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Uyghurs Protest Xi’s Visit to Xinjiang

Exiles around the world were both scandalized and dismayed by Xi’s aggressive speech.

By Ruth Ingram

August 31, 2023

U.K. Uyghurs protesting outside the Chinese Embassy in London.

Uyghurs around the world are dismayed that not only there will be no letup in the genocide in Xinjiang, but that the Chinese Communist Party will be doubling down its efforts to crush their people, according to speeches made by Chinese President Xi Jinping on a rare visit to the province.

Xi’s demands during his whistle stop visit on August 26, 2023, relayed on China Central Television, CCTV, for, “thorough, meticulous, concrete and sustained efforts to develop a beautiful Xinjiang that is united, harmonious, prosperous, and culturally advanced,” were received by exiled Uyghurs reading between the lines with skepticism.

“The so-called unified and culturally advanced Xinjiang is simply one where there is only one nation and one culture—that of the Han Chinese,” said Gulnaz, a Uyghur exile living in Turkey, speaking to Bitter Winter.

The World Uyghur Congress denounced Xi’s calls for “social stability” as a top priority and his orders to “sinicize Islam” to “effectively handle all sorts of illegal religious activities.”

Building on his policies to eradicate the Uyghur language that were stepped up under the iron fist of Chen Quanguo who took over the governorship of the province in 2016, Xi also pressed for a continuation of “Mandarin as the standard Chinese language.”

Maira Aysa, President of the U.K. Uyghur Community, outside the London Chinese Embassy, addressing the crowd commemorating the Urumqi riots and massacre of July 5th 2009.

He also recommended that Uyghurs continue to be shipped out to work in factories across China; failing to mention that the majority of these workers endure forced labour conditions where they are supervised 24/7, are prevented from coming and going freely, and have compulsory language and political classes after work. An ever-present threat of non-compliance is that of being corralled into a “vocational training school” or “re-education camp” as the institutions have come to be known back in their home province.

Since Xi Jinping came to power in 2013, millions of Uyghurs have been arbitrarily detained in so-called “transformation through education camps” where according to the World Uyghur Congress “they are subject to torture, sexual and gender-based violence, rape and malnutrition.”

More widely throughout the province the Turkic population has suffered from forced labour, coercive birth prevention policies, family separation, mass surveillance and the destruction of cultural and religious sites.

“Under the leadership of Xi Jinping, the Chinese government has orchestrated and implemented a policy of repression, that enables crimes against humanity as well as the ongoing genocide of our people”, said WUC President Dolkun Isa. “During his visit, Xi Jinping admitted to the world that the active erasure of the cultural and religious identity of Uyghurs will not stop.”

Dilnaz Kerim, asking for the whereabouts of her extended family in Xinjiang, all detained and sentenced extra-legally to long prison terms. The family, now exiled in the U.K., has had no news since 2016.

The WUC issued a call to the international community to step in before an already deteriorating situation gets worse. “The World Uyghur Congress reiterates its call to the international community to take all necessary steps to end the ongoing Uyghur genocide and for governments to acknowledge their responsibilities under the 1948 UN Genocide Convention.” “Instead of meeting with Chinese government officials who are complicit in the genocide of our people, world leaders have the moral responsibility to denounce China’s atrocities and seek accountability for the Chinese government’s human rights abuses”, said WUC President Dolkun Isa. “China is continuing the Uyghur Genocide freely, because the world is idly standing by.”

Xi’s brief visit to Xinjiang was made on his return to China from the 15th BRICS Summit and a state visit to South Africa. His injunctions to keep the pressure on the Turkic peoples in Northwest China were top news on the government mouthpiece Xinhua news service and the CCTV news channel.

A smiling Xi Jinping urged mechanisms for “forestalling and defusing major risks and potential dangers” to be stepped up and for the “fight against terrorism” to be “integrated with law-based and constant work of maintaining stability.”

Anomalies in his ideal of “law based” solutions to the problems of terrorism were not lost on exiled Uyghurs many of whose relatives have been subject to extra-legal detentions and disappearances. “China is breaking its own laws in the treatment of our loved ones, all of whom have been detained illegally,” said Gulchekre, a Istanbul-based exile who has not heard from her family for more than six years and knows of several who have been sentenced to long prison terms. “The idea that Xi wants to rule by law is laughable,” she said.

Xi’s call for “strengthening the protection and use of cultural relics and heritage to help officials and the public develop an accurate understanding of state, ethnicity, history and religions,” according to Xinhua News Agency was also “absurd” according to Umit, who, before fleeing to Turkey in 2016, had witnessed the gradual dismantling of his culture, his religion and his language. “Very little of our culture is left now,” he told “Bitter Winter.” “How can Xi be claiming that he wants to protect our cultural relics? This is nonsense.”

Members of the U.K. Uyghur community, commemorating the Urumqi massacre on July 5th 2009, outside the Chinese Embassy in London.

Xi’s call for people from Xinjiang “to work outside the region and for people in other parts of the country to start business and live in Xinjiang,” was a smokescreen for more Uyghur forced labour across China making goods for Western retailers and for more Han Chinese to come to Xinjiang to dilute the Uyghur culture, according to Dilshat, a Uyghur refugee in the USA.

Rushan Abbas, CEO of the Campaign for Uyghurs, speaking to “Bitter Winter” said, “Xi Jinping blatantly admits that the tragedy of cultural erasure and Uyghur genocide will continue with enhanced propaganda. The notion of ‘social stability’ is nothing but a euphemism for the complete demoralization and oppression inflicted on the Uyghur people. The exploitation of Uyghurs in inner China is a violation of human rights in the name of poverty alleviation. ‘Sinicization of Islam’ meant ‘war on Islam,’ while ‘counter-terrorism measures’ meant “mass imprisonment.’ The world must see through this charade.”

Another image of Uyghur protests outside the Chinese Embassy in London.

Rahima Mahmut, Director of the World Uyghur Congress in London, speaking to “Bitter Winter,” thought Xi’s recent visit to Xinjiang was a “concerning trajectory for the region.”

“His emphasis on ‘enhancing our awareness of adversities’ and ‘consolidating hard-won social stability’ paints a picture of a regime that seems determined to maintain its current course,” she said. She was “gravely concerned” about the implications for forced labour and cultural assimilation and challenged the world not to look away.

“These actions, cloaked in the guise of stability and development, demand the world’s attention and scrutiny,” she warned.


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