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China Letter-News and Human Rights

China human rights news with focus on the Uygur of Xinjiang, Tibetans and Tibet, Chinese mining workers, religion, corruption and censorship.

Wednesday, December 24, 2003

The Chinese Bin Laden: The terrorist leader China forgot

On December. 15, the People's Republic of China commenced a series of press releases on "Uygur Terrorism" in which they "publicly" and for the "first time" identified Uygur organisations and individuals that they claim to be terrorists.

The Uygur are a Turkic/Muslim ethnic group numbering some 7 million who live mainly in the economically and strategically important north western border region known as Xinjiang Uygur Autonomous Region.

A Caucasian race and speaking the Turkic language the Uygur have long harbored sentiments of independence and there were several isolated incidences of violence perpetrated in the 1990s by individuals or small groups claiming to represent the cause. More realistically today the Uygur generally seek nothing more than greater autonomy and cultural integrity within the PRC

The Chinese have repeatedly claimed that there existed several well organised and active "separatist/ terrorist" organisations whose objective is independence from China and the establishment of the independent state of East Turkestan.

They have attributed some 400 terrorist acts to these groups which they claim have resulted in 200 deaths and 400 injured since 1990.

On the basis of this "organised" and "ongoing" terrorist activity the PRC has very heavily cracked down on any form of dissent, rights of association, free speech and religious freedom. Amnesty International, among other groups and commentators, has claimed numerous incidences of unlawful detention, prison sentences and even executions in the name of the "War on Terrorism".

It is also claimed, by some who are knowledgeable in the "Uygur Question", that like some other states in Central Asia and elsewhere, China have used the events of "9/11" and the subsequent "War on Terrorism" to mask an ongoing and meditated attacks on this ethnic group. By bringing their policies toward the Uygur under the banner of The "War" they have been successful in achieving their objectives without international scrutiny, and further, in fact, the likes of the US have turned a "blind eye" to these activities as a trade off for Chinese support.

Among the organisations listed in these series of press releases was the "East Turkestan Islamic Movement" a little known group who had been listed in 2002 as an internationally recognised terrorist organisation by the UN as a result of lobbying by China and supported by the United States.

The press releases claimed the leader of this so called terrorist group was one Hassan Mahsunan Uygur living in exile who, it was further claimed, had strong ties to Al Qaida and had masterminded, among other things, several bomb attacks within China. These claims had been refuted by Mahsun in several prior interviews.

These were the events of December 15 2003.

On December 23 2003 it was reported by the BBC that Mahsun was killed in October 2003 by Pakistani soldiers in a raid on a suspected Al Qaida hideout in South Waziristan, Pakistan. It was further reported that the Chinese Government were involved in making positive identification of the body through DNA testing.

On the same day as the BBC report the Chinese newspaper Xinhua ran a similar story. Later that day Xinhua edited out all links to the story claiming it had been withdrawn because of it's "sensitive nature". (Yahoo News)
How then does the PRC release fairly significant press statements identifying the virtual "Bin Laden" of Uygur terrorists groups when they supposedly actively participated in the identification of his body in October? Why was the Xinhua article cut?

It would seem that these events give strong credence to the arguments that the PRC is waging a calculated and pre-meditated campaign against the Uygur. At the very least it raises some very serious questions.

How could this happen? Perhaps because the press release was written well in advance and set for release at a particular opportune time?

Does the cutting of the Xinhua article prove that the PRC recognises it's fairly significant mistake?

Does the fact that this mistake was allowed to occur at all prove that the case for the existence of Uygur terrorism argued by the PRC is not taken seriously enough, even by them, to the point that the death of China's "Bin Laden" is of so little consequence?

These questions raise very serious doubts about the Chinese claims as to the existence of Uygur terrorist groups and in doing so suggests that the Chinese "War on Terorism" is in fact a war on the Uygur and their human rights.

It also casts serious doubts on the US's and other countries' foreign policy towards China ( and other countries for that matter) in respect of human rights violations in the name of the "War on Terrorism".

In pursuit of the objectives embodied in the "War on Terrorism" are we "throwing the baby out with the bath water"?





Monday, December 22, 2003

The War on Terrorism: A US Policy dilemma

The People's Republic of China on December 15 released a series of statements concerning the Uygur ethnic minority of Xinjiang Uygur Autonomous region of China.(People's Daily News Agency)

They identified what they say are Uygur terrorist groups and leaders.

Whilst all commentators acknowledge that there have been incidents of violence carried out in the name of Uygur independence there has been no solid evidence supplied by China or the US that there does exist organised "Uygur terrorist groups"

I mention the US because in September 2002 they supported China's request to have a little known Uygur Independence organisation (ETIM) proscribed as a recognised terrorist group. This was done, no doubt, to assuage the Chinese over US involvement in countries on the their doorstep.

Under the guise of being a global supporter of the "War on Terrorism" and with the tacit "support" of the US, the Chinese have continued a systematic attack on lawful dissent, religion, rights of association and freedom of speech among the Uygur peoples.

This has involved detention, imprisonment and reportedly even execution.

Yes, the "War on terrorism" so bravely lead by the people of the free world and the US in particular does have it's downsides, not only for the Uygur but also other Turkic/Muslim peoples in Central Asia.

We can not lose site of the "smaller picture" and turn our heads away from the gross misuse of a valid policy by a small group of Central Asian nations and China. We must fight terrorism yes but, we can not sacrifice the human rights of thousands (maybe millions) of people to get one man. What is that old saying? "It is better that a thousand criminals go free than one innocent man condemned". The analogy must work in the "War on terrorism" as well.

The double standard is that the US and other countries were once very serious critics of Beijing's treatment of the Uygur ethnic minority. Cases of human rights violations elicited quick and vocal criticism from the US and rightly so. However, with the advent of "9/11" the US and her allies have gone soft on China with regards to Human rights. That is not to say that they and the US in particular has been silent but they have lost the sense of urgency and have watered down their diplomatic responses to such incidents.

China obviously recognises this and is exploiting it. Therefore, any actions they take against the Uygur they claim it is against terrorist elements and mask it by calling it the "War on Terrorism" and as such the world looks the other way.

The US is obviously grateful for China's support in the "War" especially as to how quietly and magnanimously China has accepted US troops only a stone 's throw away, but, this gratitude does present them with a major policy dilema. "How much trade off do we allow?"

And this is a moral/philosophical question as well as a political one. On one hand the Turkic Republics of Central Asia (the ex Soviet Republics) and China are supporting the war on terrorism, the former allowing bases and US military personnel in their countries, and the second providing at least moral support. On the other hand the US and others, are turning a blind eye to the excesses and violations of Human rights being acted out in these countries in the name of the "War on Terorism".

Let us achieve the objectives of the "War on Terrorism" but in doing so not ignore and by doing so condone lesser evils for the sake of it.

Let us not chuck the baby out with the bathwater!

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Ethnic Conflict Prevention Xinjiang China: A critique

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In his article Ethnic Conflict Prevention in Xinjiang Uygur Autonomous Region: New Models for China's New Region” author Dru Gladney ( Professor of Asian Studies and Anthropology at the University of Hawaii.) makes some glaringly naive assertions about the political and social situation in Xinjiang China as it concerns primarily the Uygur people.

The article attempts to analyse the ethnic situation with particular attention to the Uygur majority whom in his words he describes as the “restive Uygurs” He then goes on to offer models that are available to the Chinese to alleviate and prevent rising ethnic tension and violence.

The good professor shows a very shallow understanding of the situation as it concerns the Uygur both in Xinjiang and in diaspora.

Firstly as to his assertion that the Uygur are “restive”. It would depend I suppose on the definition of the term “restive” which in my mind means intractable or resistant of control. It can also mean fidgety due to lack of rest. If it is the former this has negative connotations for those unfamiliar with the situation, that is, that the Uygurs, as a whole, are actively and even violently resisting the Han Chinese and PRC Central Government. This assertion is patently incorrect and will mislead readers as to the mindset of the Uygur people.

The Uygurs as a whole are not intractable nor restive in the sense the article implies. A casual observer would take away from the article the feeling that the Uygur are on the verge of mass rebellion, waiting for a banner to follow to rise up in violence and bloodshed. Yes, they resent Han immigration into Xinjiang but no more or less than any peoples who for 2,000 years have enjoyed pre-eminence culturally and numerically in their native land. Are the European Americans not “restive” over Hispanics are the Australians not “restive” over Asian immigration? And the latter two have not experienced going from a 74% majority to a 49% minority in 50 odd years despite doubling their own population.

These are figures that no one who has not experienced such rapidity of change can comprehend. Of course there are grumblings and resentment, that is only natural. Yes, some actively shun association with Han Chinese to the point of refusing to get into a taxi with a Han Chinese driver. These are just the same little “protests” carried out by millions of people around the world daily. Yes, they resent the apparent economic disparities between Han and Uygur but they are not in absolute terms worse off, they are relatively worse off, there is a difference.

The author mentions the lower levels of literacy and the lower life expectancy and other social/welfare indicators of Uygur people lag behind compared to the Han. Again this is misleading at least in context. He fails to mention that yes whilst this is true the situation with all social/economic and welfare has improved markedly since 1949.

He then goes on to paint a picture of a growing, vocal and well organised international campaign on behalf of the Uygurs particularly on the Internet. He ventures a figure of some 25 active organisations and states the cities they operate from. Impressive? The facts are quite different. He mentions active operations in Australia and Melbourne in particular. I run three websites in Australia concerning the Uygur and Turkic peoples of Central Asia. One is a group I started in the naive belief that I could help new Uygur arrivals to this country. I have not once been contacted in any shape or form from any Uygur Organisation in Australia nor have I run across any Australian website other than my own despite countless hours of research. As for other organisations growing and becoming more vocal and organised the good professor must never have gone to Google and searched on the term Uygur. You have the Uyghur American Association which is still active but much less so than several years ago. Uyghur UK Association is out of date. East Turkestan National Conference hardly a hive of activity, East Turkestan National Freedom centre Washington – gone, Taklamakan.org, East Turkestan Information Centre, Uygur.Org all either one, inert or but shells of old information. As well, the activity in the Uygur discussion groups, even Uygur language ones, have few posts. Essentially the Uygur internet/cyberspace campaign that he speaks of peaked in 1999 and has been in rapid decline ever since. In one of my articles I call the Uygur Natioanlist websites the “rotting hulks of the Uygur Independence Movement.


The professor then goes on to propose several models to relieve ethnic tension in Xinjiang, to wit the Alaskan, Hawaiian, Australian, Scotland and West Bank models (the last one obviously for some scare mongering). It is incredible to believe that an expert could put forward the raft of models he has. His Alaskan, Hawaiian and Australian models relate to indigenous peoples whose histories cultures and circumstances are in no way analogous to the Uygur situation.

The Australian aborigine at the time of European arrival were a semi nomadic stone age culture, the Innuits and Hawaiians were also not that greatly advanced on the Aborigine at the time of the arrival of their European colonists. These peoples were deprived of their very existence not necessarily through violence but through deprivation of the homelands, their traditional livelihoods. Their ability to thrive and prosper and to live the lifestyle they had been used to had been irrevocably taken away from them by a foreign culture. This is not so with the Uygur.

The Uygur are an established civilised people by world standards. They once ran a great empire. Their legacy to the world in arts, culture, governance, trade and other areas is great and goes back at least to the 8th century.

They are not a peoples whose way of life was totally robbed by a strange and foreign culture. They still trade and conduct business much as they have done for 2,000 years. They still farm, they go to mosques they dance the Dolan, they still write. In other words they still continue, essentially, the culture they have been developing back from the 8th century. The difference is now they have cultural and economic competition in their land.

But this competition is not unknown to them, it is not a strange and foreign culture to them. The Uygurs have fought with and against the Han Chinese since 100 BCE. They have been dominated and subjugated by them for centuries and at one time even considered invading them much as the Mongols later did. They have traded with them, they even were a major player in the introduction of Buddhism.

This is in no way similar to the Aborigines, Innuits or Hawaiians. The Uygur do not want welfare, handouts or thousands of acres of barren land. They want to maintain their cultural integrity and to play a significant part (and not necessarily the only part) in the government and future of their homeland and to maintain within reason their cultural identity.

The professor also puts forward the Scottish model and rightly so, but, for two reasons. Firstly, when the Scottish model was introduced the Scottish people were far and away the majority ethnic group in Scotland and remain so to this day. In Xinjiang, however, some observers now believe that the Uygur do not even have parity with the Han let alone when the other ethnic groups are factored in. Even if a moratorium on migration to Xinjiang were put in place today they would never regain their majority status.

The second consideration is that Scotland economically has not and does not have the attraction of Xinjiang in terms of under developed resources and economic opportunity nor did it have the strategic importance. No Englishman particularly cared if the Scottish had a degree of autonomy because no one wanted to go there. That is not being facetious that is just the facts from an economic viewpoint.

No, the Scottish model on the surface looks appealing but could not operate in the manner the Professor envisages, maybe if it had been implemented in 1949 but not now. The professor is leading from an assumption that the Uygur have some right to “own” Xinjiang. That may have been true but they are now dispossessed. And they unfortunately will never have that right again.

The last model, the West Bank model, is ludicrous at best and scare mongering at worst

Yes, once again there are some superficial similarities in the two scenarios but a little investigation and analysis would reveal to any reasonable person that a West Bank scenario would never occur in Xinjiang.

The professor essentially implies a scenario where al qaeda or the Taliban will strike a banner and a disillusioned Uygur people will rise beneath it resulting in a Central Asia “West Bank”.

Firstly, the Uygur are not and have never been Islamic fundamentalists. Their brand of Islam bears no similarities to that of the Taliban or al qaeda in fact it is highly secular. Secondly, they are a Turkic people not an Arabic people as the other two are. Thirdly, even at the height of the Taliban, even with the catalyst effect one would expect from the decline of the Soviet Union and the setting up of the Turkic Republics, even given their physical proximity to Afghanistan there still have been no conclusive linkages of any great import between them. Yes those organisations trained some militant Uygurs (1,000 odd were rounded up in Afghanistan) yes they may have supplied some minor economic support to a minuscule minority but given the foregoing it is obvious that the majority of Uygurs have no truck with these organisations. As the professor rightly points out the Uygur people, as a whole, have not resorted to, or supported, the use of violence and terrorist activities to achieve an end. So what would change in the foreseeable future. If they were ever going to do it then between 1991 and “September 11” would have been the time but they did not. This analogy quite frankly, like a lot of so called “informed comment” on the Uygur situation, is facile.

Something needs to be done in Xinjiang that is without question. The Uygur are the descendants of the original owners. As to their rights to ownership today that is one only Solomon could decide. But it this very question of ownership that is muddying the waters and blocking the way forward. Ownership implies restitution or compensation a trap the professor falls into with some of his models and one that quite a lot of people fall into.

Should the goal of the Uygur be restitution? Do we wave a wand and move out the Han en masse some who now are second and third generation themselves? Do we write a blank cheque or dismantle the Han supplied infrastructure and ship it back to them on the railroad they built and return on Donkeys.

Should it be monetary compensation for the “stolen land”? How hard to implement an Australian or Alaskan model with 8 –10 million Uygurs (1 million in diaspora who have been away from their homeland for up to 40 years)?

Or, do we accept the situation and strive to develop a model where the Uygur can retain and re invigorate their unique culture? Where they are educated and trained to do the jobs the Han are now doing so they can participate fully in the development of Xinjiang and the resultant economic flow on. A model where they are assured rights at least equal to Han Chinese.

If pre 1949 was a good time to do something, if 1991 to “September 11” was an opportune time to do something than perhaps, with the Olympics and the opening up of China, now is a good time to do something.

Let us not allow journalists looking for a sensation beat up some Kashgar taxi drivers comments or ill informed “experts” looking for publication or the Uygurs in diaspora, who do like the Europeans in exile post 1945 did when they sat in foreign lands and plotted the downfall of the Soviet Union, to dictate or drive the future of Xinjiang. Let it be the Xinjiang Uygur and the Han, each giving up something small to gain something large.


Stephen Sullivan
Sydney Australia

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