Frontline World

China - Silenced, January 2005

Related Features THE STORY
Synopsis of "Silenced"

Secret Meetings and an Unexpected Arrest

Who are the Uighurs? The People of Xinjiang Province

Uighur History, Separatism, U.S.-China Relationships, Uighurs in Guantanamo, Uighur News




Links and Resources

• Who Are the Uighurs? A Contested History
Westward Ho: China's Next Frontier
• Separatists or Terrorists?
• U.S.-China Partnership in the "War on Terror"
The Guantánamo Controversy
• Strike Hard: The Uighur Crackdown
A Dissident View
• Other Sources for Uighur News

• Reporting in China

Who Are the Uighurs? A Contested History

The history of the Uighurs is so hotly contested that everything from the name of the land to the spelling of "Uighur" is up for grabs. The Chinese government says this resource-rich territory has been an "inseparable" part of China for more than 2,000 years. But many Uighurs have a fiercely different view of history, seeing the Chinese government as invaders and their home as occupied land.

"U" for "Uighur": An Encyclopedic Account has compiled this account of Uighur history, pre- and post-Communist rule.

Government White Papers: History and Development of Xinjiang
Beijing's Information Office presents the government's history of Xinjiang (short for the Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region) in this 55-page white paper from May 2003, found posted on a China Information site. It maintains that Uighur separatists "fabricated" an independent nation and that investment from Beijing has boosted living standards in the region.

A Pro-Independence View
The East Turkistan Information Center traces the roots of Uighur independence going back 2,000 years. This pro-independence organization, which is now based in Germany, rejects the name Xinjiang (which literally means "new territory"), instead calling the region "East Turkistan" or "Uyghuristan" (also often spelled "East Turkestan" and "Uighuristan," depending on the source). The site traces the history of the region, provides archives and photographs, and documents reports of human rights abuses.

The Orkon Uighur Empire
The first records of the Uighurs date back to the seventh century. Originally a loose federation of nomadic tribes, the Uighurs seized power from the Gok Turks around 744, establishing a Uighur empire that stretched across Central Asia. This site includes photos and information. Note that it is written and maintained by members who volunteer historical information as part of an online community called AllEmpires.

Silk Road Encounters
For more than 500 years, Xinjiang was a key stop on one of the world's longest trade routes -- the Silk Road. The Asia Society maps the route of the ancient highway.

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Westward Ho: China's Next Frontier

In 1999, China launched a Go West campaign to develop its vast and sparsely populated western regions. The campaign has radically transformed Xinjiang, filling its arid landscape with pipelines and skyscrapers. But the most radical change to the area has been the change in population. A flood of Han transplants has overtaken the region, threatening to permanently turn the Uighurs into a minority.

"China Moves Toward Another West: Central Asia"
In this front page New York Times piece, Howard French explains how China's westward expansion fits into Beijing's broader bid for power in Central Asia. As French reports, it's a power bid that may be as much about economics as it is about politics. [Note that registration and archive fee may be required to view this article.]

Radio Free Asia: The Battle for Oil
China's western frontier offers something that's sorely missing in the country's economically developed east -- energy. A third of the nation's crude oil reserves and gas are located in Xinjiang, along with 40 percent of the nation's coal. The region is also a pathway to the oil reserves of Central Asia, to which China is increasingly turning for its energy needs. Radio Free Asia, a broadcast funded by the U.S. government, examines how China's hunt for energy is fueling its westward expansion.

APERC: Analyzing China's Energy Market
APERC (Asia Pacific Energy Research Centre), the energy research arm of APEC (Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation), provides a comprehensive overview of China's energy market, including a forecast of where China will go next in order to meet its surging energy needs. [Note: This link is a PDF; requires Adobe Acrobat.]

NPR: "On the Road in China: The Far West, Journey's End"
NPR's Rob Gifford ends a 3,000-mile road trip across China at a bowling alley in Urumqi. He reports on how an emerging middle class is transforming the region and changing life for China's Muslim minorities.

The New York Times: Silk Road
The New York Times' Joshua Kurlantzick visits the bazaars of modern-day Urumqi for a look at how the new Silk Road is bringing change to Xinjiang.
This companion

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Separatists or Terrorists?

Uighur separatists are nothing new in northwestern China. Uighur riots, armed uprisings and bombings date back to the 18th century. After 9/11, however, Beijing's shifted its view of the separatists, describing them as "terrorists" with ties to international groups like al Qaeda. Uighur militants have surfaced on battlefields in Chechnya and Afghanistan. But it's unclear how deep the fraternity is between China's Muslim minority and Muslim militants.

The Christian Science Monitor: Roots of a Race Riot
Underlying separatist sentiments in Xinjiang is a growing friction between the newly arrived Han Chinese and the native Uighurs. During the 1990s, tensions between the two groups boiled over into riots. The Christian Science Monitor's Robert Marquand dissects one major riot to try to get to the root of the interethnic strife. To find this article, search the archives for "Roots of a Race Riot in China's Wild West" (July 18, 2001). (Registration may be required).

CNN: "China Launches 'Suppression' Campaign in Xinjiang"
Before there was a "war on terror," China had a different name for the crackdown on Uighur separatists. It was called the Strike Hard campaign. Part of a nationwide "anticrime" initiative, the Strike Hard campaign resulted in widespread arrests and even executions of political dissidents. CNN reports on the campaign.

BBC: "China Issues Terrorist List"
In December 2003, following in the footsteps of the United States, China issued its first list of wanted terrorists, appealing for international help in the hunt for 11 Uighurs who are on the list.

The Wall Street Journal: The Bounds of Uighur Nationalism
The Wall Street Journal talks to one of China's most-wanted -- a Uighur who admits he was trained in an al Qaeda camp. Alongside the most militant Uighurs, David Cloud and Ian Johnson find nonviolent dissidents channeling their discontent across the airwaves of Radio Free Asia. This article looks at how China assesses threats to national security. To find this article, search the archives for "Uighur Nationalism Tests the Boundaries of Security, Tolerance" (August 3, 2004). [Registration may be required.]

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U.S.-China Partnership in the "War on Terror"

In the wake of 9/11, the United States struck up an uneasy new security partnership with China. Beijing agreed to back the U.S. "war on terror," and in exchange, Washington offered a tacit endorsement of the Chinese government's fight against the Uighurs. The alliance is starting to fray, however, with the United States growing increasingly critical of China's policies toward the Uighurs.

Los Angeles Times: "U.S. Decision to Add Group Pleases China"
In August 2002, the United States added a Uighur separatist group, the East Turkestan Islamic Movement, to its official list of terrorist organizations. The United Nations quickly followed suit.

Voice of America: "China Protests Establishment of Uighur Government-in-Exile in Washington"
China protested to U.S. officials after a Uighur lobbying group established a "government-in-exile" in Washington, D.C. The group's announcement, which was not endorsed by the Bush administration, was made at the U.S. Capitol building.

Asia Times: The China-Pakistan Military Exercises
Beijing has gone beyond Washington for help in reining in its rebellious northwestern region. In August 2004, China and Pakistan held three days of joint military exercises in Xinjiang. Colin Mackerras, professor of Asian studies, argues that the exercises were designed as a show of force to keep Uighur separatists in line.

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The Guantánamo Controversy: Uighurs in Limbo

Caught in the middle of the increasingly tense relationship between China and the United States are 12 Uighurs captured more than two years ago in Afghanistan and detained in the U.S. prison camp at Guant·namo Bay. The Bush administration says it's ready to release the men, but does not want to send them back to China. The 12 are in limbo, stuck in the middle of a battle over sovereignty and security.

The New York Times: Waiting on a New Homeland
Neil Lewis, of The New York Times, explores the peculiar problem of the Uighur detainees at Guant·namo, looking at what their chances are of finding a new homeland.

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Strike Hard: The Uighur Crackdown

The Chinese government intensified its crackdown against Uighur separatists in the 1990s, a decade marked by bloody street clashes, riots and a surge in pro-independence activism. Although many groups advocated nonviolence, some turned to more militant methods, launching a string of attacks that included bombings of buses in Urumqi. The government's response has been its Strike Hard campaign. Human rights groups say the government has arrested thousands. Although Beijing defends its crackdown on the grounds of security, critics say the government is using its campaign as an excuse to silence political opposition.

Human Rights Watch: Background on Xinjiang
Human Rights Watch provides a general overview of human rights abuses in Xinjiang. The site also includes profiles of the major Uighur independence groups.

Amnesty International: 2004 Report
Amnesty International takes a critical view of China's "war on terrorism" in a 2004 report on Uighur persecution. The report argues that China has embraced the rhetoric of terrorism as a way of repackaging its war against the separatists.

Eliminating the Uighurs: Cultural Genocide
Human rights concerns aren't limited to political expression in Xinjiang. Many Uighur activists charge the government with launching a systematic campaign to destroy Uighur culture by, among other policies, discouraging religious dress and banning the Uighur language from universities. On a Turkey-based Web site devoted to "solidarity" with "East Turkestan," Professor Timur Kocaoglu outlines why he thinks the government's campaign amounts to a policy of cultural genocide.

The Uyghur Human Rights Project
The Uyghur Human Rights Project (UHRP) is a Washington-based group, funded by the U.S. government, that bills itself as an impartial research organization. The UHRP site presents thorough summaries of various human rights issues, including religious persecution, the plight of refugees, lists of political prisoners, and economic and cultural assimilation.

International Taklamakan Human Rights Organization
The International Taklamakan Human Rights Organization, which refers to Xianjiang as "East Turkestan," runs several mailing lists. The site also maintains a newsletter in cooperation with people from Inner Mongolia, Manchuria and Tibet. Taklamakan is affiliated with the Washington-based Uighur American Association, which has been strongly critical of the Chinese government.

The Official National Minority Policy
The official policy of the People's Republic of China toward Uighurs and other national minorities is outlined in this white paper.

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A Dissident View

The Campaign to Free Rebiya Kadeer
Rebiya Kadeer is perhaps the best-known Uighur prisoner. The millionaire businesswoman was arrested in 1999 and sentenced in a secret trail on charges of "providing sensitive information to foreigners." Her eight-year sentence was recently reduced by one year, but Amnesty International continues to lobby for her release.

Congressional Human Rights Caucus
More on Rebiya Kadeer's case and human rights in China can be found on the Congressional Human Rights Caucus archives.

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Other Sources for Uighur News

Uighur American Association
The Uighur American Association is an active lobbying group whose office is next to the White House. The group runs the Uyghur Human Rights Project, and it received a small grant from the U.S. government-funded National Endowment for Democracy.

East Turkistan Information Center
The Germany-based East Turkistan Information Center (ETIC) is a clearinghouse for information about Uighur organizations around the world. The ETIC also publishes its own reports about Uighur human rights violations as well as a weekly newsletter, SPARK.

Uygur World
Uygur World provides comprehensive information on Uighur culture and history with a pro-independence bent. Check out the A-Z Uighur glossary.

Radio Free Asia in Uighur
Radio Free Asia, supported by the U.S. government, broadcasts to Xinjiang in the Uighur language. Listen to the broadcast as it's heard in Xinjiang.

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Reporting in China

According to the Committee to Protect Journalists, China imprisons more journalists than any other country in the world.

Clamping Down on The New York Times
In September 2004, a Beijing-based researcher for The New York Times was arrested on suspicion of "leaking state secrets." Zhao Yan was arrested just days after The New York Times broke the news that former president of China Jiang Zemin would be relinquishing his control over the military.

Booting the Editors
Two prominent editors of Chinese publications were yanked from their posts in December 2004, stoking fears that the government was looking to tighten its control of the media. The editors of China Youth Daily and Xin Zhou Bao had both distinguished themselves with hard-hitting stories exposing government corruption.

Committee to Protect Journalists
The Committee to Protect Journalists provides a list of journalists known to have been imprisoned or harassed in China in 2004.

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