Uyghur exile leader Rebiya Kadeer has appealed to the Chinese people to help Uyghurs in Xinjiang push for self-determination as Beijing launched a "strike hard" campaign in the wake of violent attacks in the ethnically troubled region.
“As the situation in East Turkestan is getting worse and more tense with each passing day, I am appealing directly to the Chinese people to find a long-lasting solution for the problems” between ethnic Uyghurs and the Han Chinese, she said in an interview with RFA.
Uyghur groups use “East Turkestan” to refer to the Xinjiang region, which in recent weeks has seen its worst violence in a year.
Attacks last month left over 30 people dead in the Silk Road cities of Hotan and Kashgar, prompting authorities to announce a fresh clampdown on the region, targeting "terrorism" and "Islamic extremism.”
Kadeer, president of the Munich-based World Uyghur Congress, said that the Chinese government does not have either the intention or courage to solve the “chronic problems” of the Uyghurs in the Xinjiang Autonomous Region, where they say they have long suffered ethnic discrimination, oppressive religious controls, and continued poverty and joblessness.
“Otherwise, instead of repeating the same old and dysfunctional rhetoric of the harsh crackdown, they would have come up with new approaches and policies that work and are productive,” she said.
Many Uyghurs resent increasing Han Chinese immigration into Xinjiang, which was briefly run as the Republic of East Turkestan in the years prior to the Communist Party's victory in China's civil war with the Nationalists in 1949.
Kadeer charged that the Chinese government’s policies in the region have failed to bring promised improvements.
One such policy was a plan developed at the Xinjiang Conference in Beijing, in the wake of violence in the region’s capital in July 2009, to promote development in the region by pairing areas in Xinjiang with provinces in the rest of China.
“We should keep in mind [that] helping to develop Xinjiang does not mean [the same thing as] helping Uyghurs … Uyghurs are not at the table when it comes to benefiting from the development and construction plan introduced by the regional and central government.”
Uyghur groups accuse Beijing of seeking to dilute Uyghur influence in Xinjiang by arranging the mass immigration of Han Chinese, the country's majority ethnic group, to the region.
The percentage of Han Chinese in the region has been rising, currently accounting for about 40 percent of Xinjiang's population, according to reports. Some 45 percent are Uyghurs.
Kadeer said the Han Chinese people share some of the same misfortunes as the Uyghur people.
“They do not enjoy the privilege of electing their leaders, opposing the party-state, or living in communities governed by the rule of law.”
When asked why she was emphasizing an appeal to the Chinese people rather than the government, Kadeer explained that Chinese authorities have worked to convince the Chinese people to side with the government against the Uyghurs.
“To some extent, the Chinese people share the same destiny with the Uyghur people. That is why they should listen to their hearts, not the propaganda of the Chinese Communist Party (CCP),” she said.
“There are two choices before the Chinese people to solve the Uyghur problem. One is to continue keeping their eyes closed to the mass killing of Uyghurs by the Chinese state in the name of national security, and as a consequence of this to live under the CCP’s yoke without having any freedom or choice for generations to come."
“The other is to stand side by side with Uyghurs against the CCP’s repressive policy and create a free atmosphere where both they and Uyghurs can breathe.”
Reported by Shohret Hoshur. Translated by Memet Tohti. Written in English by Rachel Vandenbrink.