It is undoubted, despite PRC protestations to the contrary, that the human rights of the Uygur people of Xinjiang are being violated.
There are unlawful detentions, there are sham trials and there are even executions. Religious freedom, whilst far from being trampled, is compromised. Freedom of speech is non existent, fear is pervasive.
The Uygur's unique culture is being eroded at a rapid rate whether as intentional consequence of PRC policy or not.
The "Uygur Question" needs resolution from the Han Chinese perspective too.
The "Uygur Question" is a constant thorn in it's side domestically and internationally. It drains resources and manpower. It invokes fear, real or otherwise, in it's citizenry as well as within the organs of power. It presents a strategic problem that the Han can do without.
The loss of the Uygur culture will be a loss to the world as well. It will be of no less importance than then the disappearing Amazon rainforests, or Panda habitats or tiger populations, or the many other issues that takes the world's attentions.
Not reaching a solution will see the total destruction of a unique culture that goes back some 2,000 years, the culture of the roots of a tree that has spread it's branches throughout the world and impacted upon it so greatly.
These are a people that once ruled a great and mighty empire at the crossroads of great civilisations. The mighty Mongol Khans held them in great esteem and adopted many of their cultural elements, which they then took with them throughout the known world. The Uygur culture is a time capsule.
A solution can be found.
The solution, I believe, can be found in the acronym LACIM.
The Uygur must raise from it's ranks a leadership group that can crystallise realistic objectives, unify the Uygur people in the attainment of same and be able to negotiate and facilitate change at the highest of levels.
This leadership group and the process of identification and funding must be supported and facilitated by the People's Republic and the international community. Without freedom and support it is unlikely that people of the right calibre will step forward given the PRC's history on dissent and dissidents.
The criteria for membership of this group is that they must be
- intelligent and educated
- worldly and modern
- understanding of the needs of the Uygur peoples and other cultures in Xinjiang
- cognisant of the culture and psychology of the Han
- acceptable by higher Han society and government
- acceptable by the greater world
Paradoxically that class of Uygur that is often derided by their fellows, the Han educated, so called "Sinofied Uygurs", provide the best criteria fit.
Many Uygur children are selected by the PRC for special education within the mainstream Han education system. Many are taken to school in Beijing and educated through to university standard, many go on to post graduate study. They are young, well educated, more in touch with the modern world obviously fluent in Chinese and generally in English. They have lived the Han culture and value system and as such they are not only able to successfully negotiate with the Han but will have very real credibility with the greater world generally.
There are also academics, artists, etc away from China who have world experience without any political allegiances that also will fit the criteria.
The Uygur in diaspora who run "Uygur Organisations" from the comfort of Europe or the United States have no role to play in this leadership group. Like the post Tzarist Russian emigre class they can offer little and in fact will be a major hindrance to the process if they continue with what the PRC see as "China Bashing".
Quite frankly such organisations have done little to further the Uygur cause and with each successive day away from Xinjiang the increasingly less relevant they become. They do not, however, have to be totally cut out of the equation and can, through their myriad of international contacts, provide support and encouragement to this new group and the process they must undertake, however, this will require quite a considerable "sea change" in their posture.
Nor either can the supporters of Pan Turkic or Pan Islamic ideologies play any role. Their ideologies are completely the antithesis to the process that needs to be undertaken. It goes without saying that militant elements of any persuasion need not apply.
The new Uygur leadership must sell "acceptance" to the reality that there will be no "Free Eastern Turkestan" or that Xinjiang will become a part of a Pan Turkic or Islamic state or confederation. Not only must the Uygur people "accept" but they must also be seen to "accept" and support the dropping of any claims to independence. This is of vital importance to the process.
They also must accept the fact of the current demographic situation and that this can not be undone.
The PRC must accept the Uygur as an ethnically and cultural diverse peoples and different to the Han Chinese. That, attempts at forced "Sinofication" or cultural assimilation will not only fail and possibly result in bloodshed and that it is not the result that, in the longer term, will be in the best national interests of the PRC.
Further, they must accept that in the long term, if a non peaceful resolution of the "Uygur Question" can not be found, then that will adversely effect China's standing in the eyes of the world and impact negatively on all of it's international relations.
The "War on Terror" has provided a temporary mask for the "Uygur Question" but this will not always be so.
The PRC given it's "New China" policy can actually gain international kudos by it's mature handling of the "Uygur Question" and preserve for future generations a culture that has been so historically important to the Chinese Nation.
For the process to commence, let alone succeed, there must be a demonstrative willingness and desire by both parties, Uygur and Chinese, for it's success. This will require both parties providing "concessions" to prove the bona fide’s of their intentions. Mandatory concessions would have to include
- An international demonstration by the Uygur that they formally, renounce any claims of Uygur or Islamic sovereignty over Xinjiang. Examples could be by way of Plebiscite or referenda.
- Similar demonstrations that they renounce all Pan Turkic and/or Pan Islamic ambitions for themselves and the region.
- Publicly disassociate themselves from any organisation that promotes such ideologies
- Demonstrate that they are willing to accept the current demographic make up of Xinjiang and they will not request redress. Further that they will work within it for the good of all Xinjiang's people and China generally.
- Demonstrate that they accept that the Chinese language is the main language of Xinjiang in terms at least of higher education, trade, government and employment.
- Acceptance of PRC population policies and acknowledge that despite whatever policies and programmes are put in place that the Han will eventually become by far the dominant ethnic group in Xinjiang.
- Renounce all claims as to financial or material redress, a la the Inuit and the Australian aboriginal scenarios, other than as set out below. That is no land rights claims or claims for compensation.
- All Uygur diaspora organisations to review their agendas in support of the process or else publicly be disassociated by the Uygur of Xinjiang.
- Concede that Uygurs who have committed criminal or terrorists acts must be made available for judgment by duly constituted courts within the state framework.
- That the Uygur, as part of their willingness to recognise the realities of the current and future demographic situation, offer that the word "Uygur" be omitted from the title of the region
- An international demonstration that it accepts the concept of multi culturalism within the Chinese state and particularly as it concerns the Turkic people of Xinjiang. This could be by way of official government statement.
- Announce that all policies and legislation currently implemented in Xinjiang will be reviewed by an independent body for purposes of determining the "Sinofication" effect inherent in them and, for them to be amended accordingly.
- Announce a moratorium, for a period to be negotiated, on Han migration to Xinjiang. This moratorium is to remain in effect until other elements of this process have born fruit. Put simply, no Han Chinese can "immigrate" to Xinjiang within the period of the moratorium. Economic, social and employment needs to be met by contract workers or by way of "working visa" arrangements similar to any nation state or by exception through negotiation with the Uygur leadership.
- Implement workable "Affirmative Action Policies" to raise the quality of the Uygur to a level to allow them to compete equally with the Han for employment and business opportunities in all sectors of the economy, including the Public service, and to ensure non discrimination. This will be a determining factor as to the to the length of the moratorium on Han immigration.
- Be willing to negotiate long term "Flood controls" on Han immigration to the region and actively encourage the return of Uygurs now in diaspora.
- Announce the setting up of Minorities Cultural Trusts eg Uygur Cultural Trust. These trusts are to be the beneficiaries of a set percentage of Xinjiang GDP. The purpose of the trusts to be worked out as to the minutiae but include at least
- A trust similar to the National Trust of England for the preservation of culturally unique buildings, infrastructure and areas of historical and cultural importance. This could include legislation similar to "Sacred Site" legislation in Australia which allows the Aborigines control over access and usage of these areas. For example areas of Kashgar or Turpan could be set aside for the Uygur whereby they have the right to manage business and residential usage.
- Sub Committee for the setting up and management of cultural education system to complement and provide for eventual integration into the Han System
- Sub Committees to govern all other aspects of Uygur and minorities culture eg performing and graphic arts.
- Reconstitute the government system so that it can be fully representative of all ethnic groups in Xinjiang in line with the original "Autonomous" regional model that was so noble in theory and intent but did not work in practice.
- Allow and provide infrastructure for the minorities to educate their children in a manner that will ensure an cultural grounding whilst preparing the child for full integration into the Han System by late primary or early secondary levels.
- Announce amnesty for political dissidents and provide a facility for the peaceable re integration of non- violent dissident groups and individuals without fear of retribution.
Repeal or renounce any legislation or policies limiting or denying freedom of religion, speech and association.
- Realistic time tables to be negotiated
- Regular evaluations of progress
- Dispute mechanisms agreed to
- Requests for international support both moral and material (eg Foreign training scholarships etc)
- Community consultation, involvement and ownership of the process.
- The whole process, for reasons of transparency and dispute resolution, must be oversighted by an independent international body agreed to by both parties.
There can be a solution to the "Uygur Question" that is win/win for both the Uygur and the Chinese.
Additionally, a peaceful resolution can be an important component of the success or otherwise of China's quest for international integration and acceptance.
The process is by no means an easy one or one that can be implemented successful overnight.
The concessions recommended are not inconsiderable, and, will require enormous goodwill, foresight, political will and courage. As well intensive analysis and planning and a great deal of "marketing" will be required.
But the result will far outweigh the cost and it's achievement does not destroy or unduly compromise the basic wants and needs of each party or their long term goals. Yes, there are what appears to be impossible requests for concessions, but if closely analysed they are but small relative to the possible positive outcomes. Of course the party die hards and the Uygur nationalist organisations will need some heavy convincing.
The summary points of the hoped outcome are:
- The Chinese will be assured that Xinjiang will not become an area of political turbulence and even armed insurgency and, as such, can divert resources to the continued opening up of this strategically and economically vital area. China's national integrity is assured and even bolstered
- International kudos will flow to the PRC with contingent goodwill. One thorn will be removed from their side.
- Success will greatly lessen the hopes and aspirations of Central Asian terrorist or Islamic fundamentalist groups thus adding to the stability of the region.
- International pressure over Taiwan will decrease as the Chinese can demonstrate to the world their reasonableness.
- The Uygur will have sufficient control over their cultural and religious integrity and political future to maintain their cultural integrity far into the future.
- The Uygur can be raised, through affirmative action programmes, to more fully and equitably participate in the share of the economic benefits of the region thus lessening a major element of potential unrest and increasing economic results for Xinjiang.
- The Uygur, not being a small part of the population, have an important economic role to play. By effectively making them partners in Xinjiang's economic results through indexing funding to the GDP the area is assured of their participation.
- An economic boom will ultimately ensue, particularly with regards to tourism, which though growing is very much untapped at present.
- The Uygur if they are supportive as a result of these initiatives are the perfect conduits (as they have been for 2,000 years) for trade to and from the Central Asian Republics.
- Fear and violence will be eradicated among the citizens of Xinjiang.
The Uygur Question can be solved it just needs the political will.
(This a re-post of my article first published by MediaMonitors.net January 7, 2004 and given the events of 2009 in Urumqi of no less relevance despite it's age)