Col. R. Hariharan
Earlier this month, the United States banned the Chinese government-run Xinjiang Production Construction Core (XPCC), a paramilitary and business organization, and two of its top officials for depriving basic rights to Uyghur people working in their organisation.
The action was taken under the Uyghur Human Rights Policy Act passed by the United States last May for their actions. At that time, the US Secretary of State, Mike Pompeo said “the ongoing human rights abuses by the Chinese Communist Party in Xinjiang, especially against the Uyghur people and other Islamic minorities, are the biggest black spot of this century.” He also listed China’s ongoing actions against the Uyghurs including repression, incarceration of civilians without cause, constant surveillance, forced labour and compulsory family planning.
The Chinese government has condemned the United States, saying it was “constantly interfering in China’s internal affairs” and warned that the government would take appropriate action. This could be considered a major turning point in the rapidly declining US-China relationship.
In the world affected by the continuing Cold War between these two great nations, the attention is turning towards Uyghur people. As a result, support for them is growing in many countries. But Muslims of the world have not been so sympathetic to Uyghur Muslims.
Who are Uyghurs?
Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region, on the north western tip of China, is the largest part of the country. Of the 218 million people of 40 ethnic groups living there, more than 113 million are Uyghur Muslims. Uyghurs are of Turkik descent living in the area since the fourth century. The Uyghur language is also of the same descent.
According to history, though they came under Chinese domination from time to time, the Uyghur people invariably managed to regain their power to rule. Uyghurs of the region twice managed to form the independent state of “Republic of East Turkestan”. It functioned as an independent country in 1933 and for a second time from 1944 to 1949. However, after the Chinese Communist government came to power in 1949, it brought the region under the complete control of China.
Chinese Communist Domination
During the Mao Zedong regime in 1955, Chinese troops and veterans were resettled in the region and the now-banned XPCCC, the para military manufacturing company, was formed. After that, the Chinese government has been resettling the Han Chinese population in the region. As a result, the proportion of the Uyghur ethnic majority has been declining. In addition, it has been reported that last year, the birth rate among the Uyghurs fell by 80 percent below the national average, thanks to government efforts to reduce the Uyghur population, though China attributes it to better education and family planning awareness.
Several Uyghur liberation movements have emerged to oppose the increasing dominance of the Chinese. The most important of these are the East Turkestan Liberation Organization and the East Turkestan Liberation Movement. Outside China, there are a total of 1.6 million Uyghurs living in Kyrgyzstan, Uzbekistan, Turkey and Kazakhstan.
They along with Uyghurs who have immigrated to the Gulf countries, Saudi Arabia, the United States and Europe, have formed the “World Uyghur Congress.” It had been exposing China’s ongoing atrocities against the Uyghur people at the global level.
In Afghanistan, many Uyghurs took part in the Al Qaeda Islamic extremist movement started by Osama bin Laden. Since then, Uyghur Islamic extremism has become a nightmare for China. Fearing its impact, China is monitoring the activities of the Uyghur people, who work in Pakistan and the Gulf countries with the help of local governments.
A violent anti-Chinese riot erupted in July 2009 in Urumqi, the capital of Xinjiang. The Uyghur population attacked the Chinese population, properties, shops and companies. The government had to use the Public Security Force, a paramilitary force, to bring the situation under control.
According to the government, a total of 197 people were killed and 1721 injured in the attacks that followed the riots. according Most of them were Uyghurs. Since then, the Chinese government has taken a number of steps toward crush independence struggles of not only the Uyghur but also the Tibetan minorities.
The new Terrorism Act, deprives even the right include to talk of secession. In order to improve the Public Security Force, they have been brought under military control. There is camera surveillance of people in public places. ‘Alternative education’ halls are being run to brainwash Uyghur people gradually. This is in keeping with the government’s ongoing efforts to control the activities of Islam and Christianity in China.
In the aftermath of the Uyghur riots, Islamic prayer, and all religious activities, have been brought under state control. Madrassas are banned. Prayer halls are allowed to operate only under the supervision of the government. In addition, fasting during Ramadan, the use of halal meat, and the wearing of Islamic symbols such as Uyghur clothing and keeping of beard are prohibited. These concerted efforts by the Chinese government have cramped the work environment of tens of thousands of Uyghurs intellectuals, teachers, clergy and journalists creating enormous pressure on them.
According to a report published by the UN in 2018, more than a million Uyghur Muslims have been imprisoned in alternative education detention camps since 2017. They are being brainwashed in these camps in the name of alternative education in order to forget their religion and culture, the report added. However, according to several media reports, there are more than five million Uyghurs in these detention camp. In these brainwashing camps, Uyghur men and women separated from their families, are kept in solitary confinement. They are taught the Chinese language, the principles of the Chinese Communist Party, and the ideology of Chinese Prime Minister Xi Jinping as a compulsory subject, forgetting the Islamic religion and renouncing Uyghur culture.
The Xinjiang region is vital to China’s security because it borders Russia, Kazakhstan, Mongolia, Afghanistan, and Pakistan-occupied Kashmir. In China-Pakistan Economic Corridor, China’s ambitious infrastructure initiative begins in Kashgar, Xinjiang’s main city. The multi-pronged project continues through Pakistan-occupied Kashmir and ends in the Arabian Sea port of Gwadar. Therefore, Xinjiang region will increasingly play an important role in the emerging China-Pakistan defence strategy against India.
Pakistan’s double role
The human rights abuses that China has unleashed on the Uyghur Muslim population over the years continue to be criticized in the world media. Pakistani Prime Minister Imran Khan, who daily screams that Muslims are being wiped out in India and their rights are being eroded in Kashmir strangely does not notice the plight of Uighur Muslims, who form the majority Xinjiang region on Pakistan’s northern border. When asked, strangely Imran Khan says he does not know the details about it. PM Imran Khan has no choice but to play dumb charade because Pakistan owes a great deal to China to survive its economic crisis. The silence of the Pakistani people on the issue, shows how deeply China has been able to influence them.
It is not just Pakistan; even the World Islamic Council, created for the protection of the Islamic people, has never spoken out against China. Perhaps in the eyes of the Islamic world, China’s actions to separate Uighur Islamists from their families, suppress their fundamental rights and imprison them in so-called “hotels” are better ignored. There are two reasons for this ‘double vision’ of Islamic countries.
One, they are influenced by China’s money power in various ways. So, they suppress any hate-China comments. For example, in July last year, 22 countries, including the United States, Australia, Britain, France and Japan, wrote to the President of the UN Human Rights Council. In it, they expressed their concern about Chinese government’s actions violating the human rights of the Uyghur people in China. They also demanded that the Chinese government lift such restrictions.
But there was not a single Islamic country among the 22 countries! In response, 55 countries issued a rejoinder addressed to the President of the UN Human Rights Council expressing their support for China’s stand on the Xinjiang issue. The countries included Islamic countries including Turkey and Saudi Arabia, as well as Pakistan. However, only the Gulf state of Qatar withdrew its support for the letter, claiming that the Uyghur Islamic people were suffering human rights abuses in China.
Democracy and human rights are only nominal in vast majority of countries that support China’s position on Xinjiang Muslims. In practice, many of these countries’ rulers are notorious for human rights abuses. So probably, the human rights abuses of the Uyghur people does not seem to have created a major impact on them. Why criticize those countries only? The various Islamic organizations and parties operating in our own country do not care to bother about the plight of the Uyghurs. They seem to have made no effort in favour of the Uyghur people.
India continues to be neutral on the Uyghur issue, avoiding criticism of the Chinese government. Will India change its position, in view of the ongoing standoff Indo-Chinese relationship? In this regard, we must remember China’s recent abortive attempt to bring up the Kashmir issue at the UN, in support of Pakistan. In view of this, I find nothing wrong with India expressing its concern over China’s violation of human rights of the Uyghur. Why are we not doing it?
[Translated into English from Tamil original published in the daily newspaper “Dinamalar”Published in Chennai,India).]