Uyghur Leader Urges “Better Ethnic Policy”

On a visit to Japan for a series of speeches, exiled Uyghur democracy leader Rebiya Kadeer lamented the ongoing violence in Xinjiang and said she is now pessimistic about new president Xi Jinping’s ability to ease ethnic tensions on China’s western frontier:

“Recently, police and special forces have been permitted to search every house without reason,” she said. “If the owners put up a fight for invasion of privacy, they will simply kill them and say there was terrorist activity in the house–an incident like this just happened in May in the countryside.”

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This year, Ms. Kadeer is participating in lecture events in Tokyo, Sapporo, Osaka, Nagoya, and Okinawa, sponsored by a private group of exiled Uighurs and their Japanese supporters. She does not intend to meet with any policy makers, citing the preparations for the upper house election next month as the reason. “This time, my trip is simply to talk with ordinary Japanese people about what has been happening recently with the Uighur issue.”

During her passionate speech at the Foreign Correspondents’ Club of Japan Thursday, Ms. Kadeer said she now has doubts about Mr. Xi’s stance toward China’s ethnic populations. “We hoped that Xi Jinping could bring a better ethnic policy towards the Uighurs, and release prisoners from jail. Unfortunately, instead he announced there are three forces in Xinjiang: separatism, extremism, and terrorism. The pressure on the Uighur people remains unchanged.” [Source]

Kadeer’s trip marks her second visit to Japan in as many years, after Tokyo drew the ire of Beijing for granting her a visa last May. A Chinese embassy spokesman in Tokyo called Kadeer’s Japan visit “regrettable,” according to The Wall Street Journal article, and said that “she promotes anti-China activities and has connections to terrorism.” Chinese leaders blamed Kadeer for the violent clashes in Xinjiang in 2009, and she has since become the internationally recognized face of the Uyghur cause.

Unrest has simmered in Xinjiang since the 2009 riots, as the Chinese government has attempted to curb Uyghur influence and prevent what it views as the threat of radical islam in the region. 20 were reportedly killed in February during fighting in Yechang, a town about 150 miles from the Pakistan border, amid allegations that police had set up checkpoints and were rounding up Uyghurs. In March, Xinjiang courts sentenced 20 people to jail, some for life, on charges of separatism and for plotting violent acts against the stateAnd more recently, a violent confrontation between officials and police and armed men in April left 21 people dead in Kashgar. Just last week, courts in Xinjiang sentenced 11 ethnic Uyghurs to a range of sentences on web-related religious extremism charges.

See also an op-ed piece Kadeer wrote in The Wall Street Journal late last year, in which she expressed hope that Xi Jinping would “move China away from authoritarianism” and “end the policies of Uyghur cultural genocide.”