Kazakhstan is arresting its own people to protect relations with China

in August 13th, 2021

Here's one of two stories we emailed August 13, 2021. Sign up for updates directly in your inbox.

How much is a government willing to sacrifice for its economic relations? Kazakhstan and China are becoming the case study in answering this question. After Kazakhstan gained independence from the Soviet Union in 1990, the country launched a program to encourage Kazakhs to return to their native land. Flashforward to today, and a number of these Kazakhs are protesting over disappearing family members in Xinjiang, the surveilled state of China where the government has imprisoned 15% of the region’s Muslim population in an extensive camp network that international law experts have called a genocide.

In response, Kazakhstan began fining, threatening, and arresting demonstrators. Why would they punish their own citizens for legally demanding information on what’s happening across the border in China? 

  • Ultimately, to protect the economy. China is a major investor in Kazakhstan’s energy-driven economy. As of 2019, China was involved in at least 55 projects in Kazakhstan with half their investment ($27.6 billion) in oil and gas.
  • Then there’s the Belt and Road Initiative, an ambitious infrastructure project that would stretch from East Asia to Europe. Kazakhstan is an integral part of this plan, which has already raised concerns in the U.S. over how the project further expands China’s influence. 
  • Still, Kazakhs have continued to protest for 100+ days despite being arrested multiple times. Some only hear of their missing family members in Xinjiang upon their death in detainment. 

Though Kazakhstan isn’t the only country protecting China relations. Pakistan has been notably silent, recently denying having any knowledge about the camps. Even Turkey — who historically has been critical of China’s treatment of Muslims in Xinjiang and welcomed those fleeing to Turkey — has taken more active efforts to instead attract Chinese investment. Meanwhile the U.S., U.K., and Germany are among those accusing China for crimes against humanity, though many are saying not enough is being done to put an end to the atrocities.  

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