by Valerio Fabbri
The Communist Party of China (CPC) led government in Beijing is creating new definitions for repression and violation of human rights by charging with death sentence and life imprisonment four individuals responsible of publishing textbooks drawn, at least in some parts, from historical resistance movements by Uyghurs. Ironically, the resistance movements used in these textbooks had been endorsed by none other than Mao Zedong, the founder of the People’s Republic of China. The sentencing of the four people took place last year. The news agency Associated Press, which reviewed the images and stories described as “problematic” in state media, found they were rooted in previously accepted narratives. Two of the drawings were based on a movement of 1940 praised by Mao.
Experts opine that such dramatic change in policy is the result of shifting of the goalposts by the CPC. One of the images, for the publication of which Sattar Sawut, a Uyghur official who headed the Xinxiang Education Department, got the death sentence, shows a man pointing a pistol at another. This has been cited as an instance to incite hatred. Both the men depicted in the image are, however, Uyghurs; one considered a people’s hero for his role in the uprising in 1940 against the Nationalist Party then ruling China for the party’s repression of and discrimination against ethnic groups, and the other a traitor who had been sent to assassinate him.
The CPC was then fighting against the Nationalist Party and the Uyghur leader had been applauded by Mao. The narrative in China has now changed. The rulers of China are now engaged in repressing and discriminating against ethnic minority groups like Uyghurs, Tibetans and Mongols. The publishers of the image have understandably fallen foul of the Chinese government; to the extent of being sentenced to death and life imprisonment.
Against this backdrop of violation of human rights by China in Xinxiang, the show stage-managed by organizers of the Winter Olympics in Beijing of selecting a Uyghur athlete, cross-country skier Dinigeer Yilamujiang, to be one of the final Olympic torchbearers looks like a sick joke. The USA and a host of other nations staged a diplomatic boycott of the games in protest against “China’s systematic and widespread abuses of ethnic and religious minorities in its western region, especially the Muslim Uyghurs. Among these were Lithuania, Australia, Britain, Canada, Japan, Belgium, Germany, Denmark, Estonia, Sweden, New Zealand, Slovenia, Austria and India. The U. S. ambassador to the U. N., Linda Thomas-Greenfield, said the choice of the Uyghur athlete was a crude attempt by China to distract attention from the real issues “that Uyghurs are being tortured, and Uyghurs are the victims of human rights violations by the Chinese.”
As the proverb says: ‘A leopard does not change its spots’, by the same token China has scant regard for democratic values, be it Xinxiang, Hong Kong or Tibet. While the show was staged with the Uyghur athlete at the opening ceremony of the Olympics in February, 2022, early in January the same year Major General Pen Jintang, who had been commanding the paramilitary People’s Armed Police Force in Xinxiang since 2018, was sent to command the People’s Liberation Army garrison in Hong Kong.
While Xinxiang has witnessed the detention of hundreds of thousands of Uyghurs and other members of Muslim minority groups in political re-education camps, in Hong Kong political opposition has been stamped out and free speech curtailed. China has imposed a sweeping National Security Law in Hong Kong, helping the authorities to imprison, intimidate and send to exile most opposition voices. Independent media outlets have been raided and forced to close and candidates considered not sufficiently loyal to Beijing have been barred from contesting in elections for the Legislative Council of Hong Kong.
As Beijing erupted in celebration over the Olympics, Tibet was silent as the grave. People seethed in anger over the systematic destruction of their language and culture. “We are unhappy, but we don’t dare say anything,” said a Tibetan to an AP reporter visiting the plateau when the Olympic games were on. “We still want to fight to preserve our language, for tradition and culture. But everyone is scared. Nobody wants to die.” The reporter found in public schools in Tibet that students, many of them far from home, are studying Mandarin while Tibetan is being relegated to a single class. With jobs and investment security and surveillance have been stepped up. Phones and the internet have become tools to monitor and control. Those who criticize the state or speak up about the Dalai Lama find their movements restricted. Some are under house arrest or imprisoned.
China’s all-weather ally Pakistan has, however, given a decent burial to its own Muslim identity to support Beijing in the Uyghur issue, as well as in Hong Kong and Tibet. In an interview with CNN while the Winter Olympics was on, Prime Minister of Pakistan, Imran Khan, turned a blind eye to the suppression of Muslims of the Uyghur community in China and said the situation in the Uyghur Autonomous Region was not what the Western media portrayed. Following a meeting between Imran Khan and President of China Xi Jinping in Beijing, a joint declaration said: “The Pakistan side expressed its ‘commitment to One – China Policy’ and support for China on Taiwan, South China Sea, Hong Kong, Xinxiang and Tibet.”
Pakistan endorsed all the acts of human rights violation by China even as 243 global groups called for action against China over human rights violations on the eve of the Winter Olympics. “The 2022 Beijing Winter Olympics will open amid atrocity, crimes and other grave human rights violations by the Chinese government, 243 NGOs from around the world said today,” said the Human Rights Watch in a recent statement last January.
While talking to a group of visiting Chinese journalists in Islamabad, however, Imran Khan revealed the real reason behind his endorsement of the oppression by China of fellow Muslims in Xinxiang. The Chinese version was completely different from what was appearing in the western media he acknowledged. “Because of our extreme proximity and relationship with China, we actually accept the Chinese version,” he said, as quoted in Dawn newspaper. Imran Khan, the self-proclaimed champion of the Islamic causes, has no way but to support China’s suppression of Uyghur Muslims in Xinxiang. Caught in the web of Belt and Road Initiative and with growing dependence on China for economic aid, leaders in Pakistan have no option but to publicly support China’s policies, even oppression of fellow Muslims.
Imran Khan in his visit to Beijing for the Winter Olympics committed to the Chinese to strengthen the flagship BRI project in China, the China Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) which is facing several problems in Pakistan. Common people in Pakistan are unhappy with CPEC for issues like forcible land acquisition, inadequate compensation and the overbearing presence of the military in public life.
The security of thousands of Chinese personnel working in different CPEC projects is a concern for Beijing. There have been attacks on them in several places; killing or wounding Chinese engineers. Before his China visit, Imran Khan approved a compensation package of $11.6 million for families of nine Chinese engineers killed at Dasu dam hydro power project. To quell the discontent of Chinese investors, the Prime Minister of Pakistan also had to remove obstacles on the way to CPEC projects, overriding objections of bureaucrats of his own government.
Badly dependent on Chinese loans and investments to shore up the sagging economy of Pakistan, its Prime Minister during his visit to Beijing also signed an agreement with China to begin the second phase of the CPEC; and in the bargain endorsed China’s oppression of fellow Uyghur Muslims. Though Imran Khan before coming to power was a critic of CPEC because of the secrecy surrounding it and unequal priorities in investment, leaving some provinces of Pakistan neglected. Imran Khan’s party Pakistan Tehreek – e – Insaf, when in opposition, had demanded complete transparency in CPEC investments.
Dawn, too, in an editorial had demanded greater transparency in Chinese financing of CPEC projects. US – based international development research lab AidData said in a report in 2021 that a substantial chunk of Chinese development financing under the CPEC consisted not of grants but loans at or near commercial rates. About half of this so-called development finance was in the form of export buyers’ credit, money lent by Chinese institutions to Pakistan for purchase of equipment and goods to be bought by Chinese companies partnering in implementation of projects. The details of these lending do not appear in books of the Pakistan government.