Anti-China Protests Spread Through Kazakhstan

Kazakh citizens protested against the role of the Chinese government and its influence in Kazakhstan for the past several weeks, arguing that China is manipulating the Kazakh people, according to bne intelliNews.

These protests were prompted by three issues: Chinese economic expansion in Kazakhstan, Kazakh President Qasym-Zhomart Toqaev’s visit to China on September 11, and the jailing of thousands of ethnic Kazakhs in China’s “reeducation camps” in the country’s western Xinjiang region.

bne intelliNews reported that the protests against China began on September 3 as protesters demanded that Kazakhstan refuse loans from China that they claimed may damage Kazakh citizens’ well-being.

The protesters fear their country developing an excessive reliance on China, along with the corruption they believe will come from Chinese investments. The protesters also challenged their government’s agreement with China to construct 55 industrial facilities. Reuters reported that Kazakh citizens are protesting Chinese, and also Western, companies that hire fewer domestic workers and pay foreign workers better.

Protests have affected major cities such as Almaty and the capital, Nur-Sultan, along with a number of smaller cities and coal mining towns. bne intelliNews said that although protests are widespread and garner public support from a populace that largely views China as an economically invasive power, the actual number of protesters has varied from the low dozens to several hundred.

bne intelliNews also reported that on September 23, the Interior Ministry detained 100 protesters, though most were released without being charged.

These economic concerns are compounded by China’s current policies in its own Xinjiang Uighur Autonomous Region. China is running “re-education camps” there for Muslim citizens despite widespread international condemnation. Between 1.25 and 1.5 million ethnic Kazakh’s live in Xinjiang, according to the Diplomat. As China targets ethnic Kazakhs along with Uighurs in Xinjiang, Kazakh citizens have called on their government to take a more forceful response in protecting its citizens. Instead, the Diplomat reports that authorities in Kazakhstan have previously arrested Xinjiang human rights activists for “inciting inter-ethnic discord.”

Toqaev’s visit to China aimed to expand the ties between the two states. The Diplomat points out that the two countries co-founded the Shanghai Cooperation Organization, a regional security, political, and economic alliance. Kazakhstan is also pivotal to China’s Belt and Road Initiative (BRI), a network of global infrastructure projects, as many BRI projects pass through it.

Oil, natural gas, minerals, and agriculture are particularly important to the two countries’ trade relationship. Kazakhstan’s abundance of these items is critically important to China, according to the Diplomat.

Meanwhile, the Kazakh government views Chinese investment in their country as central to their own development needs and goals. While in China, Toqaev and Chinese President Xi Jinping elevated their relationship to a permanent comprehensive strategic partnership, according to the Chinese state-run Xinhua News Agency.

Xinhua News Agency reported that, on September 24, Toqaev’s predecessor Nursultan Nazarbayev lauded the BRI as helpful to Kazakhstan’s economic development. Nazarbayev was speaking at the Fourth Meeting of Speakers of Eurasian Countries’ Parliaments, which Xinhua News Agency noted was attended by 65 countries. The Astana Times corroborated this sentiment in an article from April, which discussed Nazabayev’s speech at Chinese President Xi Jinping’s Second Belt and Road Forum in Beijing. Nazarbayev stated that Kazakhstan has supported the BRI from the beginning, and his successor Toqaev seems intent on continuing that support. Yet the Kazakh people have made it clear that such support should not be taken for granted.