accused of illegally crossing the border between the countries to join her family in Kazakhstan. Photo: AFP

Sauytbay said she worked in one of several such camps for Chinese-Kazakh people that held 2,500 detainees. Accounts of the trial and images of groups of supporters outside the court have been shared hundreds of times on social media in the last few days.

Click to enlarge.

Kazakhstan, a key partner in China’s Belt and Road Initiative, has been accused of deporting Uygur asylum seekers back to China, but activists believe popular support received by Sauytbay prior to the ruling helped her to receive a more lenient ruling. “Public opinion was very influential,” said the Kazakhstan International Bureau for Human Rights and Rule of Law, a local NGO that has been campaigning to prevent Sauytbay’s deportation.

Inside the camps where China tries to brainwash Muslims until they love the party and hate their own culture

A spokesperson for the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Kazakhstan declined to comment on the ruling.



Get updates direct to your inbox

By registering you agree to our T&Cs & Privacy Policy

In the last few months, similar accounts have detailed how Kazakh citizens and Chinese-Kazakhs have been involved in the ongoing political campaign in Xinjiang, fuelling discontent against the Chinese government.

Kazakh national Omir Bekali with a photo of his parents. He believes they have been detained in a political camp in China’s Xinjiang. Photo: AP

Omir Bekali, a Kazakh citizen, said in May he had been detained without trial for eight months in China, and that he spent part of his ordeal in a re-education camp where prisoners were asked to criticise the Islamic religion, praise the Communist Party and receive lectures on the dangers of separatism and extremism. Tens of thousands of people are reportedly interned in such camps.

Aziz Burkhanov, an expert on identity issues in Astana’s Nazarbayev University, warned that news about indoctrination camps in Xinjiang is creating “a new cycle of anti-Chinese sentiment”, especially among Kazakh-language media outlets.

Central Asia’s answer to Dubai? In Kazakhstan’s Astana, reality bites

Around 1.2 million ethnic Kazakhs live in Xinjiang. In recent years, thousands have become citizens of Kazakhstan under a government programme to encourage the Kazakh diaspora to return to the country, but still maintain family and business ties in China and travel across the border frequently.

“Cases of ethnic Kazakhs detained in China are discussed widely on social media, and activists even [wrote a] collective letter to the president to ask for political asylum [for illegal immigrant Sauytbay]. These kind of demands are growing, and have generated a sinophobic mood in the society,” said Torokul Doorov, director of the Kazakh service of US-funded Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, based in Prague, Czech Republic. “It puts the government in a very tight spot.”

An oilfield in Tacheng, Xinjiang. Photo: Reuters

Mistrust of China has shaken Kazakh politics in the past. In 2016, the country experienced the biggest demonstrations in years, calling for the government to stop nationwide land reforms. Protesters feared the extension of leases for foreigners could lead to Chinese investors taking control of important swathes of land.

“There is this fear that China will dominate Kazakhstan,” said Burkhanov.

For the moment, the Kazakhstan government seems to be quietly raising the issue of the detentions through diplomatic channels.

China and Kazakhstan sign $2 billion in deals as Xinjiang party chief visits the Central Asian nation

“They think that the best approach with the Chinese government is to work behind the scenes to resolve this issue … but the fact that they make these comments, and that you see reports of them raising those issues at bilateral meetings at an official level means that this is an issue of great concern,” said Raffaello Pantucci, an expert on China’s foreign policy at the Royal United Services Institute, a think tank.

“We have negotiations through diplomatic channels on this issue,” confirmed Aibek Smadiyarov, spokesperson of Kazakhstan’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs. Smadiyarov said some of the cases involved people who didn’t “finish all procedures” when dropping their Chinese nationality to become Kazakhstan citizens, but declined to comment on the reports about political re-education camps in Xinjiang.

According to the Kazakhstan International Bureau for Human Rights and Rule of Law, weeks after raising the cases of at least two Kazakh nationals detained in China to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, several prisoners were released and returned to the country.

A construction worker helps build a road in the Taklimakan desert of China's Xinjiang province. Photo: Xinhua

The negative public opinion is in contrast to Kazakhstan’s deepening economic engagement with China. Russia is still the main trade partner of Kazakhstan, but China is already the main destination of its exports. In 2016, the country exported US$4.6 billion of goods from Kazakhstan, mainly raw materials, such as petroleum and copper, according to MIT’s Observatory of Economic Complexity.

Kazakhstan is where President Xi Jinping first laid out his plans to revive the historical Silk Road in September 2013. Beijing and Astana have since signed several agreements to develop the region.

A 2017 PricewaterhouseCooopers study argued that Kazakhstan was set “to gain significantly as the geographic centrepiece” of the new land route for the revived Silk Road. In particular, it pointed to the US$3.5 billion investment in Khorgos Eastern Gate, a dry port close to the border with China.

China’s one belt, one road plan covers more than half of the population, 75 per cent of energy resources and 40 per cent of world’s GDP

The two governments have agreed to implement 51 projects totalling US$27.7 billion. These include five projects on which construction is to start this year and involve US$623 million of Chinese capital.

“Because of these economic interests, the Kazakhstan government can’t simply spit it out, they can’t say much on the issue as they have a certain economic dependency on China,” said Hak Yin Li, an international relations experts at the Chinese University of Hong Kong.

The country is part of the China-led Shanghai Cooperation Organisation, an alliance between China and Central Asian nations that includes an agreement not to interfere with other states’ internal affairs.

“They can’t question what is going on in China and they expect their neighbours to do the same,” said Pantucci.

But, with the heat rising in Xinjiang, the Sauytbay case shows just how difficult it might get for the government to ignore public opinion. ■


Popular posts from this blog

SSG Commando Muddassir Iqbal of Pakistan Army

“ Commando Muddassir Iqbal was part of the team who conducted Army Public School operation on 16 December 2014. In this video he reveals that he along with other commandos was ordered to kill the innocent children inside school, when asked why should they kill children after killing all the terrorist he was told that it would be a chance to defame Taliban and get nation on the side. He and all other commandos killed children and later Taliban was blamed.
Muddassir Iqbal has deserted the military and now he is  with mujahedeen somewhere in AF PAK border area”
For authenticity of  this tape journalists can easy reach to his home town to interview his family members or   ISPR as he reveals his army service number”
Asalam o Alaikum: My name is Muddassir Iqbal. My father’s name is Naimat Ali. I belong to Sialkot divison (Punjab province), my village is Shamsher Poor and district, tehsil and post office  Narowal. Unfortunately I was working in Pakistan army. I feel embarrassed to tell you …

The Rise of China-Europe Railways

The Rise of China-Europe RailwaysMarch 6, 2018The Dawn of a New Commercial Era?For over two millennia, technology and politics have shaped trade across the Eurasian supercontinent. The compass and domesticated camels helped the “silk routes” emerge between 200 and 400 CE, and peaceful interactions between the Han and Hellenic empires allowed overland trade to flourish. A major shift occurred in the late fifteenth century, when the invention of large ocean-going vessels and new navigation methods made maritime trade more competitive. Mercantilism and competition among Europe’s colonial powers helped pull commerce to the coastlines. Since then, commerce between Asia and Europe has traveled primarily by sea.1Against this historical backdrop, new railway services between China and Europe have emerged rapidly. Just 10 years ago, regular direct freight services from China to Europe did not exist.2 Today, they connect roughly 35 Chinese…

CPEC Jobs in Pakistan, salary details

JOBS...نوکریاں چائنہ کمپنی میںPlease help the deserving persons...Salary:Salary package in China–Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) in these 300,000 jobs shall be on daily wages. The details of the daily wages are as follows;Welder: Rs. 1,700 dailyHeavy Duty Driver: Rs. 1,700 dailyMason: Rs. 1,500 dailyHelper: Rs. 850 dailyElectrician: Rs. 1,700 dailySurveyor: Rs. 2,500 dailySecurity Guard: Rs. 1,600 dailyBulldozer operator: Rs. 2,200 dailyConcrete mixer machine operator: Rs. 2,000 dailyRoller operator: Rs. 2,000 dailySteel fixer: Rs. 2,200 dailyIron Shuttering fixer: Rs. 1,800 dailyAccount clerk: Rs. 2,200 dailyCarpenter: Rs. 1,700 dailyLight duty driver: Rs. 1,700 dailyLabour: Rs. 900 dailyPara Engine mechanic: Rs. 1,700 dailyPipe fitter: Rs. 1,700 dailyStorekeeper: Rs. 1,700 dailyOffice boy: Rs. 1,200 dailyExcavator operator: Rs. 2,200 dailyShovel operator: Rs. 2,200 dailyComputer operator: Rs. 2,200 dailySecurity Supervisor: Rs. 2,200 dailyCook for Chinese food: Rs. 2,000 dailyCook…