Uighur is the population of the restive, repressed region of East Turkmenistan, (also known as East Turkistan) in China, called as Xinjiang by the ruling regime. The Uighur comprised almost 90% of the population in 1949 before being ruthlessly taken over and it has now fallen to below 50%. The same thing occurred in Tibet. This is part of the CCP’s aggressive policy: diluting the local populace by resettling the Han population from the east. The Hans are used as tools of the regime in this effort.
East Turkmenistan is a resource rich region of oil, with about 40% of the country’s coal resources. This makes it a prime target of exploitation and suppression. The Uighurs have had a sad and tragic history: a peaceful society who now face widespread exploitation of their territory, with the dilution of their culture, customs and religion. Even during their holy month of Ramadan, students and workers are subjected to rules and regulations that prevent them undertaking their prayers, being forced to eat and not fast during the daylight hours. A flashpoint was reached in 2009 when widespread rioting broke out. Hundreds of lives were lost in clashes between the Uighurs and Hans and in the ensuing brutal crackdown by the authorities it was directed mostly against the Uighurs. There is full surveillance of the region especially in the capital Urumqi, with over 50,000 cameras in public places like streets, intersections, hotel lobbies, taxis, buses, businesses, restaurants, mosques and the few monasteries that were not destroyed earlier in the purges of 1949. It is a still atmosphere with a sullen, subdued populace very resentful of the authorities in their misguided attempts to maintain social order or ‘social harmony’ as they call it. Many Uighurs fled China for Afghanistan to escape persecution and after the events of September 2001, many were turned over by local bounty hunters as terrorists to the American military for a price of US $5,000 a head. Some were shifted to Guantanamo where they languished for years.
Later, after careful analysis, the Bush administration came to the conclusion that they were innocent but found it hard to repatriate them anywhere. The Americans prudently decided not to hand them over to China who wanted them punished but found it difficult to to send them to other countries because of intense pressure from China. Six were sent to Palau by paying $100,000 per head. Twenty or so less fortunate Uighurs were smuggled into Cambodia by underground Christian missionaries, but were later forcibly deported by the Cambodians who succumbed to the enormous pressure by China. To this day, no one knows of their plight. Some of them are likely languishing in Chinese prisons, doubtlessly being tortured, while some have likely even been executed.
China has embarked on a program of to develop East Turkmenistan, spending billions of dollars with the intention of assuaging the grieved population. But not a single Uighur is convinced that the evil regime has their best interests at heart. They rightly feel that the aim of the CCP in China is to not just dilute their numbers but to gradually extinguish their history, culture, customs and their religion. They feel that the beneficiaries of such development will be the resettled, misguided Hans as in the case of Tibet and Inner Mongolia. Even those Uighurs who managed to graduate from Chinese universities find it difficult to gain employment. There is a subtle attempt to marginalize them as terrorists and insurgent sympathizers. No wonder the Dalai Lama has voiced his support for the Uighurs and refers to the region not as Xinjiang but as East Turkmenistan.
In this tragic situation, fate has thrust a diminutive grandmotherly lady by the name of Rebiya Kadeer to take up the cause of her persecuted people. She was a hard working lady who became a millionaire before incurring the wrath of the authorities when she began to speak up for her people. She was promptly jailed and then exiled to the U.S. where she now lives. China has tried without success to prevent countries like Japan, Australia and New Zealand from granting her visas to attend events in those countries. Another heroic figure is Ibrahim Tohti, an economics professor who too valiantly speaks up for his people and is willing to sacrifice his life by refusing to emigrate. Recently, there have been uprisings in the town of Kashgar which China has promptly labeled as terrorist activities and this time has openly stated that those people were trained in camps in Pakistan, its staunch ally.
Similar events have taken place in Inner Mongolia whose plight mirrors that of the Uighurs in East Turkmenistan and the Tibetans in Tibet. Inner Mongolia now comprises 80% Han Chinese, the results of Beijing’s dilution of their numbers and destruction of their culture and linguistic identity. Characteristically, China covets its rich resources of coal, natural gas and rare earth elements. In spite of Beijing’s largesse by way of emoluments etc., the Mongolians yearn for their culture, pastoral traditions, language and customs, all of which are being uprooted by an unprecedented mining boom resulting in tremendous ecological destruction. There have been widespread riots and just like East Turkmenistan, with the resulting crackdown. Here again has surfaced a hero by the name of Hada, a writer who was imprisoned for fifteen years and probably tortured. Yet he is determined to air the grievances of his people and refuses official blandishments of a well paid job, a nice home and comfortable existence and even refuses to be exiled.
The only solution would be for all these people to be free, their homelands granted independence and to live their lives as they used to before and as they please.
Japan, South Korea, Vietnam, Taiwan, Brunei, Malaysia, Indonesia and the Philippines are pitted against China’s increasingly confrontational actions. Considering the volatile and explosive territorial disputes between China and its neighbors in the South China sea, it is simply a matter of time before there is a confrontation and surely will the U.S. be drawn into it. The crux of the matter is China’s avarice in coveting the rich natural resources for its burgeoning economy. History is replete with great powers clashing over such claims and the disasters that unfold.