Japanese parliamentarians called on Beijing Friday not to “interfere” with how Japan treats China’s ethnic minority Uyghurs, following the close of an exile Uyghur group’s biennial meeting in Tokyo.
The call came while some 120 Uyghur representatives from diaspora communities around the world gathered in Tokyo for the exile World Uyghur Congress’s (WUC) general assembly, a meeting Beijing had told Japan not to host.
Forty-six members of Japan’s Diet, including former Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, said a letter to China's Ambassador Cheng Yonghua that they objected to Chinese actions pressuring lawmakers not to support the WUC.
“We believe this is what is considered ‘interference in internal affairs’ with regard to Japan,” the letter said, according to a copy on the Japan Uyghur Association’s website.
The lawmakers’ message was in response to a May 8 letter many of them had received from Cheng calling on them not to have any contact with the WUC, which China accuses of inciting separatism and violence in its northwest.
The Japan Times newspaper reported that more than 100 Japanese lawmakers had received Cheng’s letter, which said China considers Japanese support for the Uyghurs to be an interference in its own internal affairs.
Following the WUC assembly’s closing session Thursday, Uyghurs and Japanese supporters protested in front of the Chinese embassy in Tokyo.
During the assembly, representatives discussed strategies for promoting Uyghur human rights internationally and re-elected as president Rebiya Kadeer, a former businesswoman who left China in 2005.
“Under my leadership, the WUC will continue to use nonviolent and peaceful means to promote the democratic rights of the Uyghur people,” Kadeer said.
“I call on the Chinese government to end its highly repressive and systematic assimilationist policies in East Turkestan,” she said, using another name for Xinjiang, the region in China’s far northwest home to more than 9 million Uyghurs.
After the assembly began on Monday, Kadeer and other Uyghur representatives paid a visit to the controversial Yasukuni shrine, a spot that has drawn outrage from China for honoring Japan’s World War II criminals.
The meeting in Tokyo, where Uyghur representatives will remain through the weekend for a leadership training seminar, is the WUC’s first in Asia, following previous congresses held in Munich and Washington since 2004.
Japan’s relations with Uyghur politics go back to the 1930s, when a delegation led by a prominent general, Mahmut Muhiti, traveled to Japan seeking help after the collapse of the First East Turkestan Republic as a result 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 Xinjiang region, home to the mostly Muslim, Turkic-speaking ethnic group.
According to the Asahi Shimbun newspaper, some 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 Rachel Vandenbrink.