Interview: China Can Learn From Scottish Independence Referendum

xinjiang-rebiya-2013.gif Uyghur leader Rebiya Kadeer speaks during a press conference in Tokyo, June 20, 2013.

Days after Scotland's Sept.18 historic independence referendum in which the Scottish decided to remain in the United Kingdom, exiled Uyghur leader Rebiya Kadeer spoke to RFA's Uyghur Service on the impact of the hotly contested vote on the people of China's troubled northwestern Xinjiang region. Many Uyghurs refer to Xinjiang as East Turkestan, as it had come under Chinese control following two short-lived East Turkestan republics in the 1930s and 1940s. The Uyghurs say they have long suffered ethnic discrimination, oppressive religious controls, and continued poverty and joblessness.

Q: Media have reported that Chinese leaders heaved a huge sigh of relief when they learned the results of the Scottish referendum. As a leader of a people who feel colonized by China, what is your view of the referendum results?

A: What is important for me is not the result per se, but the process itself. I took a deep breath when I learned that the referendum would actually take place. I still feel the positive impact of this. This demonstration of allowing the choice of self-governance [for the Scottish people] is a moral boost for our own efforts. The Uyghurs wish to use the same democratic process used in Scotland in East Turkestan. But the result in East Turkestan, I am confident, would be different from that of Scotland.

Q: How much interest did the Uyghur people show in the Scottish referendum?

A: When East Timor declared its independence, Uyghur youth in the universities secretly celebrated the occasion. When Kosovo declared its independence, people in Kashgar danced in the streets. When Gadhafi was overthrown [in Libya] during the Arab Spring, exiled Uyghurs broke into tears. Uyghurs are very sensitive to steps that lead to justice and equality in any part of the world. I think that the Uyghur people were among all others who closely watched developments in the Scottish referendum.

Q: What influence will the referendum results have on the Uyghur people? What signals do these results send?

A: There has been more international impact from the referendum itself than from its results. The signal this referendum sends to the Uyghur people is this: that 'Truth will prevail over power' and 'A people's destiny is more important than the territorial integrity of any one country' are not merely academic and political slogans but a feasible reality. And though this school of thought does not now have the upper hand on the international scene, it is still an important part of it. In contrast, the Chinese government's efforts have been directed to the bloody suppression of this way of thinking and to the obstruction of the Internet [and other media] in order to prevent the spread of these ideas.

Q: What do you think of the official Chinese reaction to the results of the Scottish referendum?

A: According to media reports, the country that was most worried about the Scottish referendum, apart from the United Kingdom, was China. China is a country that oppresses its own citizens. It is a country that bases its legitimacy on terrorizing and constantly undermining the will of its people. Therefore, any development in the world that might lead to greater justice is naturally very upsetting for China. We saw this clearly in the case of the Arab Spring. The current Chinese Communist leadership's sole preoccupation is to how to preserve their monopoly on power and how to safeguard their throne. It is from this perspective that they judge and react to international developments and events. This is why [Chinese] officials declared that the Scottish referendum was "an internal affair" [of the United Kingdom]. I don't think that any significant international event or development will influence the [ruling] Chinese Communist Party's behavior. I have expectations of the Chinese people, not the CCP.

Q: What do you expect from the Chinese people in the wake of the referendum?

A:  I hope that the Scottish referendum has shown the Chinese people a possible path to resolve ethnic conflicts, or that it at least has provided some ideas. Today, in the name of "preserving national integrity," China is extrajudicially killing, imprisoning, and detaining many Uyghurs who desire independence. I think that every single bullet that is fired, every handcuff that is used, will backfire in the form of tens of thousands of votes cast in the future. It is important for Chinese citizens to realize this: that regardless of their opinion about whether China should remain one country or should give more liberties to the ethnic groups, the present policy of killing Uyghur people is the policy that is most harmful to the "integrity of the country." This is the most important lesson that the Chinese people can draw from the Scottish referendum.

Q: Some say that China is not the West and that political developments in the West will not be reproduced in China. And some argue that ethnic repression has become a widespread practice in China. What would you say to this?

A: For the last hundred years, China has already followed the West. Consider this: Marxism is not a Chinese philosophy, and socialism is not a system that is native to China. China is following a Western path of development, but this particular choice or application is a wrong one. Any developments in the near future will be copied from Western models by China. The kind of relationship that exists between England and Scotland is a desirable path for us in the future regardless of the outcome of the voting that just took place in Scotland. However, even though China has sighed with relief at the referendum's result, its blood boils if the possibility [of such a referendum] is even invoked.

Reported by Shohret Hoshur. Translated by Keyum Masimov.

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