Hugo Restall: China’s Public Enemy

ED-AJ935_winter_A_20090807175624“The alleged instigator of the Uighur riots doesn’t talk like a terrorist. Demonizing her may backfire on Beijing.” From the Wall Street Journal:

Rebiya Kadeer is undergoing a Chinese version of George Orwell’s “Two Minutes Hate.” Separatist, extremist, terrorist—China’s state-run media has pulled out the rhetorical big guns to put her beyond the pale of civilized society. By condemning her as the mastermind of last month’s riots that killed 197 people in the northwest region of Xinjiang, Beijing has transformed an exiled businesswoman and dissident into public enemy No. 1 for 1.3 billion people.

Even Ms. Kadeer’s family in China has joined the campaign—under duress, she says. After blaming her for the loss of innocent lives, several of her children and other relatives exhorted her in an open letter, “Don’t destroy the stable and happy life in Xinjiang. Don’t follow the provocation from some people in other countries.” In scenes reminiscent of the Cultural Revolution, the signatories have appeared on state television to publicly disavow Ms. Kadeer.

This blood-stained image is hard to reconcile with the diminutive grandmother, dressed modestly in black, who bustles about a cramped, U.S. government-funded office a block from the White House. Ms. Kadeer may be hated by many Chinese, but the president of the World Uighur Congress inspires admiration among the nine million ethnically Turkish Uighurs in Xinjiang and two million-strong diaspora. An indication of why she inspires such strong emotions comes as she responds to the first question; she speaks with a startling intensity, perching on the edge of a folding chair.

First of all, Ms. Kadeer denies she instigated the July 5 protests in her home town of Urumqi: “I did not tell them to come out on that day or that particular time to protest. It was the six decade-long repression that has driven them to protest.”

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