Policy or Humanity Should Come First?

by Patrick Huang

Photo Credit: Colegola/WikiCommons/CC

UYGHURS ARE ONE of the 56 acknowledged ethnic minorities in China, whose central residence is in Xinjiang, northwestern province in mainland China. The majority of Uyghuys have a faith in Islam .The identity of Uyghurs, hence, reflects an Islamic way of lives, i.e. both men and women commonly wear Islamic clothing. Historically, as Marco Polo observed, the ethnic Uyghurs are descendants of the Sogdian, who had been trading along the transcontinental trade route, that is, the Silk Road. There is still controversy of when exactly Uyghurs settled in Xinjiang. However, as a result of the Chinese Communist Party’s political control of Xinjiang, the government attempts to extend Chinese nationalistic discourse to encompass Xinjiang and Uyghurs. Rudelson writes, “The Chinese claim a four, even five-thousand-year history that includes the control over Xinjiang since early Han dynasty times”. [1] Here and now the historical discourse seems to be determined by Hans.

The Conflict Between the Chinese Communist Party (Hans) and Uyghurs

CHINESE GOVERNMENT policy has been restrictive of the freedoms of ethnic minorities and at other times outright brutal, inclusive of Uyghurs. Yet we might note the use of the discourse of terrorism as a justification for actions against Uyghurs after September 11. In a 2009 article, Time magazine writes, “the discovery of dozens of Uighurs at guerrilla camps in Afghanistan after the U.S. invasion of 2001 highlighted the fact that some have, in recent years, been lured by a more fundamentalist form of Islam.” Since then, Uyghurs become directs victims of Hans; some are tortured to death. In 2009, the award-winning Uyghur journalist Hoshur voiced out about his three brothers who were jailed. The result ended with him and his family being intimidated by Chinese authorities. Religious persecution comes into existence. Uyghurs are, for instance, banned from fasting during Ramadan. As some Uyghurs are, in fact, party members, this is particularly strict in regards to making sure that Uyghur party members do not participate in religious activities. As Hong Kong Free Press (2015) reports, the Food and Drug Administration for Xinjiang’s Jinghe County instructs employees to sign a statement that includes a “pledge to obey political discipline to firmly ensure that families that have [Communist] party members and students will not fast and will not participate in any forms of religious activities.”

Intriguingly, we might note consistencies in the allegations in which the Chinese government charges against Uyghurs; that they are “religious extremists”, “separatists” and “terriorists” . This use of a stereotypical accusation against a largely Islamic people has only gotten worse over time. Since early this year with the rise of the “Islamic State of Iraq and Syria”, or ISIS, the government has tightened control over Uyghurs. The “terrorist” discourse is yet again emphasized. The Washington Times recounted that in March this year,  Zhang Chunxian, the Communist Party secretary of the province, claimed that a substantial number of Uyghurs fled the country to join ISIS, further accusing that some who returned the country might bring terrorist plots to Xinjiang. Because this discourse was propagated on a nationwide basis, it has significant influence on how Han Chinese perceive Uyghurs. Many Chinese discriminate against Uyghurs on a casual basis or have become afraid of them as potential terrorists. Various hotels do not rent rooms to Xinjiang people. In my view, this policy is to induce hatred among Chinese toward Uyghurs, and reinforce Han supremacy. It is a sad reality.

Repatriation of Uyghurs by Thai Government

OWING TO THE said intense harassment, Uyghurs have fled to many countries, of which one is Thailand. According to the report by Thai government, as many as 300 Uyghurs have been arrested by Thai authorities for illegal immigration. They refuse to talk to any immigrant authorities in fear that they will be deported to China. In the meantime, Chinese authorities liaise with Thai authorities to send Uyghurs back. Chinese authorities assert that they are terrorists, forwarding the evidence which lists the Uyghurs who are “criminals”.

The spokesman of Foreign Ministry of Thailand has explained about the planned repatriation of Uyghurs. First, those who are proven innocent are to be directed to Turkey. Second, those who have committed crime as shown by the said evidence are to be deported to China. Third, those who have not yet been identified of whether or not committing crime are as of yet still under the care of Thai government.

The well-founded evidence by Chinese authorities is never revealed to the public, raising many suspicions about its transparency. We can never know if it is real. Several are, consequently, concerned over the safety of Uyghurs who were deported to China. Nicholas Bequelin, Regional Director for East Asia at Amnesty International, has publicly stated:

Thailand has violated international law by forcibly returning some 109 Uighurs to China. This is akin to sentencing them to the worst punishment imaginable. Time and time again we have seen Uighurs returned to China disappearing into a black hole, with some detained, tortured and in some cases, sentenced to death and executed.

International law states we shall not send the refugees to any country harmful to them. The Thai government ignores this and asserts to repatriate Uyghurs accused of crimes on dubious evidence to China. It seems Thailand is now not only violating international law, but its little sense of humanity is shown to international communities. Some may argue, this is just a national policy of repatriation. But what about putting human rights before policy?

[1] Justin Jon Rudeson, Oasis Identities: Uyghur Nationalism Along China’s Silk Road, New York: Columbia University Press, 1997, 137.

*In late May 2014, the coup led by general Prayuth Chan-o-cha took over Thailand. The old constitution was abolished. The dissidents are called for “attitude adjustment”. Democracy has been suppressed. There was the formal visit of Prayuth government to mainland China in late December last year. Since then, some reciprocation is more and more material in nature, e.g., a potential investment for high-speed train in Thailand by Chinese government and the purchase-to-be of Chinese submarines by Thai government. It illustrates Sino-Thai cooperation. Therefore, seeing as the relationship of Thailand and China is already quite good, I am skeptical if repatriating Uyghurs is to improve the relationship with China, as is claimed.


“A Brief History of the Uighurs”, Time (2009), accessed 10 July 2015, <http://content.time.com/time/world/article/0,8599,1909416,00.html>

“US urges China to end harrassment of Uyghur journalist’s kin”, UCA News (2009), accessed 10 July 2015, <http://www.ucanews.com/news/us-urges-china-to-end-harrassment-of-uyghur-journalists-kin/72750>

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