Pushkar Sinha / September 20, 2021
In the past few decades, China’s repression of the Uyghur Muslims living in the has gotten progressively worse. The main push happened in 2001, and involved repressive measures to quell “dissent” amongst the Uyghurs, under the rhetoric of anti-terrorism.
After 9/11, USA launched a global war on terrorism which was supported by many countries to dismantle terrorist organizations. The Chinese communist Party took advantage of this, and started defining the Uyghur resistance as part of terrorist activity, when in truth is was the simple issue of separatism.
Unfortunately, this was given sanction by USA when it deemed East Turkistan Islamic Movement (ETIM), an armed organization operating out of Afghanistan, and sent several Uyghurs to the Guantanamo bay. This gave China’s actions legitimacy. China has hence launched a massive crackdown and has imprisoned at least 1 million Uyghurs in interment camps that are shrouded in secrecy.
For many centuries, Uyghurs have been residing in the region also known as Altishahr or East Turkestan or Xinjiang. Several rebellions took place in the early 20th century, but the province remained part of China and finally, in 1955, it was granted autonomy by Mao Zedong.
After this, the rate of Han migration to these areas started increasing at a rapid pace. This displaced many Uyghurs from their indigenous lands, and caused tensions between the two groups.
Thus China’s claim that Uyghurs are on a religious drive to wage Jihad falls flat. The unrest has been caused by Han exploitation of Uyghur resources and has nothing to do with religion. Uyghurs simply want self governance, cultural preservation, educational opportunities and resolution of health and labour issues.
The Han oppression and exploitation of Uyghur resources played a major role in fuelling separatist sentiments in the region. Though their concerns were legitimate, the Han dominated government never paid attention to them. Local demonstrations against government policies were suppressed. In fact, state violence increased after the events of Tienanmen square in 1989.
During the late 1990s, a series of bombings took place in public transportation and at a police station in the Xinjiang. These were attributed to “East Turkestan separatists”. Therefore in 1997, the Chinese communist Party launched the “Strike Hard” campaign to combat separatism. Security agencies were given a green light to undertake massive arrests and executions of the suspected terrorists.
Many Uyghur activists claimed that the CCP has falsified accusations of separatism to invent a legitimate excuse to suppress dissent and criticism of state policies. It was all a plot by the CCP to demonize Uyghurs. Hence after 9/11, China was able to take advantage of the War on Terror. The ETIM was designated a terrorist organization. Truth is, there was and is little evidence to back this up. The interrogation of Uyghurs at the Guantanamo bay only revealed that they were a small group of fighters based in Afghanistan but had no connections to the global jihad network.
This didn’t change the situation a bit. China finally had legitimacy to crackdown on dissent by calling it an anti terrorism effort. Uyghur protests became rare quickly, as the brutal CCP government came hard on them. This terrorism narrative justified harsher punishment and practices of social control in Xinjiang. Norms deemed incompatible with Han majority have been criminalized. Any display of religiosity can make you a potential terror suspect. The best part is China is now helping Afghanistan. If need be China may also build the mosques there which have been damaged during the war to get a footing in Afghanistan. In Xinjiang region the mosques are being brought down.
Pushkar Sinha is a renowned analyst on China’s geopolitics.
The opinion expressed here is the author’s own, and does not represent the editorial policy of The Kachin Post.