Uyghur Update: 11th – 17th June

I did not think 7 days would yield even more shenanigans but this is what’s up in the world, apparently. Here we go!

The restrictions on Ramadan was picked up by TRT World and the Wall Street Journal, who suggests:

This escalation may be due to the arrival of Chen Quanguo, who took over as Xinjiang’s Communist Party secretary in August after running Tibet for five years. He has introduced the system of “grid-style social management” he pioneered in Tibet that allows the government to closely monitor households.

According to state media, Xinjiang’s security budget increased 19.3% in 2016 to more than $4.4 billion, and 30,000 new officers were hired. In February Mr. Chen described security as “grim” and urged the People’s Armed Police to “bury the corpses of terrorists and terror gangs in the vast sea of the people’s war.” So much for winning hearts and minds.

The article goes on to list most of the atrocities currently being committed and then suggests China’s fears of terrorism might become a self-fulfilling prophecy, and that Beijing is threatening social stability by imposing these repressive policies. More on Beijing’s draconian measures were outlined in India Times.

Beijing is not only handing out these policies, but enforcing them as well, as they are fining those who are caught fasting or sending them to “study classes”. Some have also been demoted in their workplace.

Sky News has picked up the ban on Islamic practices, relating it to Xi’s economic progress. Uyghurs are mentioned in reference to how similar China and Trump are becoming in Forbes.

I am not sure what is happening, exactly, but this video has gone viral (police confiscating melons). A Kazakh Imam died in police custody, apparently suicide (an imam committing suicide, imagine that). Xinhua reports an additional 10,000 teachers will be sent to East Turkestan and Tibet to “improve” and promote “bilingual education”. They report it like it’s a good thing. Oh boy. An article about China’s government program to send children from rural areas to schools in the city was published in Global Times. It says literally nothing different to the government’s oft-repeated praises for itself and the bettering of minority kids’ lives so I assume it is the Chinese media’s attempts to influence public opinion. You may think I am being overly pessimistic about these sorts of programs but… I have reason to be.

Here is an update on the OBOR or the “new silk road” or whatever China is calling its trade initiative: Blood on the tracks of the New Silk Roads. It focuses on the effects of the current crazy happening in the Middle East (i.e. Saudi vs Qatar, etc) and I really do not know enough to comment. Michael Clarke also provides some insight into the issue in The National Interest. He refers to it as the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI). OBOR, BRI… belts and roads…

China has also made it very difficult for foreign NGO’s to operate in China which for Uyghurs probably means human rights advocacy groups will have no chance. Already:

The risks were highlighted when a Taiwanese man who advocated human rights on the mainland, Lee Ming-cheh, became the first overseas NGO worker detained since the new law came into effect. He was arrested for “subverting state power” last month after being held incommunicado for 68 days.

The laws affect all NGO’s, including environmental groups, so the restrictions must be quite severe. The linked article goes more in-depth.

The Chinese government has been flexing its flair for propaganda art in a new fantastic (note the sarcasm plz) initiative in Tibet, and there was another article on China’s curbs to freedom of expression and entertainment.

Outside of Asia:

First up, a story that was posted a week ago but I didn’t catch it on the first update: My Name is Gulnaz and I am Uyghur. It is a personal story about an Uyghur girl’s escape from our homeland and the perpetual fear that pervades the thoughts of those who leave. It is about activism and attempting to reach people. It is a reminder that these issues are real, personal, and human. She is quite active on Twitter and writes articles like: 15 Things You Need To Know About China’s Torture of Uyghur Muslims so check it out.

June 15th marked International Uyghur Language Day with a press release from the Uyghur Human Rights Project urging people to celebrate our language and achievements, as well as calling on China to adhere to international human rights standards:

Realize Article 26.3 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights:

Parents have a prior right to choose the kind of education that shall be given to their children.

Ratify the International Convention on Civil and Political Rights and implement the provisions protected in Article 27:

In those States in which ethnic, religious or linguistic minorities exist, persons belonging to such minorities shall not be denied the right, in community with the other members of their group, to enjoy their own culture, to profess and practice their own religion, or to use their own language.

Realize Article 4.4 of the Declaration on the Rights of Persons Belonging to National or Ethnic, Religious and Linguistic Minorities:

States should, where appropriate, take measures in the field of education, in order to encourage knowledge of the history, traditions, language and culture of the minorities existing within their territory.

Meet obligations set out in Article 29.1(c) of the Convention on the Rights of the Child:

States Parties agree that the education of the child shall be directed to: The development of respect for the child’s parents, his or her own cultural identity, language and values.

The above linked article goes into detail about the ways in which the Chinese government has been infringing on these rights over the past few years. Here is an article from RFA about the issue.

The Art of Life in Chinese Central Asia has been picked up to run its columns in RADII – I suppose it is an interesting column/blog that can more easily be viewed as an objective portrayal of the Uyghur situation that is unbiased to China or East Turkistan. My blog, although I attempt objectivity, will probably be biased towards Uyghurs. Even if I was objective it will be viewed as biased. Anyway, it is really interesting to read about Uyghurs from a cultural anthropology perspective.

The Uyghur Congress is back at the UN Human Rights Council in Geneva, Switzerland, advocating for Uyghur rights. Dolkun Isa is also back addressing China’s accusations of terrorism about himself and Uyghur people as a whole, as well as how he was expelled from the UN Indigenous Forum. In general, the council focused on the effects of China-Pakistan Economic Corridor.

An opinion article was published by The Interpreter (Lowy Institute for International Policy) which put forth the question: could China go the way of the USSR and split up? An interesting quote about China and its peripheral “states”:

Pull out a map of the Orient. Not a Chinese Communist Party (CPC) standard issue, but one drawn up for, say, Queen Victoria during ‘The Great Game’. Or Kublai Khan in the 13th century. Whether you go back a hundred years or a thousand, the image that greets you is strikingly similar: a much, much smaller ‘China’ centred on the heartland of the Han people, their ancient ‘Middle Kingdom’. Much of what lies within ‘Chinese’ borders today was not so long ago a mosaic of very separate, very non-Chinese states, from Xinjiang to Manchuria, Qinghai to Inner Mongolia, Tibet to Yunnan. Versions of the ‘One China, two systems’ mantra have been rolled out for centuries in an attempt to justify Chinese suzerainty over surrounding territories, but historically these regions were independent nations, and were only ‘absorbed’ by force.

Travel around China today and once you leave the booming cities of the east, the picture becomes clear. Fewer people look ‘Chinese’, speak Chinese (either Mandarin or Cantonese), or act ‘Chinese’ (mosques instead of Mao, chortens – Buddhist shrines – instead of chopsticks). It is not so much ‘ethnic minorities’ living in ‘autonomous zones’, as CPC officials would have us believe, more non-Chinese ‘majorities’ whose homelands have been swiped from under their feet. The contrast with Beijing and Shanghai is stark, this despite millions of Han Chinese families being forcibly relocated to live in these regions, or bribed with government jobs to migrate.

If (with hindsight) we can now talk of it being inevitable that the indigenous populations of Soviet Republics like Kazakhstan, Uzbekistan and Tajikistan would one day seek self-determination, is it so hard to believe Tibetans and Uighurs won’t do the same? Or that Inner Mongolians might wish to be reunited with their ‘Outer’ cousins?

The author does have a habit of forcing sweeping generalisations, which isn’t always very good but anyway. The section on Uyghurs goes:

Xinjiang This is the name (Mandarin for New Frontier’) given by Chinese rulers to the enormous province that makes up the north-west corner of modern-day China. However, a significant minority of the region’s (primarily Muslim) inhabitants still use the old ‘East Turkestan’ or ‘Uighurstan’ (a modern variation).

The area’s history is one of mixed fortunes. At times it was made up of rich independent kingdoms (Khotan, Kashgar and Kucha). In other eras it formed pieces of larger pies (the ‘Altishahr’ of the Tarim Basin, the Chagatai Khanate of the Mongols, or the Karachanid Empire of Transoxania). Chinese annals routinely state that ‘local’ rulers only held power at a ‘local’ level, remaining sub-ordinate to Chinese emperors in the capital, yet records on the ground beg to differ. Put simply, the peoples of this region rarely considered themselves to be part of China, let alone ‘Chinese’. As recently as 1944-9, East Turkestan existed as a fiercely independent republic.

Today, the majority of Xinjiang is still non-Han. Just. The largest ethnic group by far is the Uighurs, and many are ‘in battle’ with Beijing. Suicide bombings, embassy attacks, plane hijackings and deadly assaults are regularly carried out by Uighur groups, such as the Turkistan Islamic Party, demanding their own nation state. A high-profile recent incident was the 2014 attack on passengers at the Kunming Railway station that killed 31 and injured 141. Such acts are the work not of lone fanatics or deluded dreamers but highly-trained freedom fighters schooled by Al Qaeda and other Mujahadin. The Chinese government knows this better than anyone as during the 1980s and 1990s the CPC recruited, and more to the point armed, Uighur militants to go fight the Soviets in Afghanistan. Many have now returned. (For more on this see Hasan Karrar’s The New Silk Road Diplomacy: China’s Central Asian Foreign Policy since the Cold War.)

…and I have to disagree with the “highly trained freedom fighters schooled by Al Qaeda and other Mujahadin” because it seems like such a preposterous statement. This last paragraph is framed as if Uyghur militant groups actually have enough power to do anything (I doubt they do, but I’m also not too convinced of their existence in the first place) and like these groups represent all Uyghurs. I suppose I, too, cannot speak for all Uyghurs, but saying many of us are in battle with Beijing and then only talking about violent organisations is an unfair portrayal. However, he does make it sound like a good thing, or at least not a bad thing, which is different to the left-wing media’s complete intolerance for any violence and the right-wing media’s very selective condemnation of violence, which usually does not take the side of Muslims or minorities. It confused me. In any case, the article also talks about Tibetans (saying their struggle may be the most peaceful war on the planet… but also talking about their uprising and recent violent/deadly protests… this author sounds like he has a thing for violent uprisings tbh) and the Taiwanese, and the idea of China’s collapse, which is a different narrative to most op-eds that say cessation from China is entirely impossible.

An article was published by the Australian National University’s Ben Hillman: China’s dangerous ethnic policies in Xinjiang which also warns of “the long-term risks of alienating Uyghurs and other Muslim citizens” and that “curtail[ing] practices that lie at the heart of people’s cultural identities will only risk fanning the flames of resentment that energise extremism.”

Finally, a bit on Chinese Islamophobia was published, revealing some fascinating anecdotes on the author’s interactions with Chinese Islamophobes, where this Islamophobia may have originated from, and then ending with some cautionary advice about OBOR/BRI and the effect Islamophobia might have on this initiative.

In slightly less political news:

Suyngul Chanisheff’s (Söyün’gül Janishif) book “Koz Yeshida Nemlengen Zimin”, or “Land Drowned in Tears”, has been translated into English! The book is a historical biography outlining the author’s experiences as an ethnic Tatar woman of modern day Xinjiang between 1957 and 1980, and portrays the effects of the Chinese take over and the resultant repression that has laid the foundations of the current ethnic conflicts in the region. The book was translated by Rahima Mahmut and is being launched by the Open Central Asia Book Forum & Literature Festival. It is being published Hertfordshire Press in November 2017 and won a translation award from PEN UK. Here you can read a report on the book by English PEN.

Abduwali Ayup (the linguist who was detained by China for opening a school to teach Uyghur) visited the Uyghur language school in Kayseri, Turkey (which houses a lot of Uyghur refugees who fled through places like Thailand). Nice!

Photographer Lisa Ross’s latest exhibit opened in Dubai’s Gulf Photo Plus. It is inspired by the power of Sufi shrines and you can read more about it here.

Also, the Food Ranger’s new video came out with a more in-depth look at Uyghur food as he visits the animal market in Kashgar, as well as an Uyghur family. As someone pointed out on Facebook, they completely gloss over any of the problems that may be happening there but the food looks oh-so-good. He has a few other videos as he is travelling through the region at the moment, so check them out if you’re not fasting and want to look at someone ooh-ing and ahh-ing at food and pronouncing everything wrong. I’m not sure why he insists on calling the foods by Chinese names but he does get corrected a lot and the Uyghurs in the video make me laugh.

Have I missed anything?

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