hina's Uighur Policy Draws Critics in Kazakhstan
This criticism could cloud Kazakhstan's relations with its powerful neighbor. First, it could further stall the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO), a regional body made up of Russia, China, Kazakhstan, Uzbekistan and Kyrgyzstan. This group has lost momentum as Central Asian members and Russia have sought bilateral deals with the United States. "Since the war in Afghanistan, the SCO has not played the role it intended to," Zhu Feng, director of Beijing University's international security program, told Reuters. Second, it could embolden Kazakhstan's rhetoric against China - and its ally, Pakistan - in regional security matters. On January 7, Kazakh Channel 31's newsreader accused the SCO of keeping "silent about China's repressing Uighurs" and claimed The Eastern Turkestan United National Revolutionary Front has "boosted its activities in Kazakhstan," under the leadership of Yusupbek Mukhlisov.
Accusations of police brutality by the Chinese fit a pattern in the war on terrorism. On January 16th, Human Rights Watch criticized governments including Russia, Uzbekistan and Egypt for cracking down on opposition groups under the rubric of antiterrorist solidarity. "In Xinjiang, political prisoners have been executed," says Mickey Spiegel, research consultant for Human Rights Watch. She said there are serious questions surrounding Chinese government charges of Uighur terrorist acts. In many cases there is no evidence that there have been acts of violence. She added that it is very difficult to get information about the names of prisoners, the charges brought against them and their legal fate.
While Uzbek policy has drawn similar accusations, Kazakhstan has not been the one making them. The outspoken criticism from Kazakhstani media may reflect an effort by that country to curry favor with the international community and provide some reassurances to the United States. In contrast, the Chinese official media has been outspoken on matters concerning the Uighurs. In a separate report, China published a list of bombings, shootings and riots in Xinjiang, claiming that "Uighur separatists have killed 40 people and injured 330 over the past ten years."
As China blurs the more radical and mainstream elements within the Uighur community, Kazakhstan will have a tough time deciding where to stand. "One man's freedom fighter is another's man's terrorist," says Martha Brill Olcott, Senior Associate at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace. While Olcott says a substantial number of Uighurs are strongly against the Chinese government, a very small percentage have joined the ranks of the foreign al Qaeda. Olcott and other Central Asian experts say China is using the global war on terrorism as an opportunity to strike at the Uighurs for their continued political resistance in Xinjiang.
But the East Turkestan Information Center has rebutted these claims more effectively than groups like Hizb-ut-Tahrir have dealt with crackdowns in Uzbekistan. Agence France-Presse quoted a statement from the group's Munich headquarters on January 8 that accused China of broad-based repression. "Since September 11, the Chinese government is not only using counter-terrorism to strike at Uighur people legally seeking political rights, but now views traditional ethnic lifestyles as a major element of instability." The group pointed to new surveillance regulations in China's Yili prefecture of Uighur Muslim religious and folk customs.
Olcott says this conflict between the Uighurs and the Chinese government has been going on for well over a decade, and will continue well after the war in Afghanistan is over. She says the Uighurs will resist China's authority, and China will target the Uighurs with harsh rhetoric. In this, the pattern is similar to Uzbek President Islam Karimov's struggle with the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan - a group that US President Bush singled out for its ties to al Qaeda. According to a January 8 report on Chinadaily.com, Chinese Foreign Minister Tang Jiaxuan seemed to invoke similar solidarity by declaring that "all [SCO] members are supportive of China's position concerning East Turkestan terrorists, and of Russia's stance on Chechen terrorists, and regard these efforts, as part and parcel of the international fight against terrorism."
But at the same time, China may be making steps to assure Kazakhstan that its Uighur policy will not cause ferment on the Kazakhstani side. China's envoy to Kazakhstan, Yao Pengshen, met with Uighur activists on January 24 to discuss "cultural ties" between the two nations. Meanwhile, many international organizations are expected to disclose critical reports about China's Uighur policy in the coming months.
Mark Berniker is a freelance journalist
specializing in Russian, Eastern European and Central Asian