ALMATY, Kazakhstan — Police in Kazakhstan’s largest city have detained an activist who was picketing the Chinese Consulate in protest to recent statements by Chinese Ambassador Zhang Xiao about Chinese-Kazakh military cooperation.
Serik Azhibai protested in front of the Chinese Consulate building in Almaty on August 3 with a poster reading: “Ambassadors bring reconciliation, enemies bring discord! Get out of the country!”
Before police took him away, Azhibai said his action was in protest to an interview Zhang gave Chinese media last week in which, according to Azhibai, who is fluent in Chinese, the envoy said that China and Kazakhstan would send troops to each other’s territory to quash possible riots, if need be.
“We are not a Chinese autonomous region. We are a sovereign state, an independent nation…. Neither China nor any other state has the right to interfere in other countries’ internal affairs,” Azhibai said.
A city official who arrived at the scene called Azhibai’s action illegal, although it is allowed to hold single-person pickets without advance permission from the local authorities.
Azhibai was one of many Kazakhs who picketed the consulate in Almaty for many months demanding the release of their relatives and other ethnic Kazakhs being held in custody in China’s northwestern Xinjiang region.
In the interview in question, Ambassador Zhang said the Chinese and Kazakh armed forces “are decisively cracking down on the three evils,” a Chinese media expression that refers to terrorism, extremism, and separatism.
Zhang also said in the interview that the two neighbors oppose “colored revolutions” in the region.
Anti-China protests in Kazakh towns and cities that have become frequent in recent years challenged China’s growing presence in the economy of Kazakhstan and denounced widespread incarceration of the indigenous Turkic-speaking communities in Xinjiang, including Kazakhs and Uyghurs.
In April, Kazakhstan sent a note of protest to Beijing over an article on a Chinese website claiming that Central Asia’s largest economy was seeking to become part of China.
In August 2018, the United Nations said an estimated 1 million Uyghurs and members of other indigenous ethnic groups in Xinjiang were being held in “counterextremism centers.”
The UN said millions more had been forced into so-called “reeducation camps.”
China denies that the facilities are internment camps, but people who have fled the province say that thousands of ethnic Kazakhs, Uyghurs, and other Muslims in Xinjiang are undergoing “political indoctrination” at a network of camps.
Kazakhs are the second-largest Turkic-speaking indigenous community in Xinjiang after Uyghurs. The region is also home to ethnic Kyrgyz, Tajiks, and Hui, also known as Dungans. Han, China’s largest ethnicity, is the second-largest community in Xinjiang.
The United States has imposed sanctions on current and former Xinjiang officials over the ongoing abuse of rights of the region’s indigenous ethnic groups.