Staunton, October 29 – Xinjiang is creating ever more problems for Kazakhstan, Vyacheslav Shchekunskikh says. On the one hand, Nur-Sultan rejects Western and human rights reports about the existence of re-education camps for Muslim minorities in China’s Xinjiang region. But on the other, it allows those who flee that region to stray in Kazakhstan or go West.
The oft-stated official position of the Kazakhstan government reflects its desire to avoid a conflict with Beijing, the Moscow State University specialist says; but its practice of accepting refugees from China, including those who arrived there illegally, represents settled policy too (ia-centr.ru/experts/vyacheslav-shchekunskikh/sintszyan-stanovitsya-problemoy-dlya-kazakhstana/).
Since Kazakhstan acquired independence in 1991, it has taken in approximately 500,000 former Chinese citizens. Overwhelmingly, these have been ethnic Kazakhs, part of the government’s “oralman” project of ingathering the Kazakhs of the world in Kazakhstan to boost their numbers in Kazakhstan.
The Chinese authorities up to now have generally turned a blind eye to this process, but that may be changing, Shchekunskikh says. Kazakhstan in recent months has been processing naturalization papers for those who have fled Xinjiang more rapidly and publicly than before and doing so in ways Beijing finds provocative.
China has issued a series of reports denying that Muslim nationalities including Kazakhs living in Xinjiang have been subject to any discrimination let alone confined in political re-education camps. And that makes the gap between Kazakhstan’s words and its actions ever less sustainable as far as Beijing is concerned.
In the near term, this is likely to provoke protests from China if Kazakhstan continues to handle those who have fled Xinjiang in the same way as it has. In the longer term, it may mean that Beijing will tilt away from Kazakhstan and toward Kyrgyzstan and Uzbekistan as it seeks to develop its “one road, one path” project to link Asia and Europe.