China has thanked Kazakhstan for supporting its crackdown on the restive far west region of Xinjiang, where Beijing is accused of rights abuses against minority groups, including ethnic Kazakhs.

China is holding one million ethnic Uighurs and other mostly Muslim groups in internment camps in the heavily policed region, according to estimates cited by a UN panel.

 Beibut Atamkulov
Kazakhstan’s Foreign Minister Beibut Atamkulov (L) with Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi (R) attend a signing ceremony at the Diaoyutai State Guesthouse in Beijing on March 28, 2019. Photo: Pool/AFP/Andrea Verdelli.

Beijing has rejected the accusations and says it runs education training centres as part of its fight against Islamist extremism and separatism in Xinjiang.

On Thursday, Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi met his Kazakhstan counterpart Beibut Atamkulov in Beijing.

According to a statement by the Chinese foreign ministry, Atamkulov said his country “understands and supports the measures taken by China’s Xinjiang region” to rein in terrorism, separatism and extremism.

“We appreciate the Kazakhstan government’s understanding and support for China’s position,” said Wang, according to the statement.

“We will never allow anyone, any force, to undermine China-Kazakhstan friendship and mutual trust,” he added.

The Kazakhstan foreign ministry did not mention Xinjiang in its own statement on Atamkulov’s visit to China.

But it said the two top diplomats discussed the “issue of the situation with ethnic Kazakhs living in” China.

The two sides “stressed a mutual interest in resolving emerging issues through working contacts” between the foreign ministries and an agreement was reached “on the revitalisation of consular services”, the statement added.

Oil-rich Kazakhstan, which shares a border with the Xinjiang region, has been treading a diplomatic tightrope since major trading partner China began to forcibly send ethnic Kazakhs to internment camps under its anti-extremism policy.

One former detainee, a Kazakh national who was born in Xinjiang, told AFP that the camps only had one objective — to strip detainees of their religious belief.

Omir Bekali, who was arrested in 2017 after he returned to Xinjiang on a business trip for his Kazakh travel agency, said camp inmates were forbidden to pray or grow a beard, and forced to eat pork on Fridays, which is a holy day for Muslims.

xinjiang camp detention
File photo posted by the Xinjiang Judicial Administration to its WeChat account. File photo: Xinjiang Judicial Administration.

Earlier this month, Xinjiang rights activist Serikjan Bilash, who has led an awareness drive centred on ethnic Kazakh victims of China’s crackdown in the region, was arrested in Kazakhstan.

He was charged with inciting inter-ethnic hatred, but later released from detention and handed two months of house arrest.

In October, an escaped Chinese national whose court testimony described a secretive network of re-education camps was denied political asylum in Kazakhstan, where her family lives.

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