NUR-SULTAN -- The Kazakh government lodged a protest with China Tuesday (April 14) over an article on a Chinese website that claims the country historically is part of China and seeks to "return" to its neighbour.
The Kazakh Foreign Ministry summoned the Chinese ambassador after the article, titled "Why Kazakhstan Is Eager to Return to China," was published on the privately owned Chinese website Sohu.com, Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty (RFE/RL)'s Kazakh service reported April 14.
The article's author called into question Kazakhstan's sovereignty over its own territory, asserting that the land is historically Chinese and that "Kazakhstan was a vassal of the Qing Dynasty".
"Residents of small cities in Kazakhstan consider themselves descendants of Li Bai [an eighth-century Chinese poet], while others call themselves Han [the largest ethnic group in China],'" added the article. The article did not name the cities in question.
During an April 14 meeting between First Deputy Foreign Minister Shakhrat Nuryshev and China's ambassador to Kazakhstan, Zhang Xiao, Nuryshev lodged a protest over the article, the Kazakh Foreign Ministry said in a statement.
Muted Chinese reaction
In a Facebook post about the meeting, the Chinese ambassador shied away from discussing the article. An "emphasis was placed on the importance of eradicating false stories from the information landscape in order to create favourable conditions for the sake of deepening the relationship between the two countries," said the ambassador.
Several followers reacted to the post by clicking on the "Angry" button.
Relations between the two countries have been strained as authorities in Xinjiang, China, over the past few years have placed hundreds of thousands of Muslims, including ethnic Kazakhs, into indoctrination camps.
At least 1.5 million ethnic Kazakhs live in the region, representing the second-largest Turkic group there after the Uighurs.
"Sometimes [the true source of an article] sounds out an audience's reaction by putting out a private opinion," Kazbek Beisebayev, an Almaty-based political analyst with 18 years of experience working at the Foreign Ministry and on diplomatic missions in Europe, wrote on Facebook.
"Of course, you could say that an article on this Chinese site represents a private opinion, but knowing the role and place of government agencies and the Communist Party in the Chinese media, it's hard to believe that," Beisebayev said.
"Summoning the ambassador and handing him a note of protest are an extreme action. It's a step that is usually taken when tensions between countries have flared up," he added.
Beisebayev noted that a comparable situation played out in February 2014 with Russia. Kazakhstan's Foreign Ministry sent a note after Vladimir Zhirinovsky, a member of the Russian parliament, publicly called for the annexation of the Central Asian states, including Kazakhstan, by Russia.
The Kazakh diplomats did the right thing in lodging an official protest, said Baurzhan Tolegenov, a political commentator from Nur-Sultan.
"It was an excellent way to communicate to China that we are not striving to move toward it and also to make this clear to Kazakhs," he said.
"The issue of Beijing's policy in Kazakhstan is quite distressing for our society, which reacts nervously to even purely private Chinese claims," Tolegenov said.
The fallout over the article demonstrated that anti-Chinese sentiment in recent years is spurring the government in Nur-Sultan to be proactive and take preventive steps to safeguard the country's national interests, he said.