Western imperialists have embraced a new cause — the plight of Uighur people. When the U.S. launched its “War on Terror” in 2001, things got a whole lot worse for Muslims throughout the world. Among them the Uighurs, 22 of whom were interned at Guantanamo Bay. But now, with the U.S. and its allies escalating hostility against China, the genocidal practices against national minorities in China have been suddenly “discovered” and politically weaponised.
In March, the European Union, the U.S., the U.K. and Canada used China’s abuse of Uighurs to impose sanctions. They feign outrage over China’s imprisoning of Uighurs in re-education camps, using them as forced labour. This from the U.S. — the world leader in incarcerating its own people. Where big corporations use this captive labour, paying them less than a dollar a day!
End the forced assimilation. China loudly protested that this was propaganda. But when evidence made the claim untenable, they fessed up, saying the camps were vocational education and training centres. But incarceration is involuntary. The children of internees are sent to boarding schools, where they are denied access to their language and culture.
Xinjiang is the Uighurs’ homeland. These Turkic speaking, traditionally Muslim, people have their own distinct culture. Today, they are under siege. Their language is prohibited in secondary schools and within the government sector. Women face forced contraception and sterilisation. The mass settlement of Han Chinese — its population expanding from 6% in 1949 to more than 40% today — is turning Uighurs into a minority. The newcomers get economic benefits including land, water resources and the best jobs.
Riches and poverty in Xinjiang. With the return of capitalism to China, Xinjiang is strategically significant as a key logistical hub for China’s Belt and Road Initiative. The Uighurs’ homeland today is rich in natural resources, including gas, coal and oil. It is also a huge cotton growing region.
One of Uighurs’ grievances is that wealth from these resources flow to other parts of China and to the profits of big corporates such as Coca Cola, Volkswagen and major fashion brands. Poverty is higher in Xinjiang than any other province within China. There is a huge chasm between Uighurs, who face employment discrimination, and Han Chinese.
Uighurs must control their fate. Xinjiang is situated in central Asia. In the early 20th century, the Bolsheviks, who led the Russian Revolution, had a well-honed approach to what they called “the national question.” Right across central Asia, they built trust and voluntary unity, based on the principle that oppressed nationalities have the unconditional right to self-determination.
The rise of Stalinism put an end to this. The counter-revolutionary idea that socialism could be built in a single country unleashed the return for Russian chauvinism. Both the USSR and China pursued nationalist interests at the expense of the Uighurs. After Xinjiang was incorporated into China, limited self-government was allowed. But the Uighurs were denied the right to genuine self-determination, which must include the right to secede if the majority of the people choose this option.
During the Sino-Soviet conflict in the 1960s, the USSR fostered Uighur separatism. And, in reaction to their oppression, some Uighurs have been drawn to Islamic fundamentalism. Without working class internationalism as an alternative pole of attraction, the embracing of repressive religious fundamentalism is where desperation can lead.
Beware of fair-weather friends. With this new interest in Uighur oppression, imperialists will pursue their cause for as long as it suits their agenda. It is crucial to see beyond the hypocritical humbug and to stand with the Uighur people, including their demand for self-determination. It is also necessary to build a movement to stop the imperialist war mongering, aimed at China. From inside these aggressor countries, including Australia, we need to slash military spending and redirect funding to social services, including the resettlement of Uighur people who flee Xinjiang.