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"I believe that to meet the challenges of our times, human beings will have to develop a greater sense of universal responsibility. It is the foundation for world peace."

Why the West is silent on rioting in Xinjiang

July 15, 2009

When China slapped Tibet, the world shouted. But things change

Frank Ching

 From Tuesday's Globe and Mail Last updated on Tuesday, Jul. 14, 2009 
03:01AM EDT

The rioting in Xinjiang last week echoed violence in Tibet last year 
but, interestingly, the international reaction has been very different.

Last year, Western countries put pressure on Beijing to hold a 
dialogue with representatives of the Dalai Lama, with French President 
Nicolas Sarkozy even threatening to boycott the Beijing Olympics if 
China refused. Beijing's protestations that Tibet was an internal 
Chinese affair were disregarded.

This time, however, the Western response is muted. The United States 
has adopted a mild tone, with President Barack Obama merely calling on 
all parties in Xinjiang ?to exercise restraint.? The European Union 
has gone even further, taking the position that violence in Xinjiang ?
is a Chinese issue, not a European issue.? Serge Abou, the EU's 
ambassador to China, said Europe also had its problems with minorities 
and ?we would not like other governments to tell us what is to be done.?

While there are similarities between events last year in Tibet and 
those in Xinjiang this month, the world has changed: China is now seen 
as an indispensable partner of the United States and Europe, both of 
which are facing a financial crisis. Beijing's diplomatic assistance 
in resolving the Iranian and North Korean nuclear issues is also seen 
as too important to put in jeopardy.

What reaction there has been came mainly from Muslim countries. The 
Saudi-based Organization of the Islamic Conference, which represents 
57 Muslim governments, condemned what it called the excessive use of 
force against Uyghur civilians. At least 184 people, both Uyghurs and 
Han Chinese, have been killed.

The OIC statement declared: ?The Islamic world is expecting from 
China, a major and responsible power in the world arena with 
historical friendly relations with the Muslim world, to deal with the 
problem of Muslim minority in China in broader perspective that 
tackles the root causes of the problem.?

The country that has taken the strongest position is Turkey, whose 
people share linguistic, religious and cultural links with the 
Uyghurs. Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan actually went so far as 
to characterize what has happened as ?a kind of genocide? and said his 
country would bring the matter up in the United Nations Security 

Since then, China's Foreign Minister has spoken on the telephone with 
his Turkish counterpart and apparently invited Turkey to send 
journalists to Xinjiang. This would be good if the journalists would 
be allowed not only into Urumqi but to other areas as well, such as 
Kashgar, where foreign journalists are currently barred.

While Indonesian Muslims have voiced support for the Uyghurs, with 
about 100 attending a mass prayer session in Jakarta on Sunday, the 
government itself has not taken a position, even though Indonesia is 
the world's largest Muslim country.

One problem for the Uyghurs is that the world at large knows little 
about them. Events of the past week have served to publicize their 
cause. Hitherto, publicity on Uyghurs has focused on the 22 who were 
held by the United States in Guantanamo, but a link to terrorist 
suspects is not likely to gain them public support.

Rebiya Kadeer, the U.S.-based Uyghur activist accused by Chinese 
officials of instigating the violence, is seeking American support for 
her cause and has urged the United States to open a consulate in 
Urumqi. This, she said, ?would be a clear signal that the United 
States is not indifferent to the oppression of my people.? China has 
denied a request for an American consulate in Tibet and is unlikely to 
allow one in Xinjiang.

The Urumqi events were followed by demonstrations, mostly by ethnic 
Uyghurs around the world. Eggs were hurled at the Chinese consulate-
general in Los Angeles, while the one in Munich was attacked by home-
made gasoline bombs. (Munich is also home to the headquarters of the 
World Uyghur Congress, of which Ms. Kadeer is president.)

Demonstrations were also held in Turkey, the Netherlands, Norway, 
Australia, Japan and Sweden. Ms. Kadeer herself led a protest march in 
Washington to the Chinese embassy.

The Uyghurs lack a charismatic figure such as the Dalai Lama to lead 
them. But China, perhaps unwittingly, may provide the solution. It is 
likening Ms. Kadeer to the Dalai Lama, saying they are both ?
separatists.? The People's Daily has actually called her the ?Uyghur 
Dalai Lama? and warned the Nobel committee not to award her the Peace 
Prize. Beijing may not realize it, but likening Rebiya Kadeer to the 
Dalai Lama may actually win her supporters in the West.

Frank Ching is author of China: The Truth About Its Human Rights Record.
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