June 2, 2008
By Mike Krause
The international attention being focused on China’s thuggish military occupation of Tibet in the run up to the 2008 Olympics in Beijing is well-deserved, but it should be remembered that Tibetans are by no means the only group in western China living under the heel of the Beijing imperialists.
The Mongol people of Inner Mongolia and the Uighers (pronounced “wee-gurs”) of China’s Xinjiang region are also oppressed by Beijing. But unlike the Tibetans, they have neither a Dalai Lama nor sympathetic celebrities to present their problems on a world stage.
In 1949, the newly formed People’s Republic of China “peacefully liberated” by force the Uigher nation of East Turkestan, and the Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region was formed.
Like many Tibetans, many Uighers are seeking independence from their oppressors, but their efforts are under-reported. For instance, while world press attention focused recent Tibetan protests, few papers reported on a pro-independence demonstration by the Uighers. Similarly, most of the world failed to notice when expatriate Uighers held anti-China protests during an Olympic torch ceremony in Turkey in early April.
Like the Tibetans, the Uighers have a large diaspora, which has been forced to flee Chinese rule. Yet escaping China does not necessarily mean escaping China’s censorship power. The Associated Press reports: “In the late 1990s, the Chinese leadership exerted strong pressure on Turkey to silence and withdraw any government support for these advocates in an effort that was said to be largely successful.”
Speaking off the record, one American expert described China’s policy as “The only good Uigher is a dead Uigher.” Testifying before the U.S. House Committee on International Relations in 2001, Yemlibike Fatkulin, a Uigher asylum seeker, described Beijing’s population control tactics against ethnic Uighers including forced abortions, forced sterilization and heavy fines for “unauthorized” children.
Islam is the dominant Uigher religion. A 2005 Human Rights Watch report on Beijing’s religious repression of Uighers describes clerics being forced to listen to speeches by Communist Party and government officials. The reports notes the oppressive government regulations “pertaining to religious activities, Party doctrine, and positions on separatism.”
Inner Mongolia’s subjugation by Chinese communists began in 1947. While the Mongolians of Inner Mongolia are forced to live under rigid communist rule, the rest of Mongolia (sometimes called “Outer Mongolia”) is an independent nation that has moved from communist rule as a Soviet satellite to a sovereign parliamentary democracy.
During Mao Zedong’s genocidal “Cultural Revolution” in the 1960s and early 1970s, many thousands of Mongolians of Inner Mongolia were tortured, maimed and killed in a vicious campaign by Chinese communists against an alleged Inner Mongolia independence movement.
Today the Inner Mongolia People’s Party (so named in remembrance of the slaughter of the Cultural Revolution) actually exists as an organization of Mongolian expatriates based in New Jersey. Well outside the reach of Beijing, they affirm their goal of “establishing an independent state of Inner Mongolia.”
One of the historical affinities between Tibet and Mongolia has been Buddhism. Like Tibetans, the captive people of Inner Mongolia saw many of their temples destroyed during the Cultural Revolution. Today, as in Tibet, the practice of Buddhism in Inner Mongolia is strictly “regulated” by the state.
Due to a massive re-settlement campaign by Beijing, Han Chinese now make up nearly eighty percent of the population of Inner Mongolia. Chinese imperialism has made Mongolians a minority in their own land.
Westerners eager to appease China tend to dismiss the rights of the captive nations in the Chinese empire. In an April 26 interview with the Financial Times, International Olympic Committee president Jacques Rogge called on the west to be patient with China. Noting that the People’s Republic of China has only been around since 1949, Rogge compared contemporary China to past colonial powers such as Belgium, France and Portugal, “with all the abuse attached to colonial powers. It was only 40 years ago that we gave liberty to the colonies. Rogge admitted that China may not be a “role model” in the west, but “we owe China to give them time.”
Actually, if anyone is “owed” anything, it is the Tibetans, the Uighers and the Mongolians. They are all owed their inherent human right of self-determination. After more than half-century under the jackboot of the regime in Beijing, they have been patient long enough.
Mike Krause is a senior fellow at the Independence Institute in Golden and blogs about China at regimewatch.com. Originally appeared as a Denver Post guest commentary piece.