Tuesday, 22 May 2012

Lessons learned

Last week's World Uyghur Congress assembly in Tokyo, and the Chinese state's robust response to the assembly, provided two important lessons to be learned by those interested in XUAR and Uyghur issues.

  • Lesson No. 1: The Chinese government really isn't interested in dialogue
This first one is less of a lesson and more of a re-enforcement of a long-learned rule. The Chinese state's reaction to the WUC assembly is indicative of its approach to Uyghur dissent; dismissive, defamatory and a clear attempt to de-legitimize the activities of an organization it sees as representing an existential threat, despite its relatively modest aim of improving the lives of Uyghurs in China. Repeating its oft-cited yet ill-founded stance that the WUC is a 'terrorist' organization, China yet again showed itself to be uninterested in engaging with those who seek a solution to the insecurity (both in terms of physical security and societal/identity security) and political dissatisfaction that so clearly blights Xinjiang.

By allowing its annoyance of Japan's hosting of the assembly to escalate into something of a diplomatic storm, with a meeting between Hu Jintao and Japanese PM Yoshihiko Noda being cancelled, China came across as a hysterical and irrational bully that would risk a deterioration in relations with one of its most important neighbours all because of its distaste of what was essentially a small-scale conference of non-violent critics of Chinese policies in Xinjiang. 

In doing so, it proved yet again that it is uninterested in engaging in dialogue or in dealing with the perfectly valid complaints and critiques made by organizations like the WUC in the manner befitting a responsible and mature international actor.

  • Lesson No. 2: The WUC needs to fire its PR guy
For a relatively small organization that must rely almost entirely on projecting a positive, non-violent and constructive approach to bettering the lives of Uyghurs living in China, the WUC has made a few serious strategic errors in the past week that will do nothing to help it combat the Chinese state's allegations of its "anti-China activities".

As covered most excellently by the Shisaku blog, the decisions to, however tenuously, align with aggressively right wing, arch-conservative Japanese politicians as well as for Rebiya Kadeer and other Uyghur conference delegates to visit the hugely controversial Yasukuni Shrine, were both unnecessarily inflammatory and undeniably harmful to the WUC cause. For an organisation like the WUC to have its voice heard in the international corridors of power, it must present itself as a body which is cool-headed, eminently sensible and possessing incontestable moral superiority. Being even vaguely connected with individuals who adopt a revisionist approach to the Nanjing Massacre will not do this, and visiting a shrine which commemorates (among many others) Japanese war criminals who were guilty of appalling crimes against the Chinese people will certainly not do this.

The decision for Rebiya Kadeer to donate money (no matter how small the donation) to a campaign for Japan to buy the Diaoyu/Senkaku Islands merely compounded the feeling that the WUC was guilty of an exceptionally naive, if not inflammatory, public relations approach. Regardless of the rights and wrongs of issues like the Diaoyu/Senkaku Islands dispute, the WUC should avoid giving yet more ammunition for the Chinese state to use when seeking to de-legitimize its activities; donating to the campaign was at best unthinking and at worst a stupid and hugely retrograde action which will do nothing to defend the WUC against the slurs of the Chinese state.

No comments:

Post a Comment