Statement by the World Uyghur Congress: China Whitewashes the Historical and Current Political Reality of Uyghur People in Its 60th Anniversary White Paper on East Turkestan
October 1, 2015 marks the 66th anniversary of the annexation of an independent East Turkestan Republic (ETR) by the People’s Republic of China (PRC) and the 60th founding anniversary of the Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region (XUAR).
The Chinese Communist Party (CCP) will celebrate the anniversaries with great fanfare and proclaim once again that “Xinjiang” has been a part of China since ancient times. This claim is based on a misleading reading of history and the Chinese authorities do not acknowledge that the current borders of PRC are a succession of the Manchu Qing Empire. In short, East Turkestan, much like Tibet, would not be a part of PRC today without the Manchu occupation of the region in 1884. At that time, the name of the newly annexed region was changed to Xinjiang, which literally means “new territory” in Chinese and indicates a relationship between Beijing and the people of the area that does not extend to ancient times.
The indigenous peoples of East Turkestan – Uyghurs, Uzbeks, Kazakhs, Kyrgyz and Tatars – are not Chinese, but Turkic. The Uyghur physical appearance, clothing, dance, music, culture, language, religion and traditions derive from indigenous origins and did not originate from ancient China. Historically, they had always belonged to Central Asia, not China. They had shared similar language, culture, religion, foo and traditions with the Turkic peoples of today’s independent Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, and Uzbekistan, nothing really much with peoples in ancient China.
The events marking the 60th founding anniversary of XUAR will not acknowledge that East Turkestan was an independent nation from 1944 to 1949, at which time Chinese communist armed forces occupied East Turkestan with the support of Stalin’s Soviet Union. Therefore, the vast majority of Uyghurs view October 1 as a reason to mourn the loss of their right to self-determination.
What resulted from the Communist takeover of East Turkestan is the forced assimilation of East Turkestan into a Han dominated China as the Chinese state attacks the cornerstones of Uyghurs identity. The founding of the XUAR in 1955, unlike what the CCP wants the Chinese people and the world to believe, represented the very opposite of Uyghur control over their own affairs. The subsequent denial of fundamental human rights and freedoms to Uyghurs allows Chinese officials to maintain, without the need for accountability or transparency, the falsehood of their narrative of progress.
The white paper Historical Witness to Ethnic Equality, Unity and Development in Xinjiang released on September 24 documents the contributions of the CCP in East Turkestan, but fails to include how the CCP administration violently subjugated the region after its annexation. The white paper details a number of aspects of Chinese government policy in East Turkestan including political rights, cultural preservation and economic development, but the reality of Chinese rule in East Turkestan completely contradicts its claims.
The CCP claims it has poured billions of dollars into East Turkestan and developed the infrastructure and economy of the region. The depiction of the Uyghur homeland as a recipient of government largesse is found throughout the white paper. What is missing is that the actual beneficiaries of state investment have gone to the Chinese immigrants transferred to East Turkestan. In an effort to strengthen Beijing’s control, China has encouraged Han Chinese immigration in order to colonize, control and dominate the region. As a result, millions of Han Chinese, seen as loyal constituents and guardian of the border region by the CCP, settled in East Turkestan over the past six decades, taking over the land, water and natural resources of indigenous Uyghurs. The mass Han Chinese immigration to East Turkestan has systematically reduced the Uyghurs into minority in their own homeland.
The natural resource extraction industry in East Turkestan, a key target for government investment is dominated by Han Chinese labor and managed in line with central government directives, which has siphoned off oil, coal and natural gas for use in eastern China to fuel an economic boom that Chinese officials do not seem to think should extend to Uyghur communities.
The influx of poorly trained and culturally insensitive Chinese settlers into East Turkestan from outside the region to assist in local development are indicative of the government’s approach. Underlying this policy is the belief that progress cannot be achieved without the intervention of a CCP-led administration. This belief disregards the achievements of the Uyghur people and their potential to direct local development.
While the CCP conferred autonomy on the Uyghurs through the XUAR in 1955, the Uyghur people have never enjoyed any kind of rights enshrined in China’s constitution and Regional Ethnic Autonomy Laws. All military, political and economic decision making powers rest with Han officials, especially party secretaries at all levels of the regional administration. Uyghurs in political positions, such as the
XUAR chairman, serve only as figureheads without decisive power. Although the XUAR is legally a Uyghur autonomy, the CCP created the Xinjiang Production and Construction Corps (XPCC), a state within a state, occupying strategic border areas and possessing conventional weapons, which conducts business, commerce and agricultural work in times of peace and assists Chinese military to suppress Uyghur people in times of unrest.
These mechanisms have strengthened Beijing’s control over East Turkestan and not devolved power to the indigenous population. The political rights outlined in the white paper such as the right to political participation are a continuance of the fictional depiction of conditions in the Uyghur homeland. Denial of these political rights in order to suppress dissent to state policies is another method in which the CCP consolidates its jurisdiction over East Turkestan. Forced disappearances, extrajudicial killings and sham trials a der re a more accurate portrayal of the Chinese state’s approach to governance in East Turkestan and undermine any government claim to rule of law. In China, only Uyghurs are executed for political and religious offenses.
The CCP has also used global tragedies to repackage its unlawful repression of the Uyghur people, such as 9/11 and the rise of ISIS. Since Uyghur people believe in Islam, the CCP has opportunistically used these events to target Uyghurs’ religious beliefs and practices, criminalizing every aspect of legitimate religious expression.
Religious leaders, such as imams, are required to attend political education classes to ensure compliance with Chinese Communist Party (CCP) regulations and policies; only state-approved versions of the Koran and sermons are permitted, with all unapproved religious texts treated as “illegal” publications liable to confiscation and criminal charges against whoever was found in possession of them; any outward expression of faith in government workplaces, hospitals and some private businesses, such as men wearing beards or women wearing headscarves, is forbidden; no state employees and no one under the age of 18 can enter a mosque, a measure not in force in the rest of China; organized private religious education is proscribed and facilitators of private classes in Islam are frequently charged with conducting “illegal” religious activities; and students, teachers and government workers are prohibited from fasting during Ramadan. In addition, Uyghurs are not permitted to undertake Hajj, unless it is with an expensive official tour, in which officials carefully vet applicants.
Chinese security head Yu Zhengsheng, who will attend events marking the 60th anniversary on October 1st, is specifically focused on targeting Uyghur peaceful opposition to Chinese policies and calls on the Chinese military to destroy it. China frames this peaceful opposition as the “three evil forces of terrorism, separatism and extremism” to demonize Uyghur resistance. Even Uyghurs who accept Chinese sovereignty, but oppose cultural assimilation and promote peaceful coexistence between indigenous Uyghurs and Chinese immigrants run afoul of China’s zero tolerance approach.
The Uyghur people believe the CCP’s ultimate goal is to forcibly assimilate them into the PRC’s communistic, atheistic and materialistic culture, which is completely alien to them. The Uyghur people under Chinese rule have only two choices today. The first is to, like it or not, unconditionally embrace CCP assimilation, by voluntarily giving up their Uyghur identity, language, culture, religion, tradition and values; the second is to go to jail, get tortured or killed for opposing the CCP’s aggressive assimilationist policies.
For the first time in their three millennia history, the Uyghur people face a dire existential threat from CCP policies that target their identity, culture, religion, language, traditions and values. Manifestations of this are the implementation of a so-called bilingual education policy that in fact promotes the use of Mandarin Chinese in East Turkestan’s schools and the destruction of tangible Uyghur culture in Kashgar Old City, as well as in other cities. The threat of an existential threat to the Uyghur people has been evident throughout CCP administration of East Turkestan; a fact that is not explored I the government’s white paper and will not be on display during the October 1st events.
Since 1949, the Uyghur people have suffered from political campaigns and purges during different periods of CCP administration. In the early days of Chinese communist armed forces occupation of East Turkestan led by General Wang Zheng from 1949 to 1954, nearly a quarter million Uyghurs were massacred for resisting Chinese rule. During the Land Reform period from 1954 to 1957, tens of thousands of Uyghurs with lands, properties and wealth were rounded up, imprisoned, tortured and killed. During the Hundred Flowers campaign from 1957 to 1960, tens of thousands of Uyghur intellectuals, historians, writers, dissidents, poets and academics were again imprisoned, tortured and killed for demanding independence. During the Great Leap Forward period from 1960 to 1963, hundreds of thousands of Uyghurs were starved to death across East Turkestan. During Cultural Revolution period from 1966 to 1976, hundreds of thousands of Uyghur intellectuals, academics, scholars, dissidents, political activists, independence supporters and former ETR officials were imprisoned, tortured and killed.
While the Uyghur people enjoyed brief period of limited freedom after the death of Mao Zedong, founder of communist China, and the rise of Deng Xiaoping in the late 1970 and 1980s, but the fall of the Berlin Wall, the collapse of the Soviet Union, and the subsequent independence of Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan and Uzbekistan put an end to that. Fearing the Uyghur desire to secede from PRC, like the neighboring Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan and Uzbekistan from the Soviet Union, CCP administration committed mass killings of Uyghurs in Baren County in 1990 and in Ghulja City in 1997. Since 1996 China has launched successive strike hard campaigns in East Turkestan and until this day the “war on terror” has been wielded as a tool to prevent Uyghurs from voicing their internationally recognized right to self-determination.
Furthermore, Uyghurs have suffered tremendously due to China’s three-decade long of nuclear testing in East Turkestan. The effects of the 46 atmospheric and underground tests conducted in Lop Nor from 1964 to 1996 are absent from the contents of the white paper. Due to nuclear radiation and pollution, Uyghurs continue to suffer and die from such tests. Rates of cancer in East Turkestan are 30% higher than in the rest of the PRC, and according to independent doctors this is a result of nuclear testing. Cases of leukemia, malignant lymphoma and lung cancer are all rising. 8 out of 10 children in the villages near to the four nuclear testing sites at Lop Nur are born with cleft palates, and congenital deformities such as enlarged stomachs are common.
Since 1949, one massacre after another has defined the rule of CCP in East Turkestan, such as the Baren Massacre of 1990, the Ghulja Massacre of 1997, and the Urumchi Massacre of 2009. An estimated one million Uyghurs have died under CCP rule since East Turkestan became a part of the PRC in 1949. The CCP can rewrite the history of East Turkestan and whitewash the political reality faced by Uyghur people under its rule today; however that is not going to change the fact that Uyghur people have suffered immeasurably in China. Today the Uyghur people are feeling like they are breathing their last breath due to China’s on-going cultural genocide.
The Uyghur people will simply not accept the CCP’s brutal rule in East Turkestan and PRC sovereignty. The CCP has attempted to hide the East Turkestan Question for the past 66 years, but it has become an international issue and one of the most important national security issues of the PRC today. The fact is the East Turkestan Question will simply not go away until the CCP has the wisdom to politically resolve it to the satisfaction of the Uyghurs and other indigenous populations of East Turkestan. The way forward is to review past mistakes and fundamentally changes CCP repressive policies targeting Uyghurs, apologize for the terrible treatment of the Uyghur people, and allow them the right of self-determination.
The CCP will jubilantly celebrate its occupation, annexation, and colonization of East Turkestan and the military subjugation of the Uyghur people for 66 years on October 1. The CCP will celebrate it as one of the PRC’s greatest achievements since 1949, but China can never become a great nation if it can’t peacefully resolve its internal political issues. The age of empire building is already over in the 20th century through the UN-mandated decolonization process. The mark of greatness for any nation in the 21st century is not to create an artificial empire by occupying, annexing and colonizing other nations and subjecting their people to tremendous suffering and death, but to respect the political choices of other nations and peoples through the internationally recognized right of self-Determination.