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China’s Uighur War
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Lt Gen Prakash Katoch | Date:08 Jan , 2014 3 Comments
Lt Gen Prakash Katoch
is Former Director General of Information Systems and A Special Forces Veteran, Indian Army.

Ethnic Uighurs look on as Chinese security forces stand by the entrance to the Uighurs neighborhood in Urumqi in China's Xinjiang autonomous region (Photo ©

If China considers Uighurs in Xinjiang as her Achilles heel, she created it herself with CCP’s lust for territory – greed that is on the rise and will in the long run lead China to self destruct if unchecked. Uighurs, predominant group of some 20 million populations of 13 ethnic groups of Xinjiang consider Chinese presence imperialist and seek independence. Uighurs have strong links with their counterparts in Central Asia. Xinjiang had declared independence in October 1933 creating the Islamic Republic of East Turkestan, followed by Chinese invasion next year. Xinjiang again declared independence, in 1944 as the East Turkistan Republic but in 1949, the Chinese Communist Party took over the territory and declared it a Chinese province. The fact remains that China colonized Xinjiang by force only in 1949, much in the same manner she colonized Tibet later – some 25-30,000 PLA troops overrunning some 4000 Tibetans trying to guard their lands.

Why China invaded and absorbed Xinjiang is because of the minerals and oil wealth of the region – much for the same reason she overran Tibet and Aksai China…

Uighurs abhor the Chinese presence in Xinjiang especially because of the routine CCP strategy of overwhelming them demographically by settling Han Chinese in this region in large numbers aimed at throttling the Uighur culture, customs and traditions of the locals and  recourse to strong arm measures wherever they see resistance. Yet, genocide historically has not deterred resistance – rather inflamed it. Many resistance groups continue to put up a fight for Xinjiang’s independence, most prominent one being the East Turkestan Islamic Movement (ETIM). Interestingly, a 600 strong special unit of ETIM is sheltered within Pakistan, China’s strongest ally and much like double crossing the US for decades, Pakistan’s military-ISI have convinced the Chinese they too are hunting the ETIM. Yet, no incidents of their capture, killing or handing over to the Chinese has been reported in the Pakistani or Chinese media – for Pakistan’s terror hatcheries are a veritable maze of deceit, deception and odium.

Why China invaded and absorbed Xinjiang is because of the minerals and oil wealth of the region – much for the same reason she overran Tibet and Aksai China, eyes East China Sea and South China Sea, is foraying into Ladakh and Northern Nepal, and grabbed the Shaksgam Valley, latter also for its fresh water reserves. The Chinese strategy of institutionalized overwhelming the Uighur population in Xinjiang is running on course with reports indicating that the Han Chinese population in Xinjiang has already risen to some 40 percent of the population. Projects like the Tarim Basin Project funded by World Bank, Tarim Desert Highway, rail link to Western Xinjiang, establishment of the Xinjiang Production and Construction Corps with its agricultural settlements plus a militia and police, and recent influx of shopping centres, malls, department stores and additional roads linking cities like Urumqi have all attracted Han Chinese settlers. In comparative terms, tilting the demographic balance in Xinjiang in favour of Han Chinese has been slower than Tibet since the procreation rate of Uighurs is faster than the Tibetans.

China annexed Tibet after Xinjiang but already some seven million Han Chinese have overwhelmed the six million Tibetan inhabitants. However, given the fact that Uighurs constitute only 45 percent of entire Xinjiang population and Han Chinese are already 40 percent and that further development of infrastructure will attract more Han Chinese to Xinjiang, it should be a matter of just few years before they equal and then overwhelm the Uighurs, also assisted by easing of China’s one child policy. Under garb of development, the CCP is providing multiple incentives to Han Chinese for migration to the Xinjiang region.

Uighurs have been rebelling against Chinese occupation since 1990s and every time the Chinese government has reacted with a heavy hand.

Western borders of China are well guarded and the migration of Han Chinese (both legal and illegal) into countries of Central Asian Region (CAR) under garb of trade and development projects has the added aim to subdue the strong links between Uighurs of Xinjiang and Uighurs of CAR. The resentment in Uighurs apart from the much wealthier Han migratory invaders includes disparities in hiring wages, reduced employment avenues, reduced access to natural resources like water, agricultural land and irrigation. Deliberate effort by the Chinese government to ignore economic disparities has naturally led to ethnic tensions between the Han Chinese and the Uighurs. But the CCP that bulldozes her own citizens homes in the heart of the Chinese mainland without recourse to alternatives and even ignores their suicides, doesn’t care. Recently, a dozen Chinese citizens consumed pesticide in Beijing to protest against the demolition of their homes, having travelled 1,070 kms from Wuhan in Hubei province after local authorities showed indifference to an earlier threat of mass suicide.

Ironically, they had been protesting since 2010 when local authorities razed their homes and gave little or no compensation in return. The incident highlighted the growing resentment across China over demolition of homes and forcible seizure of property belonging to ordinary people. Such barbaric actions by the CCP are commonplace in China and so why would they spare Uighurs whom they want to subjugate totally. Exiled Uighur leader Rebiyah Kadeer has been raising voices against Chinese attempts to refashion cultural identity and fierce repression of religious expression by the Uighurs.

Uighurs have been rebelling against Chinese occupation since 1990s and every time the Chinese government has reacted with a heavy hand. Thousands have been arrests over the years, many vanishing altogether. During 2009, 156 people were killed and some 800 injured in bloody clashes between Han Chinese and Uighurs in Xinjiang’s capital Urumqi itself as a reaction to killing of some Uighurs in Guangdong province of China. The Uighur rebellion has been gathering pace since the 1990s. China alleges that the ETIM has links with Al Qaeda (debated by many intelligence and security experts) but then China herself has had links with Taliban since past decade plus, the US has used Al Qaeda in Iraq and Syria, Pakistan’s ISI is linked with some 14 terrorist organizations including Al Qaeda-Haqqanis and Taliban, and China has armed the United State Wa Army (USWA) of Myanmar as her deadliest proxy. So what is the big deal when most terrorist organizations are interlinked – many anchored through Pakistan?

Uighur activist Rebiya Kadeer wrote in April 2008, “The world has watched in horror recently as Tibetan monks, nuns and laypeople engaged in peaceful demonstrations have been met with brutality by the Chinese People’s Armed Police…”

Since Xinjiang shares borders with Tibet and Mongolia aside from India, Afghanistan, Russia, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan, most dangerous for China would be coordinated response from Xinjiang, Tibet and Mongolia against Chinese aggression and repression, latter two also China’s Achilles heels. It may look farfetched today but certainly cannot be completely ruled out since dissent in these individual regions has come up primarily due to Chinese policies that are getting more and more belligerent by the day. Uighur activist Rebiya Kadeer wrote in April 2008, “The world has watched in horror recently as Tibetan monks, nuns and laypeople engaged in peaceful demonstrations have been met with brutality by the Chinese People’s Armed Police. Tibet’s descent into chaos and violence is heartbreaking. As has been made clear by His Holiness the Dalai Lama, who has dedicated his life to peacefully promoting the Tibetan people’s legitimate aspirations for cultural autonomy and survival, lasting peace and meaningful change must be achieved through nonviolent means.

In watching recent coverage of the demonstrations in Tibet and their bloody aftermath, I have been reminded of a turning point in my own life, the moment I decided I had no choice but to speak out against the Chinese government’s policy of cultural destruction and its human rights abuses. It was a decision that led to six years in a Chinese prison and then to exile in the US. Two of my sons are serving lengthy prison sentences in East Turkestan in retaliation for my human rights advocacy”.

Bhaskar Roy, China analyst wrote in July 2009, “The fire in Xinjiang may be doused, but some embers may quietly remain to start another and large fire. The heart of the Xinjiang uprising may not be localized in the sense of one single issue. Restiveness is all over the country, and the leaders know it. Their intense consternation is not without reasons”. Former ambassador P Sopdan also writing in July 2009 revealed more horrific details, saying, “In Xinjiang, the Chinese have implemented a series of tough policies including the forced transfer of teenage Uighur women to China’s Eastern cities like Tianjin, Jiangsu, Qingdao, Shandong, Zhejiang and others in the guise of providing employment opportunities. In 2006 alone there had been 240,000 cases of Uighur girls being forced to shift from the Kashgar Region. The plight of these girls is reportedly miserable and they are also not allowed to return freely to their hometowns. This policy, aggressively pursued to bridge the economic gap by the authorities has raised pent-up anxieties among the Uighurs as these girls are often used as slave labor and sex workers in Chinese cities. Cultural assimilation was another motive apart from the sinister design to obliterate the size of the Uighur population”.

…this threat itself or at least directional guidance and support most likely comes from within Pakistan’s radical core. It is for such reasons that China wants to establish PLA bases inside Pakistan…

Then are the possibilities of covert foreign assistance to individual movements akin to the Soviet Union backing the Uighur movement during 1940s. Russia and China have fought wars in the past and the dynamics of geopolitics can hardly rule out conflict in future with some analysts already predicting Russia and China headed in that direction, Shanghai Cooperation Organization notwithstanding. The Great Global Game is not going to be limited to sea. “Pressure on land can help the United States thwart China at Sea”, writes Robert D Kaplan in his book ‘The Revenge of Geography’. There is no reason the US actions in Asia Pacific will not be supplemented through covertly pressurizing China on land in this is the era of proxies, available on hire. Significantly, five Uighurs captured by US forces in Pakistan in 2001 were not handed over to China despite persistent demands by the latter to do so. Similarly, four Uighurs post release from Guantanamo Bay in 2009 were settled abroad despite persistent Chinese demands that US forces hand them over to China. Balance Uighurs prisoners at Guantanamo Bay are also not being handed over to China. Of course they would have simply been executed had they been handed over to China.

But Chinese analysts say the most potent threat to China is that of Islamic fundamentalism that defies all borders and is already emanating in the heart of China spearheaded by the ETIM. What they do not mention is that this threat itself or at least directional guidance and support most likely comes from within Pakistan’s radical core. It is for such reasons that China wants to establish PLA bases inside Pakistan and the proverbial camel head has already entered the tent through Gilgit-Baltistan. Since the 2009 bloody clashes in Xinjiang were preceded few months earlier by the wide spread rioting in Tibet, the sum total appears less because of religion but more an ethnic war by native inhabitants against the Han Chinese.

The New York Times of 7th July 2009 had reported that a group of several hundred Uighur women told visiting journalists that Chinese don’t respect lifestyle of Uighurs, are limiting religious practice, phasing out Uighur-language instruction in schools and reinforcing better economic opportunities for the Han, from businesspeople to migrant workers. Through CCP officials, it is the Han Chinese who are holding total power in Xinjiang and Tibet. Tibetans may be six million but Uighurs are over 10 million and China may yet have to pay the price of repression in future.

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Chinese Police in Xinjiang region shot dead eight Uighurs on 30th December 2013 when a knife and explosives wielding group attacked a police station though Dilxat Rexit, a Sweden-based spokesman for the World Uighur Congress, said he believed Uighurs had come to the police station to protest against poor treatment, and denied that they were armed. This incident came just two weeks after 16 Uighurs wrre killed in a clash between Chinese police and ethnic Uighurs near the city of Kashgar, in the same vicinity. It may be recalled that in October last year a Uighur family drove a car into Tiananmen Square and set themselves on fire and in mid-November 2013, 11 Uighurs were killed in Bachu county, also near Kashgar. And so the bloodbath continues.

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3 thoughts on “China’s Uighur War

  1. All Imperial empires ultimately decline, Decay & disintegrate.The Chinese empire has reached it Peak & in future will decline, decay,Implode & ultimately Disintegrate like the erstwhile Soviet Union.. To Counter the Chinese designs on India & rest of India’s neighbours,India should urgently Mordernise & upgrade her Armed Forces,Improve the Internal Security position,Urgently usher in Economic Reforms & improve her relations & start Defence co-operation with USA,Japan,Vietnam,South Korea & Australia & urgently improve relations with all our neighbours including Pakistan..A no-war pact with Pakistan will immediately free more than 5 Lac Troops of the Indian Army for Deployment along the Indo-China border..India needs 3 Mountain Strike Corps along the Indo-China Border-Following a no-war Pact with Pakistan,The Mathura based I strike corps & the Bhopal based Strike corps can be Converted/ upgraded to Mountain Strike Corps.All Mountain Strike corps should have at least a Brigade each of Mountain Sprcial forces & a Mountain Artillery brigade,

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