Japanese parliamentarians have set up a caucus supporting China’s minority Uyghurs, saying that Beijing should protect the human rights of the ethnic group in the restive Xinjiang region.
The move came ahead of the exile World Uyghur Congress (WUC) meeting in Tokyo next month which Beijing had been pressuring Japan not to host.
The group of 12 members of Japan’s Diet, headed by former Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, established the group Monday in a meeting attended by members of the Japan Uyghur Association.
“The current situation [for Uyghurs] is very serious,” Abe said in the meeting at Japan’s ruling Liberal Democratic Party headquarters in Tokyo.
“Japan should firmly support the human rights of Uyghurs who are facing the dispossession of their history, culture, tradition, religion, and ethnicity,” he said.
He added that China, as a major player on the world stage, should be held “responsible for ensuring peace and conditions that protect human rights” in the Uyghur region.
The declaration of support for Uyghur rights comes weeks after China demanded Japan stop the WUC, a Germany-based group representing Uyghurs worldwide, from holding its biennial general assembly in Tokyo.
About 100 Uyghur delegates from diaspora communities around the world are expected to attend the meeting May 14–17, where they will elect new delegates and discuss raising Uyghur rights issues internationally.
Earlier this month, China’s foreign ministry accused Japan of allowing the WUC, an organization it said “harms China's sovereignty and territorial integrity,” to “use Japanese territory to engage in activities splitting China.”
The Diet members expressed support for the WUC, saying they would work with the WUC and its Japan branch to support Uyghur human rights.
The aim of the Diet caucus is “to reveal the true situation of China’s oppression of Uyghurs, and, through consultation with the World Uyghur Congress headed by Rebiya Kadeer and the Japan Uyghur Association, to support activities that protect the human rights of Uyghurs from China’s oppression,” according to a statement on the Japan Uyghur Association’s website.
On the same day, six local Japanese government representatives established a similar alliance at a meeting in the Tokyo metropolitan government headquarters.
World Uyghur Congress
WUC General Secretary Dolkun Isa applauded Japan’s support for Uyghur rights issues and called on Western governments to follow its lead.
“For Japan, as the sole leader of democracy and freedom in the Far East, this is the only correct position [towards Uyghurs],” Isa said in an interview.
“We believe that [the Diet members’] action sets an example for Western parliamentarians to be true to universal values in the world.”
Isa, who lives in Germany and will travel to Japan for the congress, was detained in South Korea in 2009 on his way to a democracy forum following pressure from China, which had placed him on a “terrorist” blacklist.
China has accused at least 11 other exile Uyghurs activists, including WUC President Rebiya Kadeer, of inciting terrorism in Xinjiang, and has exerted diplomatic pressure to prevent other WUC meetings, the organization has said.
The WUC’s meeting in Japan will be its first in Asia, after previous congresses held in Munich and Washington since 2004.
Isa applauded the Japanese government for listening to the voices of Uyhurs who had “suffered under a brutal regime for many years.”
“The parliamentarians have heard these voices and have shown the firmness of belief and respect among the Japanese people for the universal values of freedom and human rights,” he said.
Japan’s relations with Uyghur politics go back to the 1930s, when a delegation led by prominent general Mahmut Muhiti traveled to Japan seeking help after the collapse of the First East Turkestan Republic at the hands of Chinese and Soviet collaboration.
The short-lived republic was one of two established in the 1930s and 40s in what is now China’s northwestern Xinjiang region, home to about nine million Uyghurs.
According to the Asahi Shimbun newspaper, around 1,000 Uyghurs live in Japan, where the Japan Uyghur Association was established in 2008.
Members of the Uyghur diaspora also live scattered throughout the United States, Europe, and Australia, as well as in larger numbers in Central Asia.
Reported by Shohret Hoshur for RFA’s Uyghur service. Written in English with additional reporting by Rachel Vandenbrink.