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Rather 'Undiplomatic': Chinese Envoy To Kazakhstan Courts Controversy With Anti-U.S. Posts

For many in Kazakhstan, China's treatment of its Muslim minorities is much more of an issue than anything to do with the United States.
For many in Kazakhstan, China's treatment of its Muslim minorities is much more of an issue than anything to do with the United States.

In thinly veiled criticism on social media, China's envoy in Kazakhstan recently seemed to ridicule the U.S. government's initial reaction to the coronavirus crisis and its "inability" to contain it.

Ambassador Zhang Xiao hit out at an unnamed country on Facebook earlier this month for wasting "valuable time" in the early days of the crisis while "China was winning the battle" against the virus in an effort to save the world from the pandemic.

Zhang continued that the unnamed country was, instead, probably engaged in "geopolitical games" and mud-slinging against China, calling it the "Chinese virus" until the coronavirus "spread to all its states," Zhang wrote.

U.S. President Donald Trump has used the term "Chinese virus" several times during White House briefings on the coronavirus, despite China's objections to use of the term. And Secretary of State Mike Pompeo has called it the "Wuhan virus" to cite the city where the pandemic first broke out in December.

Zhang also accused the unnamed country on his personal account of lying and hiding the real numbers of coronavirus infections as it faced "a shortage of masks and equipment" and "its stock markets crashed."

The same post also appeared on the Chinese Embassy's Twitter account.

'No Americans Here'

The Chinese Embassy in Kazakhstan is known for frequently using social media to attack the United States on various subjects, from Washington's stance on the plight of ethnic Muslims in China to problems along the U.S.-Mexican border.

But Zhang's latest post sparked unprecedented, angry reactions from many Kazakhs on social media, who hit back at him by calling the comments "misplaced" and "undiplomatic."

"This is the account of an embassy in Kazakhstan...Americans don’t read it," Assem Zhapisheva, an activist and journalist, replied to the ambassador's critical post against the United States. Zhapisheva went on to say that such a post was inappropriate for a diplomat to share with the public.

She later posted a screenshot showing that the ambassador had blocked her account. Zhapisheva wrote that she stood by her criticism. "He is a diplomat, he should exercise some self-restraint," she wrote. "The words he uses remind one of the Soviet-era propaganda."

Zhapisheva wasn't the only one whose account was blocked by Zhang for condemning him. At least 40 people in Kazakhstan said the Chinese ambassador -- or those who handle his social-media accounts -- had blocked them after they posted their critical responses.

'Stop Killing Muslims'

Twitter user @kamaluga tweeted a screenshot of his reply to the ambassador's post and said he was blocked too. The reply said: "Your statement is disgusting and, moreover, it doesn’t do any justice to China’s image. Besides, stop killing Muslims in China."

The latter comment was an apparent reference to reports about China’s crackdown on hundreds of thousands of ethnic Uyghurs and other Muslim minorities, forcing them to live in "reeducation camps." China says the camps in the western Xinjiang Province are used for "vocational education and training."

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Twitter user @qoshpendi wrote that his account was blocked for this reaction: "So much hysteria on an official account, perhaps it's been hacked."

Another user, Elmira, also posted a screenshot of her reply, after which her account was blocked by the Chinese diplomat. "I don't get it why the ambassador would share such a post. As far as I know, ambassadors are always very diplomatic and carefully choose their words not to provoke conflicts."

Twitter user @anubeck wrote that he was blocked for replying, "Isn’t it clear where the virus came from?"

Twitter Tirades Against Washington

As pointed out by Kazakhs on social media, the Chinese Embassy in Nur-Sultan frequently targets the United States, a topic many find irrelevant for the Chinese Embassy in Kazakhstan and the host country.

In December, the embassy shared a post about how much money the United States owes to the United Nations' budget as a member state. "See for yourself. The United States today owes the United Nations $491 million.... The United States, the largest developed world power remains the UN's largest debtor, forcing the organization to curtail its activities to save money.”

In November, the Chinese Embassy's account went on a Twitter tirade against the United States, criticizing Washington's stance on the plight of Muslim minorities in China and several other random issues.

In a series of tweets, the embassy mentioned the crisis along the U.S.-Mexico border, including the time when U.S. border agents separated some children from their parents after they were detained for illegally crossing the border.

The embassy went on to claim that gender inequality in the United States is rampant and increasing.

It is not clear why the Kazakh ambassador and embassy in Nur-Sultan are so active in their public criticism of Washington. But the embassy attacks don't spare foreign media, either.

On March 5, the embassy's Twitter account accused Western media of spreading misleading information about China and the coronavirus.

“Foreign full of prejudice and it’s not the first time it’s spreading misinformation. They always cover certain events in an arrogant and biased manner. They have long lost the trust of the public,” it wrote.

The following day, Zhang took to Facebook to criticize the U.S. State Department for presenting the Women of Courage Award to Sayragul Sauytbay, an ethnic Kazakh from China whose testimony has helped expose the so-called "reeducation camps" in northwestern China.

The embassy's Twitter account shared the link to the post, captioning it: "USA, the biggest source of the ideological virus."

But both the ambassador and the embassy’s accounts have avoided U.S. criticism in recent days after the backlash from Kazakhs.

Instead, the ambassador has been focusing on bilateral cooperation between China and Kazakhstan and Beijing's progress in battling the new coronavirus and helping others.

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    Farangis Najibullah

    Farangis Najibullah is a senior correspondent for RFE/RL who has reported on a wide range of topics from Central Asia, including the impact of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine on the region. She has extensively covered efforts by Central Asian states to repatriate and reintegrate their citizens who joined Islamic State in Syria and Iraq.

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    Ayan Kalmurat

    Ayan Kalmurat is an Almaty-based correspondent with RFE/RL's Kazakh Service. A graduate of Almaty's Turan University, he has many years of experience as a correspondent in different media outlets. Since joining RFE/RL in 2017, Kalmurat has been working as a reporter, television host, and investigative journalist covering a wide variety of topics.

RFE/RL has been declared an "undesirable organization" by the Russian government.

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