BEIJING – China’s allies are used to being harangued for befriending the Dalai Lama, Tibet’s exiled spiritual leader. Now a new name is on Beijing’s “persona non grata” list: Rebiya Kadeer (read our recent interview with her here.)
The exiled Uighur nationalist has helped bankroll the ethnic minority's independence aspirations and has been accused by China of being personally responsible for race riots that erupted in Urumqi earlier this month. China is now trying to pressure other countries not to have anything to do with her.
On Wednesday, Japan was called out on the carpet after Ms. Kadeer met with members of the ruling party on a private visit to Tokyo. Fairly hissing with anger, China's Foreign Ministry spokesman complained that Japan had ignored "China's repeated and solemn representations [and] persisted in allowing Rebiya to engage in anti-China separatist activities." China's ambassador to Japan said on Monday that her visit was aimed at distorting the facts and instigating separatism in Xinjiang Province.
China's anger was sure to have been stoked further by her claim on Wednesday that 10,000 Uighurs had disappeared during one night, an apparent reference to the July 5 violence.
Last week, it was Australia taking heat from China. Three Chinese filmmakers hurriedly yanked their entries from a film festival in Melbourne after China officially complained about the planned screening of a documentary on Kadeer. That was followed by a Chinese hacker splashed an anti-Kadeer message on the festival’s website.
Anti-Australian rhetoric from China is likely to intensify, with Kadeer due to fly to Australia next week for the screening of the documentary, called ‘Ten Conditions of Love," and to speak to the Australian media. Naturally, China would rather she be sent packing.
Kadeer lives in Virginia and heads the World Uighur Congress. She made a fortune in business in China’s far west in the 1990s, only to fall foul of authorities and spend six years in jail. In 2005, she was released and moved to the US.
While Kadeer has been a strong voice for Uighur rights, comparisons with the Dalai Lama are misleading. She isn’t as well known inside China and her cause is not as popular in the West. And while China has been targeting neighbors like Japan for fairly limited contact with her, it's been fairly soft on the US, which acts as her home base. On Tuesday, a Chinese diplomat praised the US for adopting a “moderate attitude” on apportioning blame for the violence in Xinjiang.