Tuesday, July 14, 2009

The leader of an organization representing the Uighur ethnic minority called Monday for urgent U.S. action to press China to provide a full accounting of those killed, injured and missing in the ethnic strife gripping Xinjiang province.

Rebiyah Kadeer, president of the Uyghur American Association, told editors and reporters of The Washington Times that as many as 1,000 people had died and thousands more were injured or missing because of violent clashes between Uighurs and ethnic Han Chinese in China’s far west. Among those missing, she said, are three of her 11 children, along with their families.

According to the official Chinese count, 137 Han Chinese and 46 Uighurs have been killed and nearly 1,700 people injured in riots that erupted July 5 after what by most accounts began as a peaceful protest by Uighurs in the Xinjiang capital of Urumqi.

The Associated Press reported that Chinese police fatally shot two more people Monday in Urumqi as unrest continued.

The initial demonstrations were over the deaths of at least two Uighurs in ethnic clashes at a toy factory in southern China last month. Mrs. Kadeer said that the death toll in that incident was more than 50 and that the Uighurs had been taken to the factory against their will as “cheap labor.”

China has flooded Xinjiang with security forces in the past week, and authorities have threatened to execute arrested leaders of the protests.

“[President] Obama needs to take action and do something about the situation or it will become very, very bad,” Mrs. Kadeer said.

However, the State Department has declined to pass judgment on Chinese actions.

Asked whether Chinese authorities have used excessive force, State Department spokesman Ian Kelly said Monday that U.S. diplomats were “still gathering information. We have expressed our concern to the Chinese government about the situation in Xinjiang. We are urging China to handle the situation as we go forward in a transparent manner. … And, of course, as they work to restore order, we believe that its important that they respect the legal rights of all Chinese citizens.”

The National Endowment for Democracy, which is funded by the U.S. government, is providing about $250,000 this year to Mrs. Kadeer’s organization, said Henryk Szadziewski, an official with her group.

Mrs. Kadeer said the protests began peacefully and that Chinese authorities were responsible for the violence. Some of those participating in the original demonstration were carrying Chinese flags, while others cradled babies in their arms, she said.

“Think about it. Would they bring their babies if they planned on being violent?” she asked animatedly, upsetting a native hat that had been perched carefully atop her long, salt-and-pepper braids.

Mrs. Kadeer said police have allowed Han Chinese mobs to roam the streets to beat up Uighurs and go house to house to arrest Uighur men in Urumqi. She said arrests have spread to several other cities in the region, including Kashgar, Aksu, Ghulja, Shayar, Kijcha, Karamay and Atush.

She added that authorities are “forcing women who lost sons to go into the streets and say the situation is back to normal. They are forcing them to hug and kiss Chinese,” she said.

The Chinese government has accused Mrs. Kadeer, once a wealthy Uighur businesswoman, of fomenting the unrest, a claim she dismissed as “completely false.”

Wang Baodong, a Chinese Embassy spokesman in Washington, said Mrs. Kadeer is spreading “sheer lies.” He said the evidence of her role is available online in video clips of her own words.

Mrs. Kadeer spent five years in a Chinese prison after she was convicted of anti-government acts. Mr. Wang said that while in prison she promised to end such work and was granted medical parole in 2005 on “humanitarian consideration.” But on her arrival in the U.S., he said, she “completely became another person and has been engaging in separatist activities.”

He said the Chinese government is hopeful that “any responsible government will have a realistic understanding of the situation surrounding Urumqi riots and refrain from doing anything that may be used to further fan the ethnic hatred.”

“If you listen to what this lady is saying, you will be misled,” Mr. Wang said. “We hope the innocence of the American public will not be manipulated.”

Mr. Wang said Chinese and Western journalists are now free to visit the city of Urumqi, but criticized Western reports on the unrest as biased.

Tensions between China and the Uighurs are longstanding and extend even to the names they use for the region.

To most Uighurs — a Turkic-speaking Muslim people — home is East Turkestan, not Xinjiang Autonomous Region, a name imposed by China when it took over the area in 1949.

In recent years, China has encouraged Han Chinese to move to Xinjiang, and the provincial capital is now populated primarily by Chinese.

“They promised us autonomy, but … Uighurs didn’t have a day of peace in 60 years,” Mrs. Kadeer said.

She said economic development that has included the construction of high-rise buildings, exploitation of oil resources and the building of roads has benefited Chinese residents far more than the Uighurs.

Mrs. Kadeer said Chinese state media have branded Uighurs as terrorists and separatists, creating resentment against them among Han Chinese.

She added that since the protests erupted, Chinese media have shown only wounded and killed Chinese victims. She asserted that hospitals in Xinjiang have denied treatment to injured Uighurs, who have been jailed instead.

According to Human Rights Watch, Uighurs have become increasingly fearful about the survival of their culture and traditional way of life in the wake of the influx of Han Chinese.

“Many Uighurs desire greater autonomy than is currently allowed; some wish for a separate state, although there is little recent evidence of violent rebellion,” the group said.

Mrs. Kadeer compared the plight of Uighurs and the goal of their struggle to those of Tibetans, who are seeking greater autonomy within the Chinese state. China occupied the Tibetan plateau in 1950.

She also compared the massive security buildup and arrests in Xinjiang to the aftermath of the 1997 protests in Yining, another city in Xinjiang, and 2008 protests in Tibet.

The Chinese government has threatened to execute those responsible for the violence in Urumqi, and Mrs. Kadeer said she fears innocent people will be put to death.

Omer Kanat, Washington-based vice president of the World Uyghur Congress, said that since 1989, no Han Chinese has been executed for political reasons, but hundreds of Uighurs have been.

Copyright © 2022 The Washington Times, LLC. Click here for reprint permission.

Please read our comment policy before commenting.

Click to Read More and View Comments

Click to Hide