August 29, 2009
CHINA AND THE BIG STICK
Fear of separatism has haunted China since Maoist days. But the ruling Communist
Party's time-worn antidote has always been the same: Repression and more repression. The cure has worked
on Tiananmen Square in 1989, in Tibet since 1959 and again last year and a few weeks ago also in the far
western oil-and-gas rich Xinjiang province.
Sometimes this fear becomes shrill, like this month when Taiwan decided to allow the Dalai
Lama, Tibet's self-exiled spiritual leader, to visit the Other China so he could comfort the survivors and relatives
of the recent typhoon tragedy. This might have been a rather transparent excuse to allow millions of Buddhists
and Tibetans on Taiwan to see the venerated Tibetan icon or, more likely, a show of defiance by President Ma
that his government is not intimidated by the bullying from Beijing.
China, where a member of the politburo has called the Dalai Lama 'a wolf in sheep's
clothing denounced the visit as a wrench in the improving Beijing-Taipei relations. China in the past has
threatened to take Taiwan by force if necessary since it considers the island, like Tibet and Xinjiang, 'an
unalienable part of the Motherland.'
By now it is obvious to even patriotic Chinese that these 'unalienable parts are not as
unalienable as the pseudo-communist rulers like to make the masses believe, inoculating people with
outrageous stories of how loyal Han Chinese settlers (making an often dishonest living in those remote regions)
are being murdered by local terrorists.'
The Chinese have learned quickly our western ways, not just in technology but
also in politics. Anyone who opposes Beijing's reign is now a terrorist. Anyone fighting to defend
their homeland against invaders is also a terrorist, just like in the West. The big stick comes crashing
down no matter if the issue is a demand for a greater say in running the country (Tiananmen)
freedom to pursue an ethnic culture and its religion (Tibet) or protest against ethnic discrimination
China was quick to jump on America's bandwagon of war against Islamic terrorism, not due
to solidarity with the U.S. but because the separatists and ethnic rebels in Xinjiang are Moslems and therefore
any crackdown against them can be excused as part of 'the war against Al-Queda terror.'
As Chinese products flood world markets and Beijing's voice becomes ever more
prominent at international forums, the methods to smash protests and dissent have become more
frenetic and lethal, the rounding up and incarcerating more extensive and the laws more porous and
blatantly unjust. China's communist leaders and their new-baked bourgeoisie are clinging grimly to
their capitalist profits and privileges, scared any concession could trigger a popular avalanche that
would sweep them and their system into the South China Sea.
Thousands vanished without trace into detention gulags when native Uighurs - a
Turkic-speaking Islamic group native to Xinjiang Autonomous Region in China's Far West - protested against the
government-promoted immigration of Han Chinese settlers last month. The settlers, accompanied by a powerful
presence of the Chinese army, are harvesting the commercial benefits of a wealthy region thanks to preferential
treatment by the occupation authorities. The 'big stick' approach was given additional force last month with an
estimated 50,000 Peoples Armed Police (PAP) airlifted into Xinjiang to quell the protests.
This PAP task force, confronting unarmed Uighurs, used their big sticks so well that the
official Chinese Xinhua News agency had to admit 197 people were killed in one day, probably a
rather modest estimate. Thousands were injured, thousands more detained and nine Uighurs were
sentenced to death by impromptu courts though the federal government later converted all but two
of the sentences to life imprisonment.
Like in Tibet, where official policy also ferried in millions of Han Chinese settlers over the last
decades, the nine million Uighurs in Xinjiang are now a minority and when they protest against draconian
discrimination and the exploitation of local labor and natural resources by Chinese government companies like
Sinopec and China National Petroleum Corporation they are simply dismissed as Islamic terrorists and
When China razed the centuries-old center of the ancient Uighur oasis city of Kashgar to make
space for popular high-rise residences and insisted Mandarin be taught in schools because the Turkic Uighur
language is out of step with the 21st century, the Uighurs peaceful protests were ignored.
Many of the protesters were rounded up and kept in detention at anonymous locations or were
subjected to trials with no acceptable standards of justice, handed excessively long sentences and subjected to
savage pretrial and post-trial treatment.
Since terrorism now seems the universal label for anyone standing up anywhere
against a lopsided status quo President Obama's government limited their comment on the
bloodletting in Xinjiang to a meek exhortation to both sides to stop killing each other. (The Chinese,
as usual, claimed most of those killed were Han Chinese murdered by the Uighurs).
The plight of these often fair-skinned descendants of the Far East expeditions of Alexander the
Great and later the Ottoman Turks is sometimes pitiful.
In 2003 thirteen Uighurs seeking work in Pakistan were fingered by local Pakistani head
hunters as Al-Queda terrorists and sold to the Americans for $5,000 each at a time the Pentagon was
desperate to increase its quota of captured terrorists.
Sent to Guantanamo Bay the 13 were cruelly interrogated for five years and eventually found to
be innocent or, as the official term defined it, to be not enemy combatants. All were scheduled to be released.
But China (whose agents had been allowed to interrogate the 13 inside Guantanamo) demanded that all be
extradited to Beijing as terrorists. The US which had held the 13 on false charges turned down their plea for
asylum but also turned down China's extradition request for fear the 13 would be executed in China.
Thus began the Uighurs odyssey. Not a single western nation was prepared to host them, not due
to fear the unfortunates might be terrorists after all but because valuable economic ties to China are apparently
far more important then human rights which Europeans, especially the Scandinavians, usually hold up like halos.
Only Albania, with some pecuniary encouragement, gave five of the Uighurs asylum but soon
revoked that order after Chinese pressure.
With some further pecuniary bait it now appears that the tiny and impoverished Pacific island nation
of Palau is willing to take the Uighurs though they can never become local citizen since citizenship on Palau is
The deal is not yet safe and sound. The Chinese, never slow to dangle their own bait, might yet
convince Palau it is not in their interest to play host to the homeless Uighurs.
Uli Schmetzer is the author of 'Times of Terror'
an autobiography of his 37 years as Foreign Correspondent, eight of them in China,
and Gaza' a novel about the Israel-Palestinian conflict.
(Both are available on Amazon books)