As the Obama administration hosts Chinese Vice President Xi Jinping during his visit to the United States, the Uyghur American Association (UAA) urges U.S. officials to engage in dialogue with Xi regarding the deteriorating human rights situation in East Turkestan. UAA hopes American officials will publicly prioritize concerns over state-led repression of Uyghurs in talks with Xi in order to lay the groundwork for future engagement on Uyghur issues as he prepares to take the helm of China’s leadership later this year.
The United States must make it clear that respect for human rights and robust economies are part of the same process when engaging with Chinese leaders. Xi’s visit constitutes an opportunity for members of the U.S. leadership to establish a commitment to publicly raising concerns about Uyghurs and other oppressed communities in China for the next decade. It is vitally important for the U.S. to make a clear statement to Xi that it places an uncompromising value on China’s improvement of human rights for Uyghurs, Tibetans, and democratic-minded reformers inside China.
As the likely architect of the cynical trade of 20 Uyghur asylum seekers for US$1.2 billion in Chinese aid to Cambodia in December 2009, which took place just prior to his visit to Phnom Penh, Xi has demonstrated a stark betrayal of China’s commitments to international rights conventions. The United States, together with other Western governments, applied pressure on Cambodian officials, asking them to refrain from deporting the 20 Uyghurs, who had sought asylum after fleeing China with the help of underground Christian groups.
Xi and his fellow leaders must be held accountable for turning a deaf ear to the U.S. and other democratic countries on behalf of the deported Uyghur asylum seekers. Recent reports indicate that most of those deported were sentenced to lengthy prison terms, including four sentenced to life terms. Chinese authorities have refused to publicize information about their fates, despite international pleas and Chinese officials’ promises to deal transparently with the Uyghurs’ cases upon their return. The deportations from Cambodia, which were followed by the deportation of Uyghurs from Myanmar, Laos, Kazakhstan, Thailand, and Pakistan, highlight China’s rising capacity to resist international pressure regarding human rights violations. The U.S. must make clear that these deportations are an affront to countries that cherish international human rights norms.
UAA also urges U.S. officials to address Xi over the killings of seven Uyghurs, including two women, on December 28, 2011 near Hotan, which took place amid an official “strike hard” campaign in East Turkestan. The U.S. should call upon China to facilitate an independent investigation into the extra-judicial killings of these Uyghurs, and provide information about the six-year-old child who was left missing after the incident, together with other children who were taken into custody.
UAA commends the U.S. State Department for raising the “severe cultural and religious repression of ethnic minorities” in East Turkestan in its most recent country human rights report, and for citing documentation of the mass disappearance of Uyghur men following unrest that took place in the regional capital of Urumchi in July 2009. UAA also applauds State Department officials for raising the issues of human rights in East Turkestan, religious freedom and Internet freedom in talks with Chinese officials in Beijing in April 2011. While the U.S. has consistently raised the cases of missing lawyer Gao Zhisheng and the harsh treatment of legal advocate Chen Guangcheng, no headway has been made on these cases in recent months. China’s lack of progress on these issues illustrates the need for U.S. officials to continue delivering a strong message to China on rights abuses.
UAA also commends the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF) for raising the issue of religious repression in East Turkestan in a public letter earlier this month. As stated by USCIRF, China’s escalating oppression of free religious practice in Tibetan and Uyghur areas “has created deep resentments that cannot be mitigated by the increased repression or economic inducements being tried by Beijing at this time.” UAA urges U.S. officials to consider USCIRF’s recommendation with respect to Xi Jinping’s visit and publicly address the specific grievances of Uyghur Muslims and Tibetan Buddhists, and create benchmarks for dialogues regarding the torture of religious prisoners and official retribution against Chinese lawyers who defend their clients in sensitive human rights cases.
UAA recommends that during Xi Jinping’s visit, the U.S. should express deep concern over the intense atmosphere of religious and political repression faced by Uyghur Muslims in East Turkestan, as Chinese officials have abused the global war on terror in wake of the horrific September 11 terrorist attacks. The U.S. should reiterate its stated opposition to China’s misuse of the war against terrorism since 9/11 as a pretext to persecute Uyghurs’ peaceful practice of their Islamic religious beliefs. This should include an expression of concern over the alarmingly high number of executions of Uyghurs for both religious and political reasons.
It is also crucial that the United States convey deep skepticism regarding Chinese assertions over the threat of terrorism in East Turkestan, in light of evidence that repressive Chinese security measures, especially after the killings of Uyghurs on July 5, 2009, have created the instability that plagues the region. The same importance should be attached to conveying American officials’ opposition to China’s designation of Uyghur dissent to its repressive policies as part of the “three evil forces” of terrorism, separatism and extremism.
UAA also recommends that U.S. officials call for the release of Uyghur journalists and webmasters who were sentenced to lengthy prison terms in the year following the July 2009 unrest, including Memetjan Abdulla, who was sentenced to life in prison in 2010, and Gheyret Niyaz, who was sentenced to 15 years in jail in July 2010 for “endangering state secrets” after he spoke with journalists in Hong Kong.
Chinese officials’ increasing contempt for basic freedoms in East Turkestan warrant a vigorous expression of concern from Washington, in defense of America’s dedication to universal ideals. A demonstrated commitment to raising concerns about accountability on these issues is vital to American interests in the Sino-U.S. relationship, particularly as the Chinese regime embarks on a major leadership transition. The current downward trend in abuses of Uyghurs and others in China distinguishes it as a uniquely untrustworthy party in bilateral and multilateral relationships. The United States must make it known that continued abuses of Uyghurs’ rights are unacceptable and inconsistent with mutual dialogue and sustainable cooperation.