Tibetans and Uyghurs: “Independence, Autonomy or Death?
After the East Turkestan movement renamed itself the World Uyghur Congress, the USA took the Islamist ETIM off its terrorist list and the secular ETAM (East Turkestan Awakening Movement)was founded, there is now a debate in the Uyghur camp similar to that between the Dalai Lama and the Tibetan Rangzen Alliance. Could the Chinese people be supportive for the Uighur or Tibetan cause or is independence the only way ?
In the July 2 article in Foreign Policy, „Calls for Independence May Not Help the Uyghur Cause,“ Yehan argued under a pseudonym that calls for independence of the Uyghur cause Uyghurs couldn’t help.
“Certainly the Uyghur independence movement and its supporters among the Uyghurs have done a lot to bring the issue to the public at all. It is thanks to these organizations and the allies of the Uyghurs in science, politics and from the activist environment that the current genocide of the Uyghurs – despite all attempts by the CCP to deny it – swept under the carpet and muzzled critics – is discussed in the media and Western states express their concern. (…)
But at the same time it is not necessarily what the majority of Uyghurs want. Of course, in a dictatorship it is always difficult to form an opinion. But before the persecution intensified and any expression of opinion the party disliked became dangerous, there was a time when the Uyghurs felt safe enough to discuss sensitive topics privately or anonymously on the Internet. The well-known Uyghur economics professor Ilham Tohti spoke out loudly against Uyghur independence, and not to prove loyalty to the regime. Tohti was sentenced to life imprisonment on flimsy grounds in 2014.
Tohti advocated the idea of autonomy as enshrined in the current Chinese constitution. His only criticism, which was shared by a number of Uighur intellectuals at the time: the autonomy was only inadequately implemented. That has to change. Together with a Weibo group of young Uyghurs, I resolutely opposed Tohti’s vision. I argued that in a multiethnic region like Xinjiang it was basically racist to allow only one group to have sole power. I therefore considered the idea of an autonomous Uighur region, even if Tohti imagined it were implemented perfectly, to be a disaster. Tohti and I fought a battle of words on Weibo. Then he invited me to his home and we became friends. We were seldom of the same opinion, neither online nor offline, but what we both could not overlook was the distrust of many Uyghurs towards the idea of Uyghur independence and any connection to political Islam.
The history of Xinjiang is complicated and cannot be reduced to the question of „who came first“. Secularism also has a long tradition among the Uyghurs. East Turkestan, as Xinjiang is preferred by the independence movement, is hardly known as a term to the broader population in their own country. The sight of the blue flag fluttering in the wind with a crescent moon and a pointed star, once the national flag of the Uighur state, which was very short-lived in 1933/34, does not arouse any special feelings in many people, including myself. Because for the identity that we have developed as proud Uyghurs, it played no role. (…)
The right to self-determination is anchored in the Charter of the United Nations. However, the question of what exactly this right entails has sparked debates and conflicts all over the world. The CCP portrays the brutal treatment of the Uyghurs as necessary in view of the alleged threat of terrorism and separatism (flanked by shameless, blatant lies and absolute control over domestic political reporting). In this way, she has succeeded in drawing – often objectively inadmissible – parallels with Russia, Turkey, Canada and Spain and their struggle against domestic independence movements.
In fact, the violent, ethnically motivated policies of the CCP can best be placed on a par with Hitler and Stalin. Xi Jinping’s * China is no longer out to impress other countries with glittering Olympic stadiums. The country * led by wolf warriors appears to the outside world much more self-confident than before. Without hesitation, it still trumps Trump on Twitter and uses vaccines as bargaining chips. But it is also an increasingly ethno-nationalist country, paranoid about any hint of criticism.(…)
It is difficult for ordinary, non-Uighur Chinese to escape the dominance of this narrative. In order to win their sympathy, it might therefore make sense to portray the Uyghurs as unjustly persecuted Chinese citizens – as victims of political circumstances, as other ethnic groups were already during the times of the Great Leap Forward or the Cultural Revolution – rather than as a people who fights for his freedom. That is not to say that Uighur independence is not a legitimate concern. But it’s not something worth fighting for in the midst of this crisis. Unfortunately, at the moment any embassy, as soon as it is associated with the blue flag and the term „East Turkestan“, is considered illegitimate. Even by the most decent and compassionate people who might otherwise be deeply appalled by what has happened in their beautiful country. „
The German sinologist Professor van Ess commented: “I’m afraid that is rather unrealistic. Foreign Policy only sees that the matter of independence will not work for the foreseeable future and is looking for an alternative on how to make the path to it more gentle. But it runs counter to the Chinese idea, which believes that Uyghurs and Chinese have really merged into one people in a long time, maybe 500 years – who are, of course, more Han Chinese than Uyghur. „
In the Taipei Times of August 19, 2021, Shohret Hoshur rejects these ideas in a programmatic article and calls for the independence of the Uyghurs:
„Independence for Uighurs or death
By Shohret Hoshur
In the article “Calls for Independence May Not Help the Uyghur Cause” published in Foreign Policy on July 2, Yehan, writing under a pseudonym, argued that calls for independence might not help the Uighur cause.
As a senior journalist and person who belongs to the affected community, I argue that not calling for independence from China means accepting genocide.
Uighurs and Han have no common ground for living together. When they are forced to do so, as we are witnessing today, one side kills the other.
Independence is needed because Uighurs are not reaching for freedom or development, but for survival.
Let us put aside the history of East Turkistan, including the question of who is the true owner and who the invader, and the vast cultural differences between Han and Uighur communities, as well as the psychological uniqueness of the two groups. Just look at accounts of events and clashes in the region in past decades.
China has since 1950 launched more than 100 campaigns against Uighur separatists, with names such as “Land Reform Movement,” “Anti-Rightist Campaign,” “Cultural Revolution” or “Strike Hard Campaign Against Violent Terrorism.” A 2017 white paper said: “Since 2014, Xinjiang has destroyed 1,588 violent and terrorist gangs, arrested 12,995 terrorists and punished 30,645 people for 4,858 illegal religious activities.” The Global Terrorism Database recorded more than 270 terror acts in China from 1989 to 2019, mostly in Uighur areas.
Another white paper said: “Incomplete statistics show that, from 1990 to the end of 2016, separatist, terrorist and extremist forces launched thousands of terrorist attacks in
Xinjiang.” Uighur activists say that some of the incidents were about fighting for freedom, while others were about self defense.
However, most of China’s state terrorism is aimed at innocent Uighurs. This is especially true of the ongoing campaign, which began in 2017 and is aimed at “eliminating religious extremists.” In Xinjiang’s 380 concentration camps, more than 3 million Uighurs are mentally and physically tortured.
Whatever you call things — whether terror or liberation, concentration camp or vocational training center — the irrefutable reality is that there is unalterable hatred and an untreatable wound between the Uighurs of East Turkistan and the Han of China.
This was also revealed in one of China’s own documents.
In the 2017 white paper, Qiu Yuanyuan (邱媛媛), a researcher at the party school of the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) in the Xinjiang Uighur Autonomous Region, described the situation: “In 2014, 2015 and 2016, our strike-hard campaigns in Xinjiang were very broad and rigorous. It was impossible for their relatives not to be heartbroken and angry with us; therefore, to maintain stability, we established the comprehensive training camps, even though they had committed no actual crimes.”
The document proved that campaigns launched before the camps were established caused a loss of mutual trust between Han and Uighur communities.
If there was unresolved hatred before 2017, imagine how it is today, after millions of families have been separated forcibly, millions of children have been orphaned and innumerable people have died in the camps. After so much tragedy, so much pain, so much killing, so much jailing, how can a country be united?
Some people believe that calling for independence might push the Chinese public to side with the Chinese government against the Uighurs.
However, Chinese already march in lockstep with their government.
Why do the Chinese neighbors of Uighurs held in camps not ask: “Where are these people? Where did they go?” Why do CCP cadres not ask: “What kind of kinship is this? Why do we sleep in Uighurs’ houses?” When millions of orphans are squatting in classrooms, why do their teachers not protest and speak out, saying that it is torture, not education? How can a Chinese judge who ordered a 15-year sentence for praying still sleep comfortably?
It is either naive or hypocritical to think that the Uighur genocide is being executed by the CCP alone. Separating it from the strong support of the public is a deceit of oneself and others.
There were British supporters of India’s struggle for independence; blacks in the USA were not separated from whites after the civil rights movement; and Russian human rights advocates supported Chechen separatists.
Yet, in the nearly 100-year East Turkestan independence struggle, Chinese have almost never been at the front lines with Uighurs.
Meanwhile in the free world, more than 30 Chinese organizations in the Netherlands have written a protest letter to the Dutch government over its condemnation of the Uighur genocide, and Canadian Senator Yuen Pau Woo (胡元豹) voiced opposition against a Canadian Senate motion calling the situation in Xinjiang “genocide,” leading to a majority of senators declining it.
Yuen exonerated the CCP with the theory of output and input legitimacy, saying that China’s actions are acceptable due to its praiseworthy economic success.
Meanwhile, Yehan’s key argument is that the “CCP is exploiting the dominance of the independence movement in the narrative. The Chinese public has been trained for decades to treat ‘separatists,’ whether in Xinjiang or Taiwan, effectively as traitors, and to see the integrity of the country’s modern borders as key to national identity.”
Should the Chinese be educated? China’s living standard is above the global average, and many Chinese have been educated in the US or Europe, and yet, there has been little desire among them to democratically elect a government.
Chinese President Xi Jinping (習近平) abolished his term limit, and there was no opposition.
Nobel Peace Prize laureate Liu Xiaobo (劉曉波), who gave up his life in a free world for China’s democratization, died in prison, and there was no protest.
When COVID-19 started spreading in Wuhan, Beijing tried to hide it. Many Chinese have died, yet the public has not held the government accountable.
Instead, Beijing punished eight doctors who publicly warned about the virus, and this has not even sparked debate.
Chinese, who are not eager for freedom for themselves, do not wish freedom for others.
Under Beijing’s rule, no matter whether democratic or autocratic, there is only one path for the Uighurs, and that path is death.
Despite countless disadvantages of Uighur independence, there are some advantages.
Uighurs are not alone on the battlefield of genocide. What China is doing is against the will of God. Being an Uighur is not a choice; genocide is against the basic rule of humanity.
Eventually, the world will realize that it needs to stop China from killing others. God and humanity are with the Uighurs.
Even under the most conservative marriage law, couples are allowed to divorce if there is a loss of trust, and they are ordered to immediately separate if there is evidence that one of them is doing harm to the other.
For the Uighurs, the issue at hand is not whether to separate from China, but when and how to do it. The difficulty of the problem should not cause Uighurs to cover it up or escape from it.
Not calling for independence might destroy the Uighur cause and help China eliminate Uighurs from the face of the Earth.
Shohret Hoshur is a Uighur-American journalist.
There are similar discussions among Tibetans between the ideas of the Dalai Lama and his „meaningful autonomy“ and the Rangzen Alliance, which calls for the independence of Tibet. This national bourgeois movement that promotes a democratic, secular and independent Tibet through economic boycott against China and violence, could gain weight again after the death of the Dalai Lama, especially among the impatient young Tibetans and the Tibetan Youth Congress .Unlike the Dalai Lama, who advocates meaningful autonomy for Tibet and a dialogue with the People’s Republic of China, the Rangzen people want to actively destabilize China by an international economic boycott against China:
“The possibility of anarchy and chaos breaking out is very real. Should it come to that, there would certainly be a chance to achieve independence for Tibet. Of course, we have to use such moments decisively and energetically. The Chinese, however weak and disoriented, will certainly not surrender Tibet peacefully or willingly. At the same time, it must be emphasized that Rangzen cannot be achieved by simply waiting for China to destroy itself. The Tibetans can promote the process by destabilizing Tibet from within and organizing international economic actions against China. (…) Even if China should not break up in the end, but only weakened by today’s troubles, there is still for the Tibetans the possibility of creating or promoting a situation in which China’s resources are dangerously overused and in which the leadership in Beijing is forced to consider whether it is wise to act at the expense of China’s own stability and integrity to hold peripheral colonies. „
The Rangzen people welcome the international attention that is being paid to the Tibetan movement, but at the same time they complain about the effect that Tibetan nationalism is no longer the focus of attention here, but rather the Tibetan culture mainly because of its New Age Spirituality creates affinities in which the cause of the Tibetan „freedom struggle“ threatens to appear as irrelevant: The Rangzen Alliance calls for active and offensive resistance in the form of a revolutionary struggle and sees dialogue with China as betrayal and selloutand also has no illusions in the Chinese opposition or Chinese people as potential allies and supporters. It relies on open confrontation The most effective means seems to the Rangzen Alliance to organize an economic boycott against China’s economy, which would lead to internal instability in China and thus allegedly result in a favorable situation for Tibetan independence:
“At the international level, we must have a relentless economic campaign against China. Those who object that we will never succeed in achieving such all-encompassing international economic sanctions against China as they were once imposed on South Africa were told – without our sharing this pessimism in the least – that, in view of this, from year to year declining Chinese economic growth will probably not even need to go that far. A drop of 5 or even 3 percent could throw China’s trade figures off balance. And with all of our support groups, Dharma centers and prominent supporters and friends around the world, we could at least achieve as much. „
The Rangzen-Allainz also thinks it is important to revive Tibetan heroism and patriotism and to honor significant and forgotten fighters in their view, and to incorporate this into the schoolbook education – including the Mustang guerrilla movement, which lead the violent struggle. The intervention of major foreign powers such as the USA and India is also advocated. But many Tibetan groups fear a bloodbath and a genocide that will really result from it, and therefore discussions among the Tibetans are similar to those among the Uyghurs.
For some time now it has been observed that the positions of the Dalai Lama are being viewed more and more critically among Tibet’s youth. After his death, parts of the Tibetans could become radicalized – the national bourgeois Rangzen alliance would then seem to be on the upswing as they are currently rather an isolated entity in the Tibetan community with their demands for a democratic, secular, modern and independent Tibet, which can be established with violence and an economic boycott against China, as well as the hope of intervention by India or the USA.
The then author of the appendix to the Rangzen Declaration Jamyang Norbu received his education at St. Joseph’s School in Darjeeling. He had held various posts in the Tibetan government in exile since 1967 and was a brief member of the Tibetan Resistance Force in Mustang. Norbu was one of the people who convened the first Tibetan Youth Congress (TYC) in 1970, and was a member of its Central Executive Committee for ten years. It was also he who created the model for taxing Tibetans in exile (the green book system), which has been the main source of income for the government in exile since 1972. Norbu has regularly commented on Tibetan and Chinese affairs. A collection of his political essays has been published in book form by the TYC under the title Illusion and Reality (1989). The Chinese authorities in Tibet, on the other hand, mocked his writings as having no consequences “like a fly flapping its wings against a block of granite”.
In the meantime, the only thing to read on the Rangzen-Alliance 2020 website is: ”Maintenance mood is on. Site will be available soon. Thank you for your patience ”. While the Rangzen Alliance has prevailed with its demand for the secularization of the Tibetan community since the Dalai Lama resigned as political head and is now only the spiritual head, conversely the radical demands of the Rangzen Alliance seem to have entered an internal debate . Let’s see when your website goes back on the air and with which program. But it is possible that demands for an economic war against China as well as violence as well as the hope of military intervention by foreign powers, be it the USA or India against China, which could provide Beijing with an excuse and pretext against the Tibetans in view of the hard line against the Uyghurs, are now being discussed as well as within now the Uyghur community.