Monday, April 17, 2006

Hu Jintao in Washington. Dare we mention "Xinjiang"?

When Chinese President Hu Jintao arrives in Washington this week, will there be anyone with enough courage to remind him that the international community does not ignore the plight of the Uighurs of Xinjiang?

More than four years after nearly two dozen Uighurs from the western Chinese province of Xinjiang were mistakenly picked up in Afghanistan and Pakistan, and later deemed to pose no threat to the United States, the administration (rightly) refuses to hand them over to China because, according to the Associated Press, "they likely will be tortured or killed" there for their efforts to fight religious persecution in China (Uighurs are largely Muslim). Washington is trying to find a country to provide the Uighurs refuge, but after nearly two dozen attempts, no one will accept them for fear of offending the Chinese.


Despite a savage landscape and climate, Xinjiang has a rich past: sand-buried cities, painted cave shrines, rare creatures, and wonderfully preserved mummies of European appearance. Their descendants, the Uighurs, still farm the tranquil oases that ring the dreaded Taklamakan, the world's second largest sand desert, and the Kazakh and Kirghiz herdsmen still roam the mountains. The region's history, however, has been punctuated by violence, usually provoked by ambitious outsiders-nomad chieftains from the north, Muslim emirs from Central Asia, Russian generals, or warlords from inner China.

The Chinese regard the far west as a barbarian land. Only in the 1760s did they subdue it, and even then their rule was repeatedly broken. Compared with the Russians' conquest of Siberia, or the Americans' trek west, China's colonization of Xinjiang has been late and difficult. The Communists have done most to develop it, as a penal colony, as a buffer against invasion, and as a supplier of raw materials and living space for an overpopulated country. But what China sees as its property, the Uighurs regard as theft by an alien occupier. Tension has led to violence and savage reprisals.

According to human rights groups, more than 190 Uighurs have received the death penalty since 1995, and the total could be far higher.
source here


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