China gets veto over ethnic Kazakhs’ nationality applications


Deal makes neighboring Kazakhstan much less of a safe haven for Kazakhs who want to leave China.

China gets veto over ethnic Kazakhs' nationality applications

Chinese President Xi Jinping [right] shakes hands with Kazakh President Kassym Jomart Tokayev at the Great Hall of the People, Beijing, Sept. 11, 2019.

Kazakhstan has signed an agreement with Beijing to set immigration curbs on ethnic Kazakh nationals of China, including the sharing of information on each others’ citizens and the potential repatriation of asylum-seekers who cross their common border, Radio Free Asia has learned.

The deal, voted through the lower house of Kazakhstan’s parliament on Sept. 20, requires both countries to inform each other and provide details of any “violations of entry, stay or exit regulations,” Kazakhstan’s Azattyq Ruhy news agency reported.

It comes as China marks 10 years of its “Belt and Road” regional aid, investment and global influence program, and as its state media lauded Kazakhstan as a “pioneer in jointly building” the scheme.

The agreement allows each country to veto applications by its nationals for citizenship in the other, and will make Kazakhstan less safe for members of ethnic minority groups from China’s Xinjiang region, while making it much harder for those still in China to flee the country to escape persecution, rights activists and emigre Kazakhs said.

It also places mutually agreed quotas on visas and visa-free entry across the two countries’ shared border.

The deal effectively gives Chinese officials the power of veto over applications for Kazakhstan citizenship made by ethnic Kazakhs who hold Chinese passports, according to Bekzat Maksutkhan, who heads the Kazakhstan-based rights group Atajurt.

“They need to get the consent of the Chinese side if they want to become citizens of Kazakhstan,” he said. “Also, the Kazakhstan government is obliged to repatriate anyone who immigrated from China and has become a Kazakh national, if the Chinese government requests it.”

Immigration hurdles

Nurlan Kuhedubai, who emigrated to Kazakhstan from Xinjiang as a child and now lives in Almaty, says it is already much harder for Chinese nationals to settle in Kazakhstan than it used to be.

“The Chinese and Kazakhstan authorities have been joining forces to persecute Chinese Kazakhs over the past six or seven years,” he told Radio Free Asia. “[They are preventing] Kazakhs from emigrating to Kazakhstan.”

Rights activist and YouTuber Serikzhan Bilash said there is now a crucial bureaucratic hurdle in place that wasn’t there before.

Previously, someone applying for Kazakhstan citizenship could simply declare that they renounced their Chinese nationality, but under the new agreement, they must produce an official certificate from the Chinese government before they can cease being a national of that country, he told Radio Free Asia.

“The Kazakhstan immigration bureau requires Kazakhs from Xinjiang to cancel their Chinese nationality at a Chinese embassy or consulate,” he said. “But the embassy and consulates make things difficult [for them] and refuse to cancel their [Chinese citizenship].”

Many Kazakhs fled mass incarceration and other forms of persecution in Xinjiang, thinking Kazakhstan would be a safe haven for them, Serikzhan said, only to find that Beijing is now able to have the final say over their nationality.

He said Kazakh herders are also required to give up any grazing rights in Xinjiang before they can give up their Chinese nationality.

“Administratively accountable”

Kazakhstan doesn’t allow dual citizenship, and anyone caught between their Chinese nationality and Kazakhstan citizenship can be punished for violations of that rule.

More than 400 people have been “held administratively accountable” by the Kazakhstan authorities for holding dual nationality since the beginning of this year, according to local media reports in Kazakhstan.

China’s state-backed Global Times newspaper ran an interview with Chinese Ambassador to Kazakhstan Zhang Xiao earlier this month, in which he said the anniversary was “a new starting point for China-Kazakhstan cooperation.”

“China will continue to strengthen security cooperation with Central Asian countries through bilateral channels and within multilateral frameworks such as the UN and the Shanghai Cooperation Organization,” Zhang told the paper.

“China will actively implement global security initiatives and practice a new concept of common, comprehensive, cooperative, and sustainable security,” he said.

Official figures show that there are around 1.5 million Kazakhs in China, mostly concentrated in and around the Ili Kazakh Autonomous Prefecture.

China once welcomed Kazakhs who wished to relocate from Kazakhstan, but the mass targeting of ethnic minorities in Xinjiang prompted many Kazakhs with Chinese nationality to head back in the other direction.

Chinese restrictions on the free movement of ethnic Kazakhs with Chinese nationality to neighboring Kazakhstan have sparked cross-border tensions in recent years.

Translated with additional reporting by Luisetta Mudie. Edited by Malcolm Foster.

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