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Rebiya Kadeer Headshot

Chinese People Should Listen to Their Hearts, Not the Propaganda of the Chinese Communist Party

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The Chinese people have the great fortune of possessing a long and illustrious civilization. Their achievements in science and the arts are a legacy that Chinese people should be rightfully proud of; however, in contemporary China the Han Chinese people share some of the same misfortunes as the Uyghur people of East Turkestan. They do not enjoy the privilege of electing their leaders, opposing the party-state or living in communities governed by the rule of law.

As the Chinese Communist Party shows no interest in governing through the will of the people, I believe that it is up to Han Chinese and Uyghur people themselves to seek a democratic future and to find permanent solutions for deep-rooted problems between them. Governments come and go, but the power of people plays the most decisive role in history. As the situation in East Turkestan gets tenser with each passing day, I believe that Chinese people must work with Uyghurs to find long-lasting solutions based on the principles of democratic change and universal equality.

On the basis of those principles, Chinese people should carefully consider recent statements by Meng Jianzhu, Minister of Public Security, and Zhang Chunxian, party chief of Xinjiang. After the violent suppression of Uyghurs in Kashgar and Hotan in July this year, Meng Jianzhu stated, "Those criminals who dare to test the law and commit violent terrorist acts will be shown no leniency, no appeasement and no soft heart." This hard-line approach has already resulted in the Aug. 15 announcement of harsh security measures against the Uyghur people.

Let us consider Meng Jianzhu's reaction to the Kashgar and Hotan incidents again without the uncorroborated Chinese government hyperbole that characterized the events as terror attacks coordinated from overseas. Did the events in Kashgar and Hotan take place in the context of a continuing crackdown or a softer approach to Uyghurs? Have the policies that have been implemented so far not been tough enough? Have there not been enough executions, death sentences or Uyghurs thrown in jail?

After the incidents in Kashgar and Hotan, the central government deployed a fully trained SWAT team to East Turkestan. Were the huge number of military personnel and fully armed paramilitary forces already stationed in East Turkestan not enough to "curb" and "smash" the allegedly very small number of "evil forces" there? Are the technical abilities of the existing security apparatus failing to deal with unrest? Are the lessons to be drawn from these recent incidents in East Turkestan all to do with the quality and quantity of China's military might in the region?

If increasing the number of jails in East Turkestan is the only solution, there is a precedent to this harsh approach that illustrates the futility of intensified repression. Wang Lequan's endless iron-fisted crackdowns in the region have already been discredited, especially with his dismissal from the post of Xinjiang party chief after July 5, 2009 unrest in the regional capital of Urumchi.

Since Zhang Chunxian's appointment as Wang Lequan's successor, he has shed the veneer of his self-declared "softer" approach to Uyghurs. After the unrest this July, he, like so many before him, predictably pointed a finger at "illegal" religious activities as the cause of the unrest and as the target for a crackdown. This conclusion demonstrates how outsiders such as Zhang Chunxian misunderstand the Uyghur people. Uyghurs are Muslim by faith, but their culture is founded on a moderate form of religious belief. In addition, temperate religious leaders who have not been selected and trained by the government are respected throughout Uyghur society. Putting religion, the core value system of Uyghur culture, at the top of his list for a government attack makes for an attack on Uyghur society as a whole.

Considering all that has been said by Meng Jianzhu and Zhang Chunxian when faced with the challenge of the unrest in Kashgar and Hotan, there is little difference to discern between their solutions and the "life and death struggle" of the hardliner Wang Lequan. In my opinion, the Chinese government neither has the intention nor the courage to solve the chronic problems of Uyghurs in East Turkestan. Otherwise, it would have arrived at a different conclusion than the repetition of the same dysfunctional rhetoric of harsh crackdowns.

Some observers may comment on the government's initiatives introduced after the Xinjiang Work Forum held in May 2010 in Beijing. One of these initiatives involved pairing areas of the Uyghur region with provinces in China with the intention of accelerating development. It almost goes without saying that the Uyghurs in East Turkestan never asked for this kind of assistance or that this assistance will not be equitably distributed. More than likely, it will be Chinese, making up more than 40 percent of East Turkestan's population and holding political and economic power, who will benefit from state investment. With generous incentives for Chinese to invest in and to relocate to the region, a key grievance of the Uyghur people, that of Chinese mass migration, is further aggravated. The disenfranchised Uyghurs have never been able to direct their own development. Without any meaningful involvement in development planning, any new initiatives will only widen the economic gap between Chinese and Uyghurs. The mere fact that the Xinjiang Work Forum was held in Beijing and without the participation of any Uyghurs speaks volumes of the marginalization of Uyghur concerns. Throwing the central government's largesse at the region's problems only exacerbates the conflict between Uyghurs and Chinese.

The Chinese people should pay very close attention to one important question regarding ethnic issues in China. Does finding a permanent solution to all ethnic problems in China serve the best interests of the Chinese Communist Party? To answer this question, we have to clarify the core interest of the Chinese Communist Party, which was very clearly revealed by its response to pro-democracy activists on June 4, 1989. Ideologically bankrupt, the raison d'être of the party is to maintain power at all costs. That being so, why would finding a long-lasting solution to the Uyghur issue serve the core interest of the Chinese Communist Party?

I believe that the Arab Spring and the threat of a Jasmine Revolution in China has planted seeds of doubt in Beijing that the Chinese Communist Party can hold on to power indefinitely. In order to preserve that power, the party must be proactive. In the past, the party relied on the fantasy of socialist utopias and the absurd notion that Chinese culture was unsuited to democratic principles. Today, the strategy of the Chinese Communist Party is to scare the Chinese people with alleged external threats to China and to state security. In this narrative, any change of government will bring chaos to China and will ultimately end in the breakup of the country. Growing conflict between ethnic groups plays into these fears of separatism generated by the Chinese government. Ethnic tension with commensurate crackdowns illustrates to the Chinese people that the party is the best option for the leadership of the country.

There is a risk of secession in the current Chinese state. This risk did not emerge today, and it won't go away tomorrow. I am not going to argue here whether the risk of secession in China is right or wrong, justified or unjustified. I only bring up the issue to demonstrate how the Chinese Communist Party raises the specter of secession to justify the undemocratic foundations of its power.

In my judgment, a political entity such as the authoritarian Chinese Communist Party has placed the maintenance of power over the solution of complex ethnic issues. A solution to the Uyghur plight will only be possible when legitimate representatives of the Chinese and Uyghurs engage in peaceful dialogue, even though that may be very difficult for them to do. Entrusting the Chinese Communist Party with the task of finding balanced solutions to Uyghur problems will engender more conflict and leave a legacy of hatred. In this regard, I call on Chinese citizens to reject the flawed approach of the Chinese Communist Party toward Uyghurs.

In the aftermath of the July 5, 2009 unrest in Urumchi, the Chinese government was quick to blame Uyghurs for the deaths of Han Chinese. If that was the case, then the Chinese government should have also been held accountable for firing on peaceful Uyghur protestors seeking protection from the state; however, following the Chinese government's narrative, the Chinese people held ordinary Uyghurs accountable and responsible for the bloody unrest. As a result, on July 5 and 7 and in September 2009, some Chinese people were motivated by government misinformation about the unrest to beat and kill innocent Uyghurs in the streets of Urumchi.

Those who undertook such acts are not representative of mainstream Chinese society, and without freedom of information, terrible acts of violence can occur. What is needed in highly charged political environments is independent and thorough investigations of complex incidents, not the politically motivated and hastily constructed conclusions of an entity with vested interests. On these grounds alone, the Chinese authorities must join the global free flow of information available through information technologies and permit a full realization of individual rights to expression.

There are two choices before the Chinese people to solve the Uyghur problem. The first is to continue the repression of Uyghurs under the pretext of state security, and as a consequence to continue to legitimize a government that abuses the human rights of all its citizens. The second is for Chinese people to reclaim their freedom and stand side-by-side with democratic Uyghurs against the Chinese Communist Party's policies of self-preservation.

History witnessed the solidarity between British and Indian people to fight colonialism, and in recent years, ordinary Russians sided with ordinary Chechens against Russian government aggression. I believe that as part of one of the great civilizations on earth, the Chinese people possesses a strong sense of justice and will join Uyghurs to oppose the tyrannical rule of the Chinese Communist Party.

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