China, now a member of the World Trade Organisation, has made substantial political and economic gains at the APEC summit it recently hosted at Shanghai. But the economic gains will not benefit Muslims anywhere; the political gains will hit East Turkestan because of its struggle for self-determination, which will now be classified as a terrorist endeavour. The summit backed the ‘war on terrorism’, and agreed to classify separatist movements as terrorist organisations and cooperate in cutting off their income.
The US president, in Shanghai for the Asia Pacific Economic Cooperation forum, met president Jiang Zemin, his Chinese counterpart, on October 19, securing his backing for the ‘war on terrorism’. In return, Bush agreed to share intelligence information on ‘terrorists’ and reportedly promised to clear the way for the sale of spare parts for Black Hawk helicopter-gunships that the US sold to China during the 1980s. Both also met Russia’s president, Vladimir Putin, who went to Shanghai to make deals on the sidelines of the APEC summit, although Russia is not a member. The three agreed to exchange information on ‘terrorists’ and cooperate in freezing their funds.
Russia and China, together with Central Asian countries, belong to the Shanghai Five, a Central Asian security organisation. They already exchange information on Chechen and East Turkestani activists and extradite them. Bush’s contribution is a vital new weapon against these activists, as many have fled to the West to organise publicity and financial support for their cause. When reporters asked Bush whether he was not betraying critics of the repressive measures that Moscow and Beijing regularly resort to, he said lamely that “the war on terrorism must never be an excuse to persecute minorities”. But the minorities to whom Bush was referring in the case of China are the Tibetans (who are Buddhists) and not the East Turkestanis (most of whom are Muslims).
The implications of these developments for the East Turkestani resistance are serious. Already the Shanghai Five often repatriate activists who work there and who send funds without which the resistance could not function. Many of those sent back have been executed. According to activists in exile, China executes about 100 members of the resistance every year. A report published in 1999 by Amnesty International said that there had been “190 executions of Uighurs since 1997”. The result is not only the loss of funding and activists, but also the crippling of the publicity effort abroad.
One of the organisations publicising the resistance is the Parliament of Uighur Chinese Muslims in Exile. The parliament held a meeting on October 18 at the headquarters of the European Union parliament in Brussels. This meeting was attended by representatives of European political parties and human-rights activists. Adam Anwar Kan, the head of the parliament in exile, condemned all terrorist acts, criticising those who try to blacken all Muslims with the brush of terrorism. He also criticised the Taliban and the Qaeda group for harming Islamic causes by giving them the reputation of being terrorists. He also condemned the US bombing of Afghanistan, adding that it was unnecessary as bin Ladin could have been arrested by other means.
The meeting provided useful publicity for the cause of East Turkestan when American, Russian and Chinese leaders were plotting to classify it as a terrorist endeavour. EU parliamentarians and former diplomats, and human-rights groups attending the meeting, all criticised the repression of Chinese Muslims and called on Beijing to respect their right to self-determination, reminding Beijing that it had signed the UN convention on self-determination (1998). Representatives of human-rights groups in particular said that the Chinese Muslims were being specially targeted for repression: an unprecedented comment from a western organisation. Western human-rights activists generally regard the Tibetans as the main victims of Beijing’s oppression.
Interestingly, however, the European participants at the meeting called on the leaders of East Turkestan not to resort to violence to achieve political ends, saying that only the weak adopt violence as a political weapon. Instead, they urged the leaders to choose the peaceful methods of Martin Luther King in America and of Mahatma Gandhi in India. They overlooked or ignored the fact that such an approach would guarantee the failure of the struggle without ending China’s repression or its programme of filling East Turkestan with Han Chinese. The Uighur Muslims are still the majority, but without effective resistance they will become a minority in their own land.
Muslim countries, as usual, are silent. The OIC did not even raise the issue at its summit in October. The Muslim regimes are too busy trying to avoid being labelled as “them” and “against us”, to care about anyone else.