The Uighur community in China was brought to the world’s attention recently when more than 140 were killed in clashes between rioters and police. Prominent Uighur activist Rebiya Kadeer now claims that nearly 10,000 Uighurs went missing in one night of the riots. Kadeer is the president ofthe World Uighur Congress who was once one of the five richest people in China. She began to speak out against the Chinese government’s treatment of the Uighur community and was detained by authorities. Since being released she has lived in exile in the United States and has continued to speak out against the Chinese government. Chinese authorities claim the recent riots were organized by Kadeer and have criticized her continuously.
Kadeer appears to be the new Dalai Lamar for China and just as China has placed pressure on other nations hosting the Dalai Lama, they are now attempting to exert their influence on nations hosting Kadeer. Kadeer is visiting Japan this week and the Chinese Ambassador to Japan has likened Kadeer to a “criminal”. He goes so far as to compare her to the Aum Shinrikyo cult leader who carried out sarin gas attacks on Tokyo’s subways in 1995. Such a parrallel seems to be an excessive exaggeration and inappropriate comparison. China also summoned the Japanese Ambassador in Beijing to the Foreign Ministry in protest.
Following her trip to Japan, Kadeer will head to Australia for the Melbourne International Film Festival at which the film ‘10 Conditions of Love’ is premiering. The film depicts Kadeer as the heroine and has caused quite a stir in China. Strong pressure was placed on festival organizers to withdraw the film, but they refused. Instead it appears China exerted it’s influence locally and five other films from China, Hong Kong and Taiwan were withdrawn. The festival website was also apparently attacked by numerous hackers attempting to impose the Chinese flag on the website.
Such interference is not unusual in Chinese foreign relations. Kadeer is a pro-independence leader and not a likely terrorist figure, yet the Chinese government feels threatened enough to attempt to interefere in other nations affairs. Clearly China is becoming increasingly desperate in suppressing it’s opposition both locally and abroad and Japan and Australia should be commended for standing up to China’s bullying.
Interestingly, China has not attempted to bully the US where Kadeer resides permanently. Yet neither did the US raise any human rights issues, that have become so prominent throughout the years, in recent Chinese visits to America. Both parties appear to have avoided the subject very carefully and instead focussed primarily on the economy and climate change. These certainly are very important issues. However, this is a subject that cannot be avoided indefinitely and must be addressed by the US.
China realizes it can get away with attempting to initimidate countries like Australia and Japan. Australia is a nation with an economy far smaller than the US and Japan. However, China is Australia’s second largest trading partner and growing, and so Australia could face heavy penalties. Yet Australia was willing to stand up against the Chinese government over something as simple as an independent film release. It does not yet appear there have been any backlashes from this choice.
While Japan is a much larger economic power, it has a long and tumultuous history with China. Since World War II when Japanese atrocities were carried out against thousands of Chinese citizens, relations between the two countries have been tense. In recent years things have been improving and standing up against China on this issue could lead to a weakening in these ties. Yet still Japan still would not be bullied on this issue.
It is true that the US has many vested interests in maintaining friendly relations with China. However, the human rights issue is one that has existed for many years and will not go away. If other nations are willing to take a stand then America should also be willing to discuss the matter. The major trading partnership between the two countries could possibly be used as leverage in demanding greater action be taken to redress human rights abuses. China also has much to lose from a break in relations with the US and so it is not completely inconceivable that this issue be raised. As more countries stand up to China’s bullying and exert greater pressure, perhaps eventually China will revise it’s human rights policy. Collective action has always been more successful, but we need American leadership if we are ever to succeed.