Sunday, August 21, 2011

The Uyghur Question: Rebiya, do you have an answer?

"The Chinese people have the great fortune of possessing a long and illustrious civilization. Their achievements in science and the arts are a legacy that Chinese people should be rightfully proud of; however, in contemporary China the Han Chinese people share some of the same misfortunes as the Uyghur people of East Turkestan."

So starts Rebiya Kadeer in her recent piece in the Huffington Post.

If you are a follower of the plight of the Uyghur of China's Xinjiang then you may know Rebiya as the president of the World Uyghur Congress a group of Uyghur expatriates who act as a pressure group for the welfare of Uyghurs in China's Xinjiang or Uyghurs internationally at risk of Chinese government interference.

Rebiya of late has become to the Uyghur cause what the Dalai Lama is to the Tibetan. Though less known than the Dalai Lama she has been instrumental in raising the awareness of the Uyghur's treatment at the hands of the Chinese government to a level higher than it has been.

Rebiya background is eclectic to say the least. She is a twice married mother of eleven who was born poor in 1948 in Altay north of Urumqi, Xinjiang and grew up with little formal education before moving to Aksu, a town half way between Kashgar and Urumqi.

Starting as a self employed seamstress she grew a very sizeable and diversified business empire making herself a multimillionaire in the process. Rebiya apparently knew the system and worked it well not always staying totally within the strict letter of the law.

Despite an earlier run in with authorities she came to be lauded by the Chinese government and was held up as a shining example of what a female, ethnic minority member could achieve under the “benevolent” Chinese Communist Party government.

She was appointed a representative in the CPCC, appeared on the cover of the Wall Street Journal with Bill Gates and was honoured with a delegate's position at a United Nations Woman's Conference.

But in China if you fall you tend to fall quickly and very hard and Rebiya eventually fell out of favour with the regime.

Things started going sow for Rebiya after the Ghulja Incident in 1997 when she openly criticised the government's handling of the riot that resulted in many deaths. Her husband, a university professor, then defected to the US and became politically active on Uyghur issues.

About the same time she also started an Uyghur organisation to help wayward young Uyghurs caught in the grips of drugs and alcohol and Organisations even hinting of ethnic or religious connections are looked upon extremely suspiciously by the Chinese government.

The end result was her arrest in 2000 for Tax evasion and supposedly attempting to spirit “State Secrets” out of China to her husband. She was sentenced to eight years jail serving five years before being released due to international pressure. For whatever reason the government allowed her to go into exile in America where she commenced her Uyghur activism.

Rebiya is a product of several influences and character traits that have guided her through life and aided her success.

Her ethnic background with it's history of traders and wheeler dealers honed over centuries on the Silk Road obviously gave her the wherewithal to succeed in a business based on trading and retailing. In the cut and thrust not only did she survive in a male and racist dominated world but thrived, a fact which goes to her toughness.

The system at the time under the CCP also gave her ascension impetus. She was at the “right place at the right time” coincident with the needs of the central government to highlight how successful were Deng Xiaoping's market economic reforms and how effective was the CCP's ethnic minority programmes.

She also, reportedly, is a very compassionate person and that combined with her mother like image earned her the support and loyalty of her customers, employees and of the Uyghur people generally.

In her formative years and later in business she would, of circumstance, been exposed totally to the Han Chinese, their cultural characteristics and their way of thinking generally and this should have taught her their racial attitude toward the Uyghur people, which, is, far from positive.

The foregoing was by way of background to help put this Huffington Post piece in context, a piece that I find as confusing as I find it illuminating.

I start with the lead quoted above. It would appear on face value to be a reasonable, conciliatory, friendly and generously gives due praise to the Han people's history and culture. One immediately thinks positively in anticipation as to what is to come.

But closer analysis reveals certain things. By saying that the Han “share some of the same misfortunes.” as the Uyghur she attempts three things that I find totally incongruous. Firstly, to suggest that the average Han Chinese shares some mutual experience with the Uyghur, secondly, by inference that there exists some bond based on empathy through this mutual experience and, thirdly, the use of such soft words: “share” and “misfortune”.

In other circumstances such words may have been very effective but how does one reconcile what the Uyghur have endured as being as a result of “misfortune”? And how would one expect the average Han to “share” or even feel any empathy with the Uyghur? According to one survey eighty percent of Han believe the Uyghur pose the greatest threat to social stability in China and I am assuming the other 20% couldn't care less about them at all.

These were my first stumbling blocks to understanding this piece. She is attempting, it would appear, to be “speaking to” the average Han Chinese of the plight of the Uyghur and somehow expecting to elicit a common sense of bonding. Her experience as a dirt poor Uyghur child, her progression through business and, most probably, her incarceration would have taught her that the average Han has no empathy with the Uyghur people, quite the opposite. And even if they did is she expecting this missive will reach them let alone gird them into action?
So who then is her target market? She is intelligent and experienced enough to know it is not your average “Joe Wong”

She then argues quite well the need for democratisation in China and cognitively describes the current state of affairs in Xinjiang. But then she totally negates this discourse with this veiled threat:

There is a risk of secession in the current Chinese state. This risk did not emerge today, and it won't go away tomorrow. I am not going to argue here whether the risk of secession in China is right or wrong, justified or unjustified.

She is the President of the World Uyghur Congress either she believes in succession or she does not. Why this fence sitting? The Dalai Lama has said on many occasions that he does not believe that it is in the best interest of Tibet to split from China, why then does not Rebiya and the WUC have a platform, “justified or unjustified”. She does, however, have no qualms in calling upon the spectre of secession in the first place and in referring to Xinjiang as East Turkestan; a “red flag” if ever there was.

She also states, and I am in concurrence with her, that the Chinese Communist Party's “raison d'être of the party is to maintain power at all costs” but then sensationally seems to infer that the Government is somehow 
willing to stage manage disharmony, which would come at a great cost to life and limb, to deflect the people's attention from it's ineptitude.

Today, the strategy of the Chinese Communist Party is to scare the Chinese people with alleged external threats to China and to state security. In this narrative, any change of government will bring chaos to China and will ultimately end in the breakup of the country. Growing conflict between ethnic groups plays into these fears of separatism generated by the Chinese government. Ethnic tension with commensurate crackdowns illustrates to the Chinese people that the party is the best option for the leadership of the country.

Rather a long bow to draw I would think.

So I am totally lost over this missive. Perhaps Rebiya and the WUC can tell us who this was targeted at? Who is she calling to action? What is hers and, ergo, the WUC stance on separatism and, finally, what is the solution to the “Uyghur Question” that the WUC, supposedly on behalf of the average “Joe Abdikerim” in Xinjiang, is in a position to put on the table?

In the fifteen plus years I have been supporting the cause of the Uyghur people I have not seen even a rudimentary blueprint for a solution laid out by these so called "representatives" of the Uyghur people. Are we waiting for the Chinese to provide one?

Until this is available the émigré groups and Rebiya Kadeer are more an “irritant” rather than a “solution” to the woes of those left behind.

Further Reading:

Unveiled Rebiya Kadeer: a Uighur Dalai Lama - Global Times Article For The Other Point Of View