by Kathryn Rosko | Filed in: Opinions | 3:36pm EST
Christopher Beckwith has recently published a new book on the history of Central Eurasia from the Bronze Age to the present titled EMPIRES OF THE SILK ROAD. He recently penned an op-ed on the situation in Urumqi, providing insight into the past and present of the Uighur people.
Chinese Repression in Urumqi and World Appeasement
The recent news has rightly been focused on the riots in Urumqi. But what do we
actually read? The headline of a recent AP release on Yahoo! News calmly states, “Communist leaders vow stability after China riots.” It adds the veiled Chinese threat to the United Nations to butt out, in the statement of the Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Qin Gang, “The Chinese government has taken decisive measures according to law. This is totally China’s internal affair. There’s no reason for Security Council discussion.”
Well, that sounds reasonable, doesn’t it? Stability is good, riots are bad, and we know about China,
the place where everything is made. Urumqi (pronounced “Oo-room-chee”), the Uighur capital, is just
another obscure “Chinese” city, so who cares, right?
Let’s back up just a little, though. Imagine how you would feel if the international news were instead
about troops quelling rioting in Paris and the headlines read, “Nazi leaders vow stability after Third Reich
riots.” The pictures would be of truckloads of SS troops riding into Paris, troops marching down the
streets, and so forth, to quell “ethnic separatism” and take the French “terrorists” off to prison or
execution. Because the French have become a small minority in their own capital city, they can do
nothing but protest. This is an exact parallel to what has happened, and is still happening, in the Uighurs’
In fact, the Uighurs (pronounced “Oo-ee-goors”, _not_ “Wee-gers”) of Urumqi are overwhelmingly
innocent, peaceful people like the people of Paris, like you and me. But they have been invaded by an
enormous army and a sea of attendant alien Chinese people with a completely different culture and
language, all intent on making themselves at home. The days of appeasement are long gone in Europe, but
what about Asia? Is it that the Uighurs don’t look like Europeans, so they don’t count? Or, they’re
Muslims, and Islam is bad? When talking about Hitler and the Third Reich we say France was “occupied”
by German troops, we do not say Paris was a city in “Germany”. We talk about French “patriots,” not
French “terrorists.” What about the Uighurs? The news reports calmly repeat the euphemisms of the
brutal Chinese Communist regime: “defeat the terrorists,” “oppose ethnic separatism,” “attack splittist
forces,” and so forth, as if these were all righteous, justifiable actions to carry out against the accused.
Could the Chinese propaganda machine actually be in the right for once?
The truth is that East Turkistan has been a civilized, peaceful land for over two thousand years of
recorded history, in which the native East Turkistani people seem never to have attacked or invaded their
Chinese neighbors. The Uighurs are a cultured people with a rich native literature, music, and art, all of
which is completely un-Chinese and unrelated to anything Chinese. Their homeland, East Turkistan, is
the eastern part of Central Asia, the heartland of the Silk Road civilization of Central Eurasia. It has been
called “Turkistan” internationally since at least the seventh century. The Chinese now call it “Xinjiang”,
which means “New Territory” in Chinese. Could their intentions be any more obvious?
The news media have not hidden the fact that the Uighurs and other native peoples of East Turkistan,
who are reviled by the Chinese as “terrorists,” have seen their country occupied by overwhelming
Chinese armies, political agents, secret police, and other forces of repression. In recent decades it has
been colonized by millions of “Han” Chinese, who have taken over, just as they have in Tibet and Inner
Mongolia, two other foreign countries where Chinese have no right to be. But that is as far as the news
has gone. Is it because no one wants to offend the Chinese dictators? Is this not appeasement?
The simple historical truth is that East Turkistan and Tibet are _not_ rightfully “parts of China,” any
more than France and Poland were rightfully parts of Hitler’s Third Reich. The Second World War had at
least one good effect—it established once and for all that conquest was no longer a legal means of
establishing sovereignty over a foreign country. This is true for Europe, certainly, but it is true even for
East Asia; Japan’s conquests in the 1930s and 1940s were all denied legitimacy. So East Turkistan does
not “belong” to China any more than Uzbekistan “belonged” to Russia, or France to “belonged” to the
Third Reich, or Manchuria “belonged” to Japan.
Today Uzbekistan, Tajikistan, part of Mongolia, and several other major Central Eurasian countries
are free again. But not East Turkistan and Tibet. The Communist dictatorship established by Mao—a
mass-murderer who is thought to have far exceeded Stalin and Hitler—remains in power, and its brutal
repression of these _non-Chinese_ countries continues unabated.
The Tibetans have the Dalai Lama, a Nobel Peace Prize winner, to speak for their people and hold the
flame of freedom aloft to inspire them. The Uighurs do not have a comparable international figure to
represent them. But they are a people who deserve justice and self-determination too, just as much as we
do, just as much as every nation does. Some of the Chinese people, surely, must have a sense of morality
and justice in general, not only for “Han” Chinese. It is the their responsibility, and that of the
international community as a whole, to repudiate China’s mistreatment of the Uighurs.
It is long past time for the world to call upon the Chinese government to reverse its pernicious
policies in East Turkistan (“Xinjiang”) and for China, a United Nations member, to finally accept the
principle of self-determination enshrined in the UN charter.