Sunday, 13 May 2012

Under pressure

World Uyghur Congress
Rebiya Kadeer

The Chinese government's recent attempts to disrupt the World Uyghur Congress' 4th General Assembly in Japan is indicative of its blundering and utterly counter-productive approach to dealing with Uyghur exile groups. By applying pressure on the Japanese government to prevent the assembly from taking place, and by repeating its oft-cited mantra that the WUC is a terrorist organization, the Chinese government yet again showed itself to be uninterested in engaging with reality.

The WUC may seek a political settlement that the Chinese government vehemently and passionately disagrees with, and it may have a firm agenda which can sometimes lead to it downplaying the violence that can sporadically occur, but it is a clearly non-violent organization which seeks dialogue and engagement rather than bullets and blood.

It is clear what the Chinese state is trying to achieve by exerting pressure on countries like Japan to prevent the WUC from conducting its business; it does the same thing with the Dalai Lama. It is seeking to restrict the global diffusion of knowledge regarding the Uyghur issue and seeks to control the narrative by portraying the Uyghur exile community as separatists, extremists and terrorists; de-legitimizing their efforts to highlight the flagrant human rights abuses which continue to occur in Xinjiang. 

But it is equally clear that it is failing in this naive aim. Japan refused to bow to Chinese pressure over this month's assembly, and countries like the US and Germany continue to provide assistance both in financial terms and through granting residency to prominent Uyghur exiles. Despite Chinese efforts (including using spies to infiltrate Uyghur exile communities) the work of groups like the WUC goes on. Indeed, their work is perhaps lent even more urgency by Chinese state's hulking response, with their members emboldened to shout even louder to have the Uyghur cause heard; rendering the Chinese state's approach even more counter-productive.

As many times as the Chinese government repeats the statement that the WUC is a terrorist organization, it is patently untrue. As many times as it insists that Rebiya Kadeer promotes Uyghur violence, she clearly does not. And as many times as it pressures the international community to restrict the operations of the organization, the international community should continue to refuse.

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