Journal of Political Risk, Vol. 7, No. 3, March 2019
By Salih Hudayar
Few Americans have ever heard of “Xinjiang”. Even fewer have ever heard it called by its proper name (the name its oppressed inhabitants use): “East Turkistan”. This strategically-significant region, my ancestral Homeland, is home to an ethnically Turkic, Muslim population of people called the Uyghurs. On official maps, it borders eight countries, but most Uyghurs will count China and Tibet as separate, independent countries and tell you that it borders ten. And therein lies the issue.
The vast majority of Uyghurs, like the vast majority of Tibetans, don’t see themselves as part of China. They see China as an occupying force, and rightly so. Up until late 1949 — when the Chinese Communist Party invaded the region and overthrew our government — it was an independent Republic. Most Uyghurs feel no connection to Beijing. Imagine for a moment that the United States Army invaded the Canadian province of Alberta. Surely the residents of Alberta would feel no connection to Washington, D.C.
This feeling of being occupied by a foreign power has made the Uyghurs Enemy #1 of China’s Communist Party. Making matters worse, East Turkistan is a land rich in oil and other mineral wealth. East Turkistan is, perhaps, the most valuable jewel in Chairman Xi’s proverbial crown, especially since it lies at the crossroads of China’s plans for global domination.
You see, my Homeland, East Turkistan, is the cornerstone in China’s plans for exporting its cheap products to developing markets, like Pakistan and the Central Asian Republics, and because of this, the Chinese Communist Party has been ruthless in using all levers of state power to subjugate its native inhabitants. The UN Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination currently estimates that there are at least 1 million persons imprisoned in so-called “counter-extremism centers,” and another 2 million in so-called “re-education camps.” These euphemisms (invented by China’s global propaganda machine) are grossly inaccurate; in reality, these facilities are the dictionary definition of “concentration camps,” and given the lack of information coming out of East Turkistan, the real number of prisoners may be even higher than Western estimates. They are being subjected to brainwashing, beatings, torture, rape, starvation, involuntary medication, and even execution.
There is, at this moment, perhaps no region on Earth more relevant to America’s strategic interests than the oppressed, occupied region of East Turkistan. A free, independent, secular East Turkistan will stop China’s trade plan, the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI), almost dead in its tracks. And China knows this.
There are some in America’s foreign policy circles — and even in the East Turkistani diaspora itself — who believe that acquiescence and appeasement are the best options in defusing this incredibly dire hostage situation. These people are well-intentioned, but wrong. To safeguard and protect the human rights of East Turkistan’s people, it is vital that the Americans of all stripes work to support peaceful efforts towards re-establishing East Turkistan’s Independence. Americans can help us by urging the US government to acknowledge that we are a “captive nation” being Occupied by Communist China, to impose harsh sanctions on China’s Communist Party Officials, and to help us to amplify our message of nonviolent resistance to China’s Communist tyranny.
The plight of East Turkistanis is the plight faced by all oppressed people. The hope that we have for East Turkistan is the same hope that drove America’s founders. Please, in this, our hour of need, don’t let China extinguish the flame of Liberty that each East Turkistani fearfully holds secretly in the deepest part of his or her heart. China’s authoritarian Communist Party won’t last forever. Time has a way of bringing all tyrants to their knees, often sooner than most expect. With the prayers and support of the American people, East Turkistan will someday be free, and — if East Turkistan’s people survive — America will have no greater or more steadfast ally in Asia than East Turkistan.
Salih Hudayar is the founder and Political Affairs Officer of the East Turkistan National Awakening Movement (ETNAM), a nonviolent political and human rights organization based in Washington, D.C., which seeks to restore the independence of a secular, democratic, pluralistic East Turkistan, in order to restore the freedoms and human rights of all East Turkistanis.