A Uyghur exile organization on Monday urged Japan to stick with a decision allowing the group to hold its biennial meeting in Tokyo despite pressure from China.
“I believe the Japanese government will not accept an interruption to the general assembly,” said Dolkun Isa, the General Secretary of the World Uyghur Congress (WUC) planning to hold its meeting in the Japanese capital next month.
“We are not surprised [by China’s objection]. It’s not only for the general assembly, but also whenever we hold a conference or any kind of international event, the Chinese government immediately attacks and raises objections to the country hosting it,” he said.
The Germany-based WUC is an exile organization representing the minority Turkic, Muslim ethnic group from China’s northwest Xinjiang region, where they say they are discriminated against by Beijing.
About 100 Uyghur delegates from diaspora communities around the world are expected to attend the meeting in Tokyo May 14–17, where they will elect new delegates and discuss raising Uyghur rights issues internationally.
China’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs called on Japan Monday not to host the gathering.
“We have brought up our representations to the Japanese side regarding this issue. We hope Japan will take measures to prevent such an organization from using Japanese territory to engage in activities splitting China,” the ministry’s spokesman Liu Weimin said at a briefing.
"We believe this organization harms China's sovereignty and territorial integrity," he said.
China has blamed the WUC for inciting violence in the Xinjiang region, where Uyghurs, numbering about eight million, say they are marginalized in their own homeland, chafing under strict controls on religion and culture in the face of a large-scale influx of Han Chinese to the region.
But the World Uyghur Congress says it seeks to promote the rights of Uyghurs to use peaceful, democratic means to decide the future of Xinjiang, and that China overstates the threat of terrorism in the region.
“The Chinese government does not respect the gatherings, rights of assembly, and freedom of speech [of Uyghurs] within China, and also continues to attack [these rights] for the Uyghur people … even in democratic countries,” he said.
The opening ceremony will take place in the Japanese parliament building, the group said.
"We have a lot of support from the Japanese people and society, and from the Japanese parliament,” Isa said, adding that he had met with business leaders and members of several political parties in Tokyo last week.
The general assembly is the WUC’s fourth since its establishment in 2004, with the previous meetings held in Munich and Washington, DC.
In recent years, a number of Uyghurs who fled China have been deported from countries in Asia with strong trade and diplomatic ties to China, including Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Uzbekistan, Pakistan, Cambodia, Vietnam, Thailand, Malaysia, and Laos.
Uyghurs seeking political asylum in Europe have also faced threats directed by Chinese authorities against their families back home.
Reported by Rachel Vandenbrink.