Western China: The Internet is restored, but repression continues
The president of the World Uighur Congress calls on China's government to end policies of repression against Uighurs in Western China.
On May 14, residents of East Turkestan rediscovered the Internet – not the Internet of unfettered access that is enjoyed the world over. But a lifting of the most draconian Internet restrictions ever seen so that people could finally access China's censored version.Skip to next paragraph
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For 10 months, starting from the July 2009 unrest in Urumchi, the Chinese government kept the people of East Turkestan isolated from the rest of the world with a comprehensive communications lockdown that not only blocked the Internet, but also affected telecommunications. During those 10 months, a great deal of information about the events of July 2009 was never allowed to surface, and the world was left with a Chinese government account that in no way can be considered impartial.
The communications lockdown was an illustration of the chilling ideology of power that guides the decisions of power brokers in the Chinese Communist Party. In those 10 months, the Chinese government conducted a brutal crackdown on Uighurs largely unseen by the outside world.
The "stable conditions" required to restore the Internet were established through indiscriminate detentions, enforced disappearances, torture, sham trials, and swift executions of Uighurs. Human Rights Watch described the 43 enforced disappearances it recorded in a report, "We Are Afraid to Even Look for Them," as the tip of the iceberg.
In addition, the reports that managed to leak out of torture and death of Uighurs in custody, such as that of Shohret Tursun, only hint at the depth of repression that happened during those 10 months.
A restoration of the Internet
Now the Chinese government is attempting to show a benevolent face with announcements of large-scale investment, comprehensive work forums, the removal of reviled officials such as Wang Lequan, and most recently the restoration of the Internet. This benevolence must be taken with a degree of skepticism not only because the decisions are not being made for the welfare of the Uighur people, but also because they show a lack of original thinking among Chinese officials.
Since 2000, large injections of capital into East Turkestan through the central government's Western Development initiative merely exaggerated the economic inequality between Uighurs and Han Chinese rather than benefit impoverished Uighurs. Future investment, as far as it can be gleaned, will come once more in the form of more money for mineral extraction that does not aim to employ the local Uighur workforce or engage Uighur businesses.
The appointment of Zhang Chunxian as party secretary of the Xinjiang Uighur Autonomous Region has been interpreted as a break from the hard-line policies of former party chief Wang Lequan. However, in recent comments it appears that Zhang will bring nothing to the table but the same tired rhetoric on smashing the three evils of separatism, extremism, and terrorism.
What true introspection on the performance of the Chinese Communist Party in East Turkestan reveals is that the real three evils in the region are Han chauvinism, party-state despotism, and bankrupt communism.
Old ideas of the Chinese communists toward East Turkestan have merely been repackaged and recycled and do not address the economic and political tensions that underpinned the unrest in Urumchi. There is much work to do and many grievances to address. I am willing to help the Chinese government resolve them.