Statement by Ms. Rebiya Kadeer, Uyghur democracy leader
  • Thu, 08/20/2009 - 12:00

Statement by Ms. Rebiya Kadeer, Uyghur democracy leader
National Press Club, Canberra, Australia

August 11, 2009

Good afternoon.

Before we begin, I would like to thank the organizers of this event. I would also like to thank everyone here today for your attendance.

The time has come for the People’s Republic of China (PRC) to fundamentally reform its policies toward the non-Han Chinese people within its borders.

If we have learnt one thing from the unrest in Urumchi this July and in Tibet in March, 2008, it is that the Chinese government is out of policy ideas in addressing the increasing marginalization of non-Han Chinese people in China, besides endless rounds of crackdowns and “Strike Hard” campaigns.

It is time for the Chinese government to sit and talk with me, His Holiness the Dalai Lama and all those leaders of non-Han Chinese communities who have been vilified, imprisoned and slandered just because we happen to disagree with a bankrupt official policy.

In 1979, the Chinese government made a bold move and began a process of economic reform, which helped maintain its grip on power. The Chinese government now needs to make an even bolder move and enact political reform toward all people in the PRC, but especially toward non-Han Chinese people, who have largely missed out on the benefits of economic reform, to maintain any semblance of legitimacy beyond its status as the world’s creditor.

This call for political reform toward non-Han Chinese people also has the support of Han Chinese. Signatories of “Charter 08[1]”, a manifesto for political reform drafted by prominent and ordinary Chinese citizens, asked from the government for “an institutional design to promote the mutual prospects of all ethnicities”. In addition, Wang Yang, a top Chinese Communist Party official in Guangdong, has stressed[2] the need for “adjustments” to the Chinese government’s policies toward non Han Chinese people, and added that if this process was not carried out then “there will be some problems.”

In order for any future political reform process to have validity, the Chinese government must engage in a genuine and transparent dialogue with non-Han Chinese people built on a foundation of trust and equality.

Mao Zedong said that political power comes from the barrel of a gun, but I say that political reform comes from the table of peaceful negotiation. However, the promise of dialogue between the Chinese government and the Uyghur people based on the principles of trust and equality looks ever more distant as the Chinese government continues in its divisive invective against the Uyghur people since the unrest in Urumchi.

The dismissal by the Chinese authorities in its statements, whether by officials or by the state media, of the fact that true discontent exists with its policies in East Turkestan means that it cannot and will not build trust with the Uyghur people. Building trust with the Uyghur people also stems from telling the truth about the events in Shaoguan and in Urumchi, but the Chinese government has decided against doing this.

The serious incident in Shaoguan, which brought Uyghur protestors to the streets of Urumchi on July 5, was far more serious than the Chinese government is suggesting. The truth[3] about the unrest in Urumchi following the protest organized by Uyghurs is an altogether different matter. While the Shaoguan incident illustrated that the Chinese authorities were unwilling to protect Uyghurs from a civilian mob intent on killing, the Urumchi unrest illustrated that the Chinese authorities were willing to unlawfully and disproportionately kill Uyghur protestors and then obscure the truth about those killings.

In the U.K. Guardian newspaper, Jonathan Watts reports[4] an interview with a Han Chinese man involved in the Shaoguan killings, who states that he personally “helped to kill seven or eight Uighurs, battering them until they stopped screaming.” The eyewitness added that the death toll could be around 30, a figure which tallies with reports we have received from workers at the toy factory who have been brave enough to call us.

In a Far Eastern Economic Review piece titled Fear Grips Shaoguan's Uighurs[5], Kathleen E. McLaughlin reports that 700 Uyghurs from the Shaoguan toy factory are now being detained at an abandoned factory ten miles away. The official Chinese media is not reporting this because, as eyewitness accounts testify, the version of events at Shaoguan it has given the world is false.

The permission given to western journalists to report from East Turkestan during the unrest is not all that it seems. Not only was the western media carefully guided through its stay in Urumchi by Chinese government handlers, but reporters also faced detention if they ventured out themselves. Reporters from Radio Free Asia, Associated Press, Agence France-Presse[6], and TV Tokyo[7] were expelled or detained in the region because the authorities felt that they could not manage them sufficiently. Journalists who have reported events in ways that have strayed from the official version have received death threats[8] from Han Chinese nationalists.

In the wake of the unrest, internet and wireless communications went down[9] in Urumchi, and in the region. This was for a very good reason – to prevent an Iranian style spread of news from citizen journalists. More than a month later, internet and wireless communications remain down throughout the entire region.

The Chinese authorities’ deep fear that that a different version of events will emerge from the one reported in the official media has spread to a threat issued to the legal community. According to the U.S. Congressional-Executive Commission on China[10], the Beijing Municipal Judicial Bureau[11] “issued a notice on its Web site on July 8 calling on justice bureaus, the municipal lawyers association, and law offices in Beijing to ‘exercise caution’ in representing cases related to events” in East Turkestan.

These are not the actions of a government intent on providing an open and transparent account of what happened in Shaoguan and Urumchi.

If President Hu Jintao wishes to create a genuine “harmonious society” in East Turkestan, he must move the mindset of his government from a deep-rooted suspicion and institutionalized discrimination of Uyghurs to one where Uyghurs are respected as equals and are freed to meaningfully participate in the determination of their future. Nevertheless, Chinese authorities are creating an atmosphere in East Turkestan which is contrary to the development of ethnic harmony. In the villages, towns and cities in which generations of their families have lived, Uyghurs are treated as suspects by Chinese authorities.

Since the tragic events of 9/11 in the United States, and in a desperate attempt to garner sympathy with the international community for its repressive policies, the Chinese government has used the Uyghurs’ Islamic faith against them and labeled peaceful dissenters, including myself, as terrorists. This strategy, in the eyes of officials at the central, regional and local level, has given Chinese criminal and judicial authorities carte blanche to unlawfully detain, torture, and in some cases execute[12] Uyghurs. The inflammatory rhetoric emanating from officials in Beijing and Urumchi only exacerbates the suspicion and further alienates Uyghurs from Han Chinese. The systematic repression of Uyghur political rights under the pretext of the war on terrorism only stigmatizes Uyghurs and will not encourage harmony or a process leading to a genuine resolution of the East Turkestan issue.
Chinese officials have accused the World Uyghur Congress, and have especially singled me out, for fomenting[13] the unrest in Urumchi. This pointing of fingers at everyone but themselves is not a new strategy for Beijing. In March 2008, Chinese officials blamed[14] His Holiness the Dalai Lama for the unrest in Lhasa; similarly, it has blamed me for organizing the unrest in Urumchi. I have publicly stated on numerous occasions that I am not responsible for the unrest in Urumchi. I feel pained by the loss of so many lives, Han Chinese and Uyghur, and condemn the violence which took place in Urumchi.

The real context for the unrest is six decades of repressive policies by a Chinese Communist administration which has long sought to dilute Uyghur identity.

From the purges of East Turkestan nationalists in the Anti-Rightist Campaign of the late fifties, to the starvation, exile and destruction of the Great Leap Forward (1958–1962) and the Cultural Revolution (1966-1976), Uyghurs, along with millions of other victims, were persecuted by the Chinese Communist Party. However, Uyghurs were also subjected to special campaigns specifically directed at them so as to dilute their distinct identity. In the early sixties, the Chinese Communist administration instigated a forced resettlement policy with the aims of dispersing concentrations of Uyghurs and of isolating Uyghurs from their communities. In 1961, my family fell victim to this policy. We were forced to leave our home and to relocate far from our friends and our relations.

Currently, the Chinese government’s intensified repressive polices aimed at the eradication of the Uyghur identity include the forced transfer[15] of young Uyghur women to Chinese sweatshops; the demolition[16] of Uyghur cultural heritage in Kashgar; a monolingual[17] language-planning policy; discriminatory[18] hiring practices and curbs[19] on freedom of religion. These policies illustrate that Chinese authorities do not value the traditions, customs and culture of the Uyghur and therefore do not consider Uyghurs their equal.

The indiscriminate killing of Uyghur protestors in Urumchi is consistent with systematic political, economic, social and cultural human rights abuses from a government obsessed with the maintenance of its control of a strategic and resource rich area.

In the wake of the East Turkestan unrest, sufficient doubt has been cast on Beijing’s version of events in Shaoguan and in Urumchi to the extent that an independent and international investigation by the United Nations into the incidents is warranted. The Chinese government has a history of obscuring the truth about civil unrest in China. It did so with Tiananmen in 1989, with Ghulja[20] in 1997, with Lhasa in 2008, and once again with Urumchi in 2009.

At this point, the Chinese government needs to conduct a rigorous self-examination of its performance in East Turkestan, as well as to come clean about Shaoguan and Urumchi. These are concrete steps toward creating the conditions for dialogue with Uyghur leaders.
I am ready to discuss with the Chinese government the ways in which we can address its policy failures of the past sixty years and seek political reform.

The Chinese government should first of all respect its own constitution[21] and Regional Ethnic Autonomy Law[22] and grant Uyghurs genuine religious freedom, economic opportunity, cultural rights, freedom of speech and the rule of law.

I believe the Chinese government should end its aggressive policy of monolingual education, and give students and their parents a choice about their language of instruction. Chinese government policies ensuring equal employment opportunities for Uyghurs should be implemented, in which employment inside of East Turkestan is available to Uyghurs, instead of just sending them outside of East Turkestan to work. All Uyghurs should be allowed to attend the mosque without fear of suspicion and imams should be allowed to speak freely. The Chinese government should stop imprisoning peaceful dissenters and make them partners in a robust dialogue on the development of the region. Uyghurs will welcome these policies, and they will help to reduce tensions between Uyghurs and Han Chinese.

The government must end policies diluting Uyghur culture and must stop distorting our history. These are policies aimed to assimilate Uyghurs and show no regard for our distinct identity as a people. The government should stop its cultural genocide of the Uyghur people.

The time has come for the Chinese government to reform its failed policies, not only in East Turkestan and Tibet, but also in all of China. The time has come for China to embrace human rights, freedom and democracy, and become a respected member of the international community. Uyghurs, Tibetan, Chinese and all ethnic groups in China have suffered too long under the Chinese Communist Party administration’s repressive policies. The time has come for healing and reconciliation.

President Hu Jintao, you can become the greatest Chinese president in five thousand years of Chinese history if you take a bold, righteous and historic stand towards creating a liberal, tolerant and modern China by talking with leaders of China’s marginalized communities. I ask you not to go down in the history of China and the world as one of its greatest dictators.

As Mahatma Gandhi said “Your values become your destiny”.

Thank you.