China’s northwestern Xinjiang region was rocked by its worst violence in years on Thursday when explosions struck a morning market in the regional capital Urumqi, killing 31 and injuring 90. Authorities have ramped up security measures in Xinjiang in the wake of the violence, which came on the heels of a bomb and knife attack at an Urumqi train station last month. Rebiya Kadeer, president of the exile World Uyghur Congress, spoke to RFA’s Uyghur service about the incident and simmering tensions in the region.
Q: What is the World Uyghur Congress’s response to the attack at Urumqi's morning market?
A: No matter where they happen, bloody, violent incidents are not something that the World Uyghur Congress would like to see. Therefore, we express our sympathies toward all those who were killed and wounded in this incident. What makes us remorseful is that these incidents were totally preventable and avoidable. But instead, policies [by the Chinese government] that encouraged and heightened [tensions] in the region were multiplied every year and every month.
We believe the Chinese government—which has failed to learn lessons from past incidents, has refused to look into the core causes for the problems, and is making mistake on top of mistake—is the sole party responsible for all these kinds of incidents that are happening in East Turkestan [Xinjiang]. In addition, we call upon the Chinese government to take full responsibility for those killed and those injured.
Q: From China’s calls to maintain stability in the region and prevent these kinds of incidents from happening, we can see the Chinese government is making its utmost efforts [to prevent further violent incidents]. However, it is still failing to save itself from such incidents. Why is that?
A: The reason is that they are shunning away from the core cause of the problem. The core cause of the problem is quite simple: the government … is sacrificing one ethnic group’s interests for the sake of another ethnic group’s interests, suppressing one group and favoring the other, and does not listen to the petitions of the victimized groups, leaving them without any legal channels to make themselves heard. In this kind of situation, regardless of religion, regardless of national or racial origin or cultural background, their expressions of their grievances will take shape in unconventional ways, so you cannot say there would not be people who might chose the means of violence.
I do not think that the Chinese leadership is too ignorant to see this aspect of the problem. The main mistake the Chinese government is making is that it is overconfident of its might. Using its economic power, China wants to silence Western countries’ [criticism] and using its military might, it wants to deal with its neighbors on territorial disputes issues and ethnic tensions on its own.
Therefore, I call upon the Chinese government to acknowledge these mistakes and understand that the use of military power alone is not the solution to ethnic and political issues.
Q: China justifies its tough policies in the region by saying they advance the interests of the state and the Chinese people in the region. What is your view on this?
A: The Chinese government says that actions it takes [in the name of the interests of the country] are not just for the interests of the Han people. As we all know, the Chinese government did not come to power by means of democratic election. Their power is not legal according the world’s political norms. So the Chinese communist government is leading its people toward Han nationalism in order to hide its shortcomings and deceive the Han people. The Chinese people should not fall into this trap.
The Chinese people do need economic prosperity, but above all, they need security and human dignity. Passing on to future generations a society filled with hatred and vengeance harms the Han Chinese people, and world peace at large.
If we consider recent events, whether in the bloody crackdown by state actors or the outbursts of violence against it, in the end those who are hurt most are everyday people, both Chinese and Uyghurs. At the same time, the winners are party officials who gain from it to bolster their own standing and economic gains.
Q: Do you think the information provided on the market incident was complete and reliable?
A: In my judgment, I find the information about the incident to be insufficient, but what is even more important to me is that the background information about the causes behind the incident [was lacking]. In this matter I have called upon Chinese media outlets to be just and conscientious.
I welcome the swift reporting of this incident by Xinhua news agency, which reported it with no delays. But we have observed that they did not show that kind of fast reaction to the bold shooting that happened in Kucha … 39 hours prior to the incident at the Urumqi morning market. That day, Chinese police opened fire on peaceful demonstrators killing two, wounding three, and detaining more than 100 Uyghurs. I take this opportunity to call upon Chinese media to investigate this incident in Kucha which occurred because of the heavy handed religious restrictions imposed on Uyghurs. Life is precious to people of every nationality, and security is a necessity for every nation.
Q: What do you think Chinese authorities in the region should do to calm the current tensions in the region?
A: Of course, there are many, many steps that the Chinese government should take in order to correct the current situation, but this is not the time to discuss them now.
In light of the urgent nature of this matter, first of all I would suggest that Chinese government stop using inflammatory rhetoric which boosts ethnic hatred. Also, the government should not use methods of collective punishment imposed on families, relatives and sometimes neighbors and friends for the actions of a certain individuals. Also, unrestricted reporting that represents both sides should be allowed.
All information that justify state brutality will only increase the ethnic friction even more and will lead to more bloody incidents in the future. The detention and the court procedures for those responsible individuals should be reported openly in the media. At the same time, the criminal courts should uphold and practice internationally accepted norms. That is to say, when the Chinese state takes measures suitable to a nation ruled by law, the tensions might be cooled a bit.
Q: Some countries including the U.S. government have condemned Urumqi incident as terrorism. What is your view on this?
A: I will advise that governments use caution in interpreting information coming out from China, where independent media is restricted, and investigate the root cause of incidents.
I call upon states to investigate and comment on not only incidents that are openly reported by state media, but also the tragedies that government is hiding and covering up as well.
I call on nations around the world to side with the oppressed, not the oppressor. Merely expressing condolences to the victims and condemning the attackers is inadequate. The best approach to it is to help [address] the core cause of the problem. More importantly, to urge the Chinese government instead of relying on its military might in solving its domestic ethnic and political issues, relying on law and justice.
Reported by Shohret Hoshur for RFA’s Uyghur Service. Translated by Kayum Mesimov and Mamatjan Juma.