The month of June has had a crazy start for Uyghur people. I am going to try and summarise the news once a week, but more for my sake than for informative purposes because the situation is such a mess and I need an outlet to wrap my head around it all.
In politics-related news, RFA reports that Chinese officials/cadres in Hotan are being assigned to each family to check on whether they are fasting or praying. A direct quote:
“Furthermore, we had a special arrangement … this year called the ‘Together in Five Things’ campaign, [through which cadres and Uyghur families] worked together, dined together, and stayed in the same home together,” the officer said, without specifying the other two “things” that rounded out the initiative.
“It’s all about keeping close to the people. During this period, they [officials] will get to know the lives of the people, assist in their daily activities—such as farming—and propagate laws and regulations, party and government ethnic and religious policies, and so on,” he said.
“They stay at farmers’ homes to inquire after their ideological views.”
This sort of house sitting/inspection thing went on for up to 15 days. Also, all civil servants, government workers, and government retirees signed pledges not to fast as per usual, but this year they had to promise to monitor their friends and family as well. I am still not too sure why China is so adamantly restrictive about this…
Uyghur people are forced to do ridiculous things as usual like pledge allegiance to the communist party, hold anti-terror rallies and sing songs. A Communist Party member was expelled from his position because he visited a mosque. I don’t think he was even Uyghur. The name ban that was posited on newborns earlier this year has now been extended to all those under 16 – children and teenagers will have to change their names if they want to receive national identity cards. Personal accounts seem to show that adults with banned names are also changing their names in order to avoid trouble or show loyalty to the state. This comes from an interesting article called Uyghur Names as Signal and Noise by Darren Byler, which begins with a mass rally at Xinjiang University in May 2017 to discuss the “the overall goal” to “mobilize the masses” in the ongoing war against the “infiltration” of destabilizing Islamic forces, and includes paragraphs like:
Of course, the harmony of the state is also the sound of particular form of Chinese Islamophobia. At the school, this purification of ideology was aimed at students and faculty members who demonstrated a lack of submission. In the broader society, noise eradication is aimed at “rectifying” Islam among rural Uyghurs in Southern Xinjiang. This is accomplished through the everyday policing of moral behavior – a type of re-engineering project. It is established through “beautification” projects that demand that Uyghur women to take off their hijab or jilbab and men shave off their beards. It is established through the mass detention of young Uyghurs in training centers across Southern Xinjiang. Young men and women are being held indefinitely while the state attempts to train them in Chinese and patriotism while preventing them from practicing their faith. Many of these young men and women have children that in some cases are now being treated as wards of the state. These children too are being “rectified.” In order to prevent themselves from becoming detainees and continue to allow their children access to school and healthcare, Uyghur parents are being asked to change the names of their children. Names, it seems, can also be read as a sign of “noise” and “static.”
By rendering 29 Uyghur names a kind of noise, the state is opening them up to contestation and, given the totalitarian force of the state, erasure. If a name is recognized as noise, it can throw into question the citizenship rights of the carrier of the name. Children with banned names are no longer seen as fully human and as having a life that matters. Their parents, by association, are subject to indefinite detention and as a result the children are subject to removal from their home and renaming by the state.
I have read a few of his articles (like this one about social re-engineering) and they are pretty interesting, so check it out.
Outside of East Turkestan, an interview came out describing “Uyghur jihadi colonies” in Syria, apparently created by Turkey and the US to fight Assad. Whether the claims are false or exaggerated, China is definitely using this argument to bolster security and oppression in East Turkestan. If the claims are true, it sounds like Uyghurs are, yet again, being exploited as pawns in this global game of chess. However, the interview claims that those Uyghurs “smuggled” (I prefer the term “escaped”) to Turkey living in Kayseri are guarded and are being trained as in the military, which I am highly skeptical of. It also states that Uyghur jihadists are in line with the other anti-Western groups (ISIS, Al Qaeda, Nusra, Syrian Taliban, etc.) and will attack the West as well (I guess, after they attack China?) and that the US had previously caught and sent 22 Uyghurs to Guantanamo. They fail to mention that these Uyghurs were actually innocent and not linked to terrorist organisations at all, and were released a few years ago. This throws more doubt on whether the information in this interview is absolutely true, at least for me. Finally, it states that the Middle East region is very important for the One Belt One Road initiative China is planning, which leads to my next topic.
It feels as though China is using the current global political climate (i.e. Trump, Brexit, Russia, the Middle East) to push forward with their plans to gain greater economic power. I could be wrong, but the One Belt, One Road (OBOR) thing has been gaining a lot of track recently. It requires the build of ports in many countries for its maritime arm and extensive railways for its land based arm – probably a huge reason as to why China is cracking down so hard on Uyghur people right now (tracklaying has already begun in the region). China and Chinese businesses seem to have been buying up a lot of commodities in “OBOR states” – countries that will host the roads that pave OBOR – for example: Chinese banks have expanded to these countries, various ports have already been bought, a military base is to be set up in Djibouti, “…CITIC Telecom CPC recently acquired Linx Telecommunications, which services Russia, Kazakhstan and the ‘Stan’ region, the Baltic Sea and Eastern Europe… Chinese companies now own almost a quarter of Kazakhstan’s oil production, while over $15 billion of oil, gas and uranium deals have recently been signed with Uzbekistan.” (source).
Countries seem either wary of Chinese influence (OBOR protection provided by Chinese security, the expected currency of Renminbi, outsourcing of China’s “fast production” to poorer countries, etc.) or excited at the prospect of using this to expand their own economy (since China is selling this as a win/win situation). For Uyghurs? Nothing good so far. An opinion piece by Dr Michael Clark at ANU echos this sentiment. All we have experienced is a bone crushing grip that strangles any voice for compromise or dissent, and our flailing attempts at survival is shown as proof of violence and illness.
I did read one hilariously poorly written op ed about how the World Uyghur Congress could react violently to OBOR and how “…Uyghur Islamic insurgency could do much harm to the project of a new Silk Road”. I could barely read the rest of the article because I was laughing so much at how preposterous that was.
I pressed on despite his frustratingly muddled grammar and phrasing filled with meaningless jargon and propaganda, and I believe he states that Uyghurs would be a great hindrance to the progression on this initiative because of terrorism and Western media. He then says: “Hence the Uyghurs will become the key region for China’s economic development in the West, with a blackmail that is easy to imagine” which I could not, for the life of me, decipher. He calls Dolkun Isa the head of a terrorist organisation, claims the Taliban will soon be silenced because of Pakistan, Afghanistan will be stabilised because of Pakistan/India/China, Turkey will stop aiding Uyghurs “quickly”, Ramadan is “religious propaganda”, there will be no more religious or political insurgency once there are no more poor people (due to OBOR) (no more poor people!), China funds “wellbeing and welfare” for Uyghurs so that we can reach “moderate wellbeing” to “defuse the local Islam”, and East Turkestan will be irrelevant once the initiative has started. If that isn’t the funniest pile of horse shit I have ever seen!
It does give me a bit of hope to see that Uyghur activism is such a thorn in their side that it instigates such a ridiculous smear campaign. We must be doing something right.
In any case, the World Uyghur Congress (WUC) had already released a response letter to the author for articles he had written previously. Apparently the author had stopped writing the articles, but something must have triggered his itchy pen again. (Side note: WUC also released a report on the human rights abuses in East Turkestan recently (in May, but I’ll let that pass) so check it out).
A quick look at the author’s biography shows he is heavily invested in Chinese businesses, which 1. makes sense, and 2. brings me to my next item.
A documentary (Four Corners: Power and Influence) came out criticising China’s leverage of Australian politics through donations from wealthy businessmen and well-connected socialites (in which I appear for 1 second at 21:50 as an attractive blur in the background of a protest, huzzah!). It is a very interesting 47 minutes of validation (about Chinese espionage, phone tapping, student protests (they’re always so obnoxious and now I know why), government interrogations, etc.) and disappointment (Australian politicians actually have to take these bribes for China to have an influence. Also… c’mon… Dastyari the HSP bro…). We find out that Australia has no enforcement network for the information gathered from our intelligence networks, we allow foreign donations for political campaigns, and ABC infers that some Chinese-Australian politicians gained seats by paying the parties so that they may influence policies on economics (e.g. One Belt One Road) and border disputes (e.g. South China Sea). I can understand how a patriotic minority can enter the government of another country to pull policies in their homeland’s favour, but if it is to the detriment of this country then surely this country should defend itself against such influence.
On government influence on their international students, a comment I have repeatedly seen on social media is that consulates helping their students is normal – every country does that. However, I don’t think they realise there is a difference between helping students with travelling or studies, and monitoring students so that they may threaten the families of those who speak out against the government. This goes beyond the scope of “safety”. Like the guy says in the documentary, the Chinese government seeks to silence opposition rather than prove their strengths.
In other news, a protest was held by Uyghurs, Tibetans, UNPO, and other groups during a visit by Li Keqiang at the EU-China Summit in Brussels, Belgium (similar to the one held in Canberra earlier this year that was featured in the above-mentioned documentary!).
China has made official guidelines for what you can say online – they need to be the same as what is said on state-sponsored television, basically. Various social media outlets have been shut down already. They are also attempting to cut UN human rights monitoring posts and experts in various countries.
From personal accounts and such (of just this past week), Uyghur international students are still being asked go to back by the Chinese government. People are still being taken in for “questioning”. Family members are telling their relatives living in the West not to call for the time being. One person’s hometown seems to have taken the majority of the males to “camps” and now requires most women to attend regular “education” sessions at local community centres.
Lastly, an opinion piece was published on June 3rd by a Sichuanese Mongol activist/writer, Rose Tang, who survived the Tienanmen Square Massacre (June 4th – this year is the 20th anniversary). It is about Trump, Xitler, and how we might as well be proud splittists, an opinion I am often hesitant to use for myself in public. She says:
Recently I shared on Facebook a map of China carved into separate nation states behind the bars, with this message from a Chinese Twitter user: “China is not a nation, but a prison for nations.” Tibetan poet and activist Tenzin Tsundue, who has been detained in Tibet, comments: “PRC, Prisoners’ Republic of China.”
…and then goes on to be absolutely savage. Preach, girl!
The first 10 days of June have been wild to say the least.
PS. There will be a conference in Amsterdam at the end of July this year to discuss the future of Uyghur people. I believe it is open to Uyghur nominees from communities around the world. Not too sure about the details as of yet.