Security

Growing Chinese territorial claims in Central Asia spark worries across region

By Kanat Altynbayev

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Chinese army parachuters participate in an invasion drill in photo posted on October 29. [Chinese Ministry of Defense]

ALMATY -- Ongoing claims by media outlets controlled by the Chinese Communist Party that Central Asian countries seek to "return" to China represent a direct threat to their sovereignty and a worrying trend for the region, say analysts.

In spring, when Kazakhstan and Kyrgyzstan were in strict quarantine over the coronavirus outbreak, Chinese websites posted provocative statements about the two countries that provoked a furor.

In April, the Kazakh Foreign Ministry summoned the Chinese ambassador after an article titled "Why Kazakhstan is eager to return to China" was published on the privately owned Chinese website Sohu.com.

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".

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The article "Why did Kyrgyzstan not return to its homeland after gaining independence?" on the website Toutiao.com included a map in which it shows Kyrgyzstan as being part of Chinese territory. [Toutiao.com]

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A Chinese military truck convoy carries weapons and equipment during a live-fire training operation in a disputed region not far from Central Asia, where Beijing is becoming increasingly entrenched economically and militarily. [Chinese Ministry of Defence]

"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. It did not name the cities in question.

Also in April, the website Toutiao.com published an article with the headline "Why did Kyrgyzstan not return to its homeland after gaining independence?".

Kyrgyzstan, described by the website as "Central Asia's smallest republic", was part of China for thousands of years until tsarist Russia in 1846 took a total of 510,000 sq. km from China, including present-day Kyrgyzstan, states the Toutiao.com article.

The article presented a map of what was then China to support this claim. Although "regions and countries separated from their homeland eventually yearn and return," when Kyrgyzstan gained independence in 1991, it did not, mainly because of Russia's continued influence, said the author.

The article sparked outrage in Kyrgyz society, which criticised the publication as inflammatory.

"Beijing is becoming a threat not only to Kyrgyzstan's territorial integrity but also to its sovereignty. This is an alarming sign," said Mars Abayev, a Bishkek-based correspondent for the news website Orbita.kg.

By making these claims, Beijing is floating the idea of the return of "its" territories in order to study Central Asian countries' reaction, Abayev noted.

Articles sanctioned by Chinese Communist Party

Sohu.com removed that article less than a week after Kazakhstan's Foreign Ministry summoned the Chinese ambassador.

Posting about the meeting on Facebook, the Chinese ambassador did not focus on discussing the article, noting only that "the importance of clearing the information space of various pieces of fake news was emphasised in order to create favourable conditions for developing relations between the two countries".

However, observers who are familiar with China's information policy say that the mentioned websites would not spread false information without pre-approval from the top in Beijing.

Sohu.com is controlled by the Chinese Communist Party and has huge financial resources at its disposal, said Almaty resident Serikjan Bilash, leader of the Atajurt (Motherland) human rights group and an ethnic Kazakh who emigrated from China in the 2000s.

The other site, Toutiao.com, is known in China for its thorough political and historical content and is one of the 10 most popular online resources in China and has the backing of the Communist Party, he added.

"These are far from the ordinary websites that might publish all kinds of fake news," he said.

"These publications indicate that the Chinese authorities do not recognise the freedom and independence of Central Asian countries and regard them as their own territory," Bilash said.

Still, Beijing appeared to double down on the false territorial narrative as new provocative articles appeared as early as this past summer.

Claims on Tajikistan

Beijing's territorial claims only reinforce Sinophobic sentiments in Central Asia, noted Abayev of Orbita.kg.

"The frequent mass anti-Chinese protests in Kyrgyzstan and Kazakhstan confirm this trend," he said.

Still, Beijing has appeared to double down on false territorial narratives, having targeted Tajikistan.

In July, Chinese media published an article with the inflammatory title "Tajikistan initiated the transfer of its lands to China, and the lost Pamir Mountains have been returned to their true owner".

The publication spoke of the transfer of 1,158 sq. km of Tajik territory to China in 2011, which angered many Tajiks at that time. Tajikistan ceded those lands to China to pay off some of its debt.

The author, Chinese journalist-historian Chu Yao Lu, relying only on Chinese sources, declared that the Pamir Mountains in Tajikistan belonged to China, spurring displeasure in the Tajik government.

The controversy came as Tajikistan's debt to China continues to grow, which could lead to the country ceding more territory in exchange for debt forgiveness -- an idea that has been floated in the past.

Tajikistan's debt to Chinese Eximbank has grown to $1.2 billion in 2020, Asia-Plus reported in August.

In August, Dushanbe was forced to ask Beijing to ease its loan obligations in connection with the pandemic. No statements about the Chinese regime's decision have ensued.

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43 Comment(s)
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ClAims, not clEims, you scholars! [Commenter corrects a spelling mistake of their opponent in Russian]

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The Turan army will be the future! And then we shall see!

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No, not beneficial

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Here in the Far East of Russia, the Chinese have already seized everything with the help of Putin's sellout officials.

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Well, the Uighurs were the canary in the coal mine; no one saw the threat. That was a move they [China] prepared for centuries. In the end, the Chinese will subdue Central Asia. Who's next? Tajikistan is gone already, and there will be more to come.

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According to the Chinese Communist Party's plan, they want to occupy ten countries: Taiwan, Japan, India, North Korea, Kyrgyzstan, Kazakhstan, a part of Russia and three more countries I don't remember. I read it myself: when invading India, the CCP counts on the help from Pakistan.

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We don't want Chinese expansion; those taking their cue [from China] for their own benefit should go to jail.

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Why is Russia a piece of shit?

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A union of Muslim countries is needed.

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Hey, Kazakhs, we Russians will seize northern Kazakhstan sooner or later, and give away the rest to China and Uzbekistan

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You better suck it off. It is the only thing you're good at ))

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There are no Russians, and Russia will soon collapse. So, go weave your bast shoes, serfs.

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blah blah blah

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You sissy instigators. Armchair politicians from both sides ))) Do you think anybody takes you and your conversations seriously????

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The International Bank and the UN need to establish an international law that would prohibit a country from having an accrued foreign debt greater than 20% of its annual GDP.

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But our parliamentarians and government are happily kowtowing to China.

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Therefore we need to create a union of Turkic countries. We should seize the moment while China is busy devouring the Russian Far East and Siberia.

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It depends on what period they consider right for them, but half of their (China's) territories is not Chinese. One-third of their lands used to be Turkic, indigenous Hindu, Mongols, Thai. Okay, they [Chinese] once conquered part of Central Asian territory, let's say they owned it for some time - it doesn't mean these lands still belong to them today. When the whole world was fighting tooth and nail for the territories, for the future of their progeny, the [Chinese] were hiding; they lay low, procreating and multiplying their numbers. And then they came out after the fight and turned heroes. Why didn't they address those issues then? They weren't brave enough, were they? At that time, they could have ended up with their tongues cut out if they had laid such claims

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China gains strength, and is getting ready for something quietly, but debts must be paid back to keep them from laying territorial claims!

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I don't give a shit

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Congratulations, dear Kyrgyz, soon you will pay the price for your clans and thirst for power. Congrats, it's official - soon you will fritter away your country piece by piece

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Russia is a garbage dumpster.

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China will meet its death if it sticks its nose into Central Asia. But I think it's propaganda coming from the other side.

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Funny :)))

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Chinese could easily jog during their forced march in Central Asia, and in one month all of Central Asia would be learning the Chinese language. Amorphous, indifferent and lazy Kazakhs, backward Tajiks and uncivilised Kyrgyz will be among the first to join China. Russia has also sold out the Far East to them.

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China invests more money in manufacturing in Kazakhstan than anyone else; that raises a red flag. They have thought it out well into the future, exploiting the corruption and insatiability of our officials.

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Man, Chinese won't harm you over the next 20 years as long as you pay them a reasonable price for gas and so on. But Kyrgyzstan is up for total annexation, because they have lots of mountains and resources

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:)) in fact it's not any more than in Kazakhstan. Both the mountains and the resources

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The debts should be paid back. I don't think that China is going to conquer territories using brute force.

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Kyrgyzstan has never been a part of China. There was trade between them, and caravans traveled. China itself is an occupier. East Turkestan is not Chinese, nor is Uighur Tibet; [China] should let both of them go.

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It was part of China, unfortunately

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There was a phrase in ancient Greek myths and legends: "I fear the Danaans, even when they bear gifts." So be mindful of those people!

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China is the second Hitler Let them risk it This will devastate them; we will wipe China off the map

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:))) you made me laugh.... What are you gonna fight with? Your tongues? :)

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Russia is even worse than China.

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Kneel before China

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Quit this nonsense, [we] lived like that for 70 years, and it was good enough

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They nearly destroyed it after 70 years

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Kyrgyzstan has never been Chinese territory. We don't want to be like the Uighurs. We don't want to be violently governed and abused. So, dear everyone who swallowed big chunks of the money owned by the Republic. Pay the debt back; that's what I am asking of you!

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There may be yet another "hot spot" that will pop up on the world map this way

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We need to pay off all the debts to China and never take any loans from them again. You officials should think about the future of the country and our children. No country is like ours in the world.

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China will regret its rhetoric someday The whole world will stand against it If not the whole, the majority of it for sure!!!

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China is beefing up its army, and their military is more powerful than ours. It's not any coincidence that they are spreading rumors. They give away loans to then appropriate lands.

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