PRESS RELEASE: WUC Concerned With 19th Party Congress Rhetoric
The World Uyghur Congress has been closely watching the developments of the 19th Party Congress this week in Beijing and remain worried about rhetoric underscoring policies that undermine the basic rights of the Uyghur population. Xi’s rhetoric during his marathon speech reinforced his approach during the preceding five years in which strict clampdowns on civil society and dissent were achieved.
In a three and a half hour address to the delegates of the Congress, Xi highlighted what he perceived to be the ‘accomplishments’ of China and put forward his vision for the country going forward. The ‘China’ he has envisioned remains troubling on a number of counts. Emphasised was Chinese exceptionalism in the international community as well as the development of ‘Socialism with Chinese characteristics’ – a system which Xi looks to make an indelible mark upon.
The speech explicitly reflected support for a renewed Chinese nationalism as well as the implicit rejection of recognised norms of the international community, largely enshrined in international law. It implies a rejection of the universality of democracy and human rights in favour of a uniquely ‘Chinese’ model of governance and development.
What is consistently left out of the narrative of development, in which Xi boldly states, “The Chinese nation […] has stood up, grown rich, and become strong” is the fact that Uyghurs, Tibetans and other vulnerable groups are altogether left out of this process. Uyghurs, Tibetans and many Han Chinese firmly reject the notion that the Communist Party is working for them and have expressed muted calls for democracy and human rights.
WUC President, Rebiya Kadeer, while in Brussels for the launch of the new Uyghur Friendship Group at European Parliament, said that, “The 19th Party Congress merely represents the endorsement of the rule of Xi Jinping and his policies over the last five years that have accelerated a campaign that aims to erode the Uyghur culture until it is nearly unrecognisable.”
East Turkestan in particular remains the fulcrum by which China will inevitably engage with the rest of the world to the West – manifested by attention to the One Belt One Road project. It must then be acknowledged that success in terms of development requires the expressed support of, and conferred benefit to the Uyghur population as well.
Perhaps most concerning, is Xi’s declaration that it is time for China to move to the ‘center’ of international politics, to export its ‘alternative’ model of development to other countries and to become a global leader on a number of issues. In this regard, Xi spoke about growing Chinese soft power and influence over global affairs. Growing Chinese power and influence will mean shrinking space for human rights activists.
The World Uyghur Congress has experienced first-hand what growing Chinese influence has meant in reality. Efforts by the Chinese government to silence civil society on human rights in China at the UN and other international fora have been escalating. Growing Chinese power and influence has enabled the government to force thousands of Uyghur students from their studies abroad – many of whom have ended up in prison for reaching outside the country.
The Congress has also provided an opportunity for greater attention to “stability maintenance”, ostensibly to ensure that no security breaches overshadow events inside the Great Hall. Prior to the meeting, it was reported that a hotel in Shenzhen was fined for allowing a Uyghur guest to stay. Other significant events like the recent G20 Summit in Hangzhou have led to the total ban of the mere presence of Uyghurs.
We will continue to monitor the outcome of the 19th Party Congress given that its leader regards himself as acting outside universal human rights norms and does not tolerate any threats to his rule. As China seeks to export its model of governance to the rest of the world, it is our hope that the international community will join us in denouncing a vision of China that puts power over its people.