The movement for the freedom of East Turkistan from seven decades old occupation by the Communist regime of People's Republic of China (PRC) received a historic shot in the arm on June 17, 2020 when US President Donald Trump signed the "Uyghur Intervention and Global Humanitarian Unified Response Act of 2019". In short, this Act is known as the "Uyghur Act of 2019".
The main thrust of this new US law is "... to direct US resources to address human rights violations and abuses.... by PRC's mass surveillance and internment of over 1,000,000 (one million) Uyghurs and other predominantly Turkic Muslim ethnic minorities in China's Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region".
It is also worth noting that a similar Bill (HR-4331) on Tibet was passed by the House of Representatives on 28th January, 2020 which bars Beijing from interfering in the process of selection of next Dalai Lama and offers diplomatic legitimacy to the democratically elected 'SIKYONG' (President) of Dalai Lama's Central Administration in Dharamshala, India.
Before "Uyghur Act of 2019" became an 'Act' in the US constitution, the Bill was fortified and passed twice both by each House of the US Congress (Parliament) with outstanding majority. On the last count the House of Representatives, the Lower House, passed it with a majority of 413 to 1. This is exceptional because in the House of 435 seats with 4 lying vacant, the Democrats occupy 232 while Republicans hold just 198 and the remaining one seat is with the Libertarians. The tally was equally interesting in the Senate, the Upper House, which passed the Bill unanimously despite the fact that the Democrats hold a majority of 53 in a chamber of 100 members while the Democrats have only 45 seats. Remaining two seats are held by pro-Democrat Independents.
This expression of US unity and universal support to an occupied Muslim country against China gains still more significance as it has happened on the eve of a fiercely fought Presidential election. The international importance of this development too is no less either when seen in the context of new realignments happening among the community of Islamic nations which has so far chosen to remain oblivious and indifferent to the sufferings of a fellow Muslim country, forcibly occupied by China.
The new American "Uyghur Act of 2019" has its origin in the reports of widespread violations of human rights of the Uyghur-dominated Muslim population of Xinjiang. It was known as the 'Republic of East Turkistan' until 1949 when it was forcibly occupied by Mao's Peoples Liberation Army (PLA)
From 'Republic of East Turkistan' to ‘China's Xinjiang’
The new American "Uyghur Act of 2019" has its origin in the reports of widespread violations of human rights of the Uyghur-dominated Muslim population of Xinjiang. It was known as the 'Republic of East Turkistan' until 1949 when it was forcibly occupied by Mao's Peoples Liberation Army (PLA). This was the very first imperialist action of the Communist government of Chairman Mao after pulling down the Nationalist government of Chiang Kai-shek through a bloody Communist rebellion. The new occupied land was renamed as 'Xinjiang' meaning 'New Frontier' and is the largest province of PRC with an area of over 16 lakh (1.6 million) sq km. Clubbed with Tibet, which too was occupied forcibly by the PLA in 1950-51, the two colonised regions account for more than half of the land of present day China and over two-thirds of its natural resources.
Concentration camps as ‘schools for patriotism’
Report compiled in recent years from various sources have proven beyond doubt that Chinese government's official arms like the Chinese Communist Party (CCP), PLA, Public Security Bureau (the dreaded 'Gestapo' police of Beijing government) has confined one to three million Uyghurs in heavily guarded concentration camps where they are undergoing torture, brainwashing and cultural overhauling to tame them into 'patriotic' Chinese citizens. The sources of these reports include escaping Uyghur victims; family contacts of those leaders and organisations of East Turkistan freedom movement who are functioning from outside China; Chinese government's own leaked official documents; probes of independent human rights organisations, tourist visitors and observers; and satellite based remote imaging which prove the existence of numerous and massive camps across Xinjiang, built over past few years.
The Chinese ‘art’ of dialogue
When Mao wiped out an entire generation of Uyghur leadership on the pretext of 'dialogue'
“...It is no injustice to conquer the lands of barbarians. It is not an inhuman act to kill barbarians. It is not dishonest to deceive barbarians..." --- prominent Chinese philosopher Wang Fu Zhi, who lived in the 17th century
In Chinese socio-cultural and political lexicon, the term 'barbarian' stands for every other race on earth that is not Han. That explains the burden of being the 'supreme' race or being 'the Middle Kingdom' which generations of Hans have been carrying on their shoulders across the centuries. That also explains why the Qin dynasty and successive generations of Hans chose to build the 'Great' Wall to hide behind it in order to protect themselves from a host of 'barbaric' nomadic invasions from Inner Asia who included Tibetans, Mongols, Uyghurs--and you just name them. That also explains why Chinese hold the distinction of being among those very few races in the world who take pride in their art of 'deception' and cheating.
When Comrade Mao Zedong was in the last leg of his successful Communist revolution in China, his 'Peoples Liberation Army' (PLA) faced stiff resistance from a host of Uyghur clans of 'The Republic of East Turkistan' in the far West. Uyghurs, a fiery and self-respecting Muslim race, dominated this mineral-rich region which has been off and on under the control of various warlords. As Mao's Communists were taking control of one after other regions of China the Uyghurs had successfully broken off from the control of Nationalist Kuomintang rule in 1933, though for a short period. But they had regained their independence again since 1944. That explains why they would not submit themselves to yet another era of slavery of the Hans.
It was this moment when Mao used his charm of Communist sweet talk and offered to settle all those thorny issues through a 'friendly dialogue' which were on the minds of Uyghur leaders. Along with his invitations to the Uyghur clan leaders in August 1949, Mao also sent a plane to Novosibirsk in neighboring USSR to fetch the Uyghur leaders for this 'friendly dialogue'. A large section among the influential leaders fell for Mao's bait. But before the plane could reach Beijing, it exploded midair on August 26 and almost an entire generation of East Turkistani leadership was wiped out in a single go.
Following this 'victory', Mao did not have to make much efforts before he could identify some collaborators among the surviving leaders. Professing loyalty to Mao's Peoples' Republic of China, Saifuddin Azizi, one of the surviving leaders, joined the Chinese Communist Party. The rest of job of suppressing anti-invasion uprising of Uyghur and Kazakh populations was not difficult for PLA General Wang Zhen who soon took control of the Second "Republic of East Turkistan". The 'Republic' was renamed as "Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region" (XUAR) of China. And collaborator Saifuddin Azizi was appointed as the first Communist Party Governor of the 'Ili Kazakh Autonomous Prefecture' of the new PRC.
History repeated itself in Tibet two years later in 1951 when neighboring Tibet was occupied by China following a so-called "17-point Agreement between China and Tibet" that they signed with a celebrated Tibetan collaborator Ngapo Ngawang Jigme who was never authorised by the Dalai Lama government of Lhasa to sign any agreement with China. In the case of Tibet, the Tibetan independence from China had already lasted from 1913 to 1951. — Vijay Kranti
The Chinese government has consistently tried to rubbish these allegations as mere 'Western propaganda' which is aimed at 'splitting' China. On the contrary, Beijing claims that it is actually running centres to help the Uyghurs in developing their occupational and language (Chinese) skills. Retorting to this Chinese claim, Smt Rebiya Kadeer, the most prominent exiled leader of East Turkistan's freedom movement asks: "If that is so, then what is the need of people being forcefully brought to camps and kept under cover? Why are people kept as prisoners? Why Chinese police is watching them continuously? Why are they forced to write down notes about their own thinking as confessions? It is no 'education'. It is simple brainwashing.... Why these people are not allowed to reach out even to their own families? Why do they take away children from the families? Why do they treat children as orphans when their parents are alive?" (see her interview).
History of human rights abuse
The new ‘Uyghur Act of 2019’ is specifically and exhaustively focused on abuse of human rights and mass surveillance and internment of the Uyghurs and other Turkic minorities of Xinjiang. The text of this Act refers to the US Congress' findings about 'long history' of repression in Xinjiang; launch of a special 'Strike Hard' campaign of Beijing against the Uyghur population since 2014; detention camps; forced political indoctrination and torture; deprivation of religious, cultural and linguistic freedoms; and threatening exiled Uyghurs through torturing their family members who are left behind in Xinjiang.
The Act is very specific about what steps the President of US and the Secretary of State must take regarding Xinjiang. It demands the President to 'condemn' PRC for abuses in Xinjiang; to take steps to close 'reeducation camps' and to lift Chinese restrictions on Uyghur population in Xinjiang; and to ensure that Beijing respects human rights of the people of Xinjiang and allows them to reestablish contacts with their loved ones who live abroad.
Similarly, it asks the Secretary of State to implement international Religious Freedoms Act against Beijing and to use necessary sanctions against PRC to ensure its implementation; to work jointly with the allies of US and various international institutions to condemn PRC and to enforce visa restrictions against all such Chinese leaders and officials who are involved in arbitrary detentions in Xinjiang. This new law also places on record the US government's appreciation of Radio Free Asia (RFA) for its broadcasts aimed at the Xinjiang population. RFA is a government funded international Radio network to propagate US point of view across the world.
Points of worry for China
But there are other parts of the new law also which hold serious reasons for Beijing to worry about. The most important one is that it expects all arms of US government to ensure that their policies towards PRC should be explicitly linked with situation in Xinjiang. Invoking the Magnitsky Human Rights Accountability Act, it has asked the concerned departments to prepare a list of all such leaders and officials of PRC within 120 days, who are responsible for human rights violations in Xinjiang, and impose personal sanctions against them.
Another part of this law makes it obligatory for the US government and its agencies to prepare a list and pass sanctions against those Chinese agencies and foreign companies who are supplying technology and equipment used in high tech mass surveillance in Xinjiang.
East Trukistan, clubbed with Tibet, which too was occupied forcibly by the PLA in 1950-51, the two colonised regions account for more than half of the land of present day China and over two-thirds of its natural resources
A threatening China
As expected, Beijing reacted sharply to US President's decision to sign the Bill in order to make it a law. The Chinese Foreign Ministry's statement said: “We again urge the US side to immediately correct its mistakes and stop using this Xinjiang-related law to harm China’s interests and interfere in China’s internal affairs.” It further added in a threatening tone, "...otherwise, China will resolutely take counter measures, and all the consequences arising there from must be fully borne by the United States,” but did not it give details of its counter measures.
The Uyghur response
However, the Uyghur leaders and organisations engaged in the freedom struggle of East Turkistan, have welcomed this new zeal in the US approach towards their cause. The World Uyghur Congress, a prominent group among such organisations, thanked President Trump for putting his signatures on this law saying: "It has given hope to the desperate Uyghur people."
Referring to this new Act of US government about her country, Rebiya Kadeer looked elated In an exclusive interview to this author. "This is a highly welcome development in our freedom struggle against China's illegal occupation of East Turkistan..... It simply shows that we are fighting for a just cause. I am happy that the world has started recognising the truth of our struggle. We also hope that world, especially countries like India, will soon take a lead from this and East Turkistan will be free from Chinese colonialism.”
Enthused by the passage of this historic US law in favour of their country, a group of lawyers representing the East Turkistan Government in Exile (ETGE) and the East Turkistan National Awakening Movement (ETNAM) took less than three weeks to submit a detailed complaint to the International Criminal Court (ICC) at the Hague asking its Office of the Prosecutor (OTP) to open an investigation into Genocide and other Crimes Against Humanity allegedly committed against the Uyghur and other Turkic peoples of East Turkistan by senior Chinese Leaders including President Xi Jinping.
However, most governments across the world, including India, don't appear to be as enthusiastic as the US government on this issue. Deeply hurt and shaken due to the Covid-19 pandemic which has struck the world like a thunder bolt from China's Wuhan city, they would rather wait for the new world order in the post-Covid era to take shape before they can settle scores with China.
But the Uyghur people can surely hope from the ongoing realignment of power groupings in the light of China's Wuhan viral onslaught on the entire world and its belligerence in the South China Sea, East China Sea and Indian Himalayas. The process of fresh alignments among the community of Islamic nations too holds big promises for the people of East Turkistan. Many among Islamic nations might find good reasons and a suitable environment soon to stand up for their fellow Muslims of East Turkistan who are facing imminent extinction at the hands of their colonial communist masters. These changes bring a new lease of hope to China's other colonies like Tibet, South Mongolia and Hong Kong too whose people are striving to win back their freedom from Chinese occupation.
(Author is a senior journalist, a veteran China watcher and Chairman, Centre for Himalayan Asia Studies and Engagement - CHASE)