A week after Chinese authorities hosted an international trade fair in Xinjiang, exiled Uyghur activist Rebiya Kadeer called on foreign companies to consider what she called "humanitarian responsibility" when conducting business in the volatile region.
"Companies should not be a cause of unjust policies including the acceleration of Han immigration to the region and should not take sides in any events occurring between the Chinese government and Uyghurs," said Kadeer, the U.S.-based president of the World Uyghur Congress.
Her comments followed the Sept. 5 close of the first China-Eurasia Expo in the Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region's capital Urumqi, which netted $5.5 billion in foreign trade contracts. Project contracts, including domestic deals, reached about $120 billion dollars covering the mining, crude oil processing, construction, and tourism sectors, among others, state-run Xinhua news agency reported.
Kazakhstan, Uzbekistan, and Russia ranked as the top three trade partners at the exhibition, which was upgraded from a trade fair last year as China seeks to boost investment in the region.
The resource-rich Xinjiang region is home to mostly Muslim ethnic Uyghurs who say that recent economic development has unfairly benefited China's majority Han who migrated to the region over the past decades.
"The real owners of the land and all natural resources are the Uyghurs and other native ethnic groups in East Turkestan," Kadeer said.
Uyghur groups use the term "East Turkestan" to refer to an eventual separate state they are eyeing in the Xinjiang region or to assert their cultural distinctiveness from China proper.
"At present, we are not capable of stopping or delaying any construction in East Turkestan; we can only call on parties planning to invest in our homeland and remind them what the costs, benefits, and responsibilities are," Kadeer said.
Since an outburst of violence in Urumqi in July 2009, Chinese authorities have poured billions of dollars of investment into the region and eased rules to encourage foreign investment.
In July, the regional government signed agreements with Peabody Energy, the world's largest publicly traded coal company, to pursue development of a state-of-the-art mine that would operate for decades.
Kadeer, once a millionaire businesswoman in Xinjiang before she was thrown in jail on charges of endangering state security, welcomed Peabody's move, but called on the company and other foreign investors to consider the impact of their investments on Uyghurs in the region.
"We would like to welcome Peabody to conduct business in East Turkestan.," Kadeer said.
"We believe that Peabody's shareholders are people who value human rights so that the company could, at best, bring some positive change to local people, or, at least, minimize the destruction and harm to native residents. At the same time we want to remind them of their humanitarian responsibility.," she added.
Kadeer said that although companies like Peabody could not be expected to follow the same standards as they would at home, they should be held to standards of fairness for their impact in the region.
"The first implication of this fairness could be that Peabody could oppose bringing more Chinese to East Turkestan and accept more locals for employment opportunities, in accordance with the Autonomy Law," she said, pointing out that the Regional Autonomy Law in the Chinese Constitution specifies that natural resources and their extraction should benefit the people in the region and locals should be given priority in employment.
On signing the deal, Peabody's chairman Gregory H. Boyce said it was "honored to work with the Government of Xinjiang" and that together they could "benefit the region through job creation, economic development, and social responsibility."
But Kadeer argued that Xinjiang's Beijing-appointed leaders do not represent the real interests of the Uyghur people.
"They are unable to ask basic questions about social injustices and disparities. So foreign companies should not believe what these puppet leaders say on behalf of the Uyghur people," she said.
Ahead of the expo, authorities ramped up security and anti-terrorist measures in Urumqi, which two years ago was the site of bloody ethnic violence between Uyghurs and Han Chinese.
In July, attacks in two other cities in the region, the Silk Road towns of Kashgar and Hotan, left more than 30 dead.
Kadeer said that instability in the region reflects dissatisfaction among Uyghurs over unfair economic policies and warned that unrest could continue if further economic development continues to exclude Uyghurs.
"Strong dissatisfaction and anger are boiling among Uyghurs and other native owners of this land," she said.
"Amid these hectic, political circumstances, the safety and security of investment should not be ignored regardless of Chinese assurances," she said.
Reported by Shohret Hoshur for RFA's Uyghur Service. Translated by Memet Tohti. Written in English by Rachel Vandenbrink.