Don’t ask “What should China do about the Uyghurs?” The ultimate question is: “What should the Uyghurs do about China?”
The root cause of the unrest goes beyond the economy, stupid. The economic gap and the discrimination and the cultural assimilation are merely symptoms of the fundamental evil that is China’s illegal occupation of the Uyghurs’ homeland.
Freedom struggles - or secessionist movements, depending on how you see it - are not popular these days since the decolonization wave is considered a thing of the past. But one should remember that colonizers don’t always come in the color white. The Chinese government is the most ruthless colonizing, terrorist state in today’s world.
Half a century ago, the population of Xinjiang (or East Turkestan) was 6% Chinese; today it’s at least 40% Chinese. Population transfer of Chinese settlers into Xinjiang is only one of the many policies aimed at systematically reducing the Uyghurs into a disenfranchised, impoverished minority in their own homeland. Given the violent crackdown against any sign of dissent, the choices that any Uyghur has to make are limited: silence, prison, or exile.
But to answer the question I asked at the outset, “What should the Uyghurs do?” The Uyghurs should unite in nonviolent activism with other peoples like the Tibetans, who’re also oppressed by the Chinese government. The power of strategic nonviolent action is yet to be explored fully by both Uyghurs and Tibetans in our fight for freedom.
China in its current incarnation is not going to last. To believe that this Chinese empire would last is to forget the lesson of history: no empire has ever lasted no matter how strong. The Mongol empire stopped at the gates of Vienna. The British raj, whose democratic institutions and political foundations were far stronger than that of the Chinese government, finally saw the sun set on its empire. It is absolute madness to think that the Chinese empire will last forever.
However, simply because the Chinese empire will crumble doesn’t mean the Uyghurs and Tibetans will gain our freedom automatically. While we work to speed up the end of the Chinese empire, we will also have to work even harder to secure the freedom of our people and control of our own homelands through strategic nonviolent action.
The Chinese raj can handle riots. But it cannot handle the power of Uyghurs and Tibetans (and the Chinese democracy activists) united in civil disobedience and civil resistance.
Posted by Gen Sherap on NYTimes Room for Debate