- Wed, 08/15/2007 - 12:00
Aug 16, 2007
By Alim Seytoff
The Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO) has launched its largest military exercises to date in Russia's Chelyabinsk region and East Turkestan (also known as the Xinjiang Uyghur autonomous region of China). These exercises, code-named Peace Mission 2007 and based on developments in Andijan, Uzbekistan, in 2005 when Uzbek President Islam Karimov violently suppressed an uprising, involved more than 6,500 soldiers and fighter jets from member states.
Although the stated purposes of these exercises are to improve cooperation among member states primarily in the fight against terrorism, the real objective is to intimidate the Uighur population in East Turkestan and to warn the democratic forces in Central Asia not to challenge the authoritarian regimes.
In 1996, China, Russia and three newly independent Central Asian states, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan, created the Shanghai Five to resolve border issues left over after the collapse of the Soviet Union. With the addition of Uzbekistan in 2001, the Shanghai Five became known as the Shanghai Cooperation Organization and has focused primarily on China's security obsessions of "terrorism, separatism and extremism". The SCO has allowed China to use political, diplomatic and economic influence to suppress Uighur opposition in East Turkestan and Central Asia.
China's policies in Central Asia are an outward projection of its fears regarding internal security, because its strategic and energy objectives are based on stability in East Turkestan. Since the founding of Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan and Uzbekistan, Chinese leaders have feared that these states, whose people are culturally and linguistically related to Uighurs, would sympathize with the Uighur situation and support their cause. The Chinese government views the more than 1 million Uighurs living in those countries as a threat, worrying that this population might aid Uighurs in East Turkestan to resist Chinese control of what they consider their traditional homeland.
However, after the founding of the SCO, using military and economic assistance, China has been largely successful in persuading Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan and Uzbekistan to suppress the Uighur populations in their respective countries, to deport Uighur political activists and refugees fleeing Chinese persecution back to China, and to maintain official silence about the human-rights violations in East Turkestan. The increased military and economic cooperation between China and neighboring states has resulted in the repatriation and execution of Uighur activists who fled to those countries to escape Chinese persecution.
At present, SCO member and observer states not only tolerate China's repression of Uighurs in East Turkestan but also help China track down Uighur political activists and extradite them back to China to face unproved political and criminal charges. Uighur activists trying to escape the harsh repression in East Turkestan have no choice but to flee to neighboring countries, mostly China's political allies, where Beijing exerts its influence to have them forcibly returned, where they face serious human-rights violations, including torture, unfair trials and execution.
The extradition of Huseyin Celil, a Uighur-Canadian, from Uzbekistan to China in June 2006 is one of the most powerful examples of the deportation of Uighurs from Central Asian states in violation of international law. In March 2006, Celil, a charismatic Uighur imam and activist, went on a vacation with his wife to visit her parents in Uzbekistan after being granted Canadian citizenship. That June, Uzbek authorities detained Celil, reportedly at the request of the Chinese government, and later secretly extradited him to China to face charges of "terrorism".
This April, Chinese authorities sentenced Celil to life imprisonment on "terrorism" charges, denying his Canadian citizenship, prompting the highest-level Canadian protest. Celil's Canadian lawyer Chris Mcleod believes that the Chinese government, by punishing Celil, wished to send a warning to Uighur human-rights activists in exile that they will not be able "to hide behind a Canadian passport or a charter of rights, whatever other document in other countries you may have". In all cases related to the extradition of Uighur activists to China, the SCO states upheld bilateral agreements over international law.
Today, the SCO is evolving into an anti-Uighur, anti-democratic and even anti-West military alliance of authoritarian states. Both China and Russia are increasingly opposed to US military presence in Central Asia. Therefore, Peace Mission 2007 is intended to turn the SCO into a military and political alliance to repress Uighur people's legitimate democratic and human-rights demands, to warn the local democratic forces never to dream of having any kind of "color revolutions" aimed at overthrowing the authoritarian states, and to counter a growing influence of the United States in the region.
Alim Seytoff is general secretary of the Uyghur American Association, Washington, DC.