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The Kazakh Connection to Chinese ‘Political Education’ Camps

Kazakh government treads a fine line between staying friendly with Beijing and protecting the interests of its co-ethnics in Xinjiang.

11 September 2018

Ethnic Kazakhs are increasingly being targeted in China’s “Strike Hard Campaign Against Violent Terrorism” in the far western Xinjiang region, Human Rights Watch charges in a new report.


Reports of the Chinese authorities detaining large numbers of Muslims in camps in Xinjiang have proliferated in recent months, along with anecdotal accounts of brainwashing and physical abuse. Although Beijing has denied the allegations, Xinjiang authorities have acknowledged the existence of “political education camps” and “characterize them as correctional or rehabilitation facilities for ‘incorrect’ or ‘sick’ thoughts,” HRW writes.


China today dismissed a call by UN human rights chief Michelle Bachelet to allow monitors into Xinjiang, Reuters reports. Beijing says Islamic radicals and separatists are trying to drive a wedge between the Uyghur and Han communities.


The region’s indigenous Uyghurs have grown increasingly restive over Beijing’s ever more intrusive monitoring of religious life and the growing migration of Han Chinese into the region, where they now make up around 40 percent of the 22- million population.


Kashgar, ChinaA view of the old quarter of Kashgar, China’s westernmost city, predominantly populated by Uyghurs. Photo by Dan Lundberg/Flickr


Han Chinese have also reportedly been subject to re-education, but according to HRW the primary targets are Turkic Muslims, including the 10 million Uyghurs and the Kazakh minority of about 1.6 million people.


The matter has aroused “intense controversy” in Kazakhstan, writes, which notes that earlier this year the government took the unusual step of issuing a diplomatic note over China’s treatment of Kazakhs.


Astana, which shares a 1,000-kilometer border with Xinjiang, is trying to position itself as a key link in China’s One Belt, One Road economic development initiative.


“My understanding is the issue has been raised very diplomatically to signal the concern … but not cause the wrath of the Chinese government,” Nargis Kassenova, director of the Central Asian Studies Center at KIMEP University in Almaty, said recently.



  • Last month, a court in Kazakhstan declined to deport an ethnic Kazakh Chinese citizen who fled to the country after being assigned to work as a teacher in one of the re-education camps, The Diplomat writes.


  • Available information suggests that Uyghurs may be subject to the harshest treatment at the hands of Xinjiang authorities, HRW writes, saying that since its report draws heavily on testimony from ethnic Kazakhs who have left the region, it is difficult to assess the “full extent of the repressive policies in Xinjiang, particularly those directed at Uyghurs.”

Compiled by Ky Krauthamer

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