In Canada, China, North America, Xinjiang

Photo Credit: (South China Morning Post/Google Images)

The single-minded obsession of the declining West with the ‘Uyghur’ concept in its ongoing and looping anti-China propaganda flows from a gross oversimplification and is highly misleading.

By Jooneed Khan and William Ging Wee Dere

Published on The Canada Files, Oct 28, 2020

The single-minded obsession of the declining West with the ‘Uyghur’ concept in its ongoing and looping anti-China propaganda flows from a gross oversimplification and is highly misleading.

Background history and the West’s obsession with Xinjiang

The Islamized and ‘Turkic’ Uyghurs comprise about 48.2% of the 24.9-million total population of the Xinjiang Uygur Autonomous Region (XUAR), an area as large as Quebec, situated in North-West China. Ethnic Chinese Han make up 40% of the population, the rest consisting of Kazakh, Hui and other Central Asian minorities, most of whom are Muslims too.

The XUAR is one of five Autonomous Regions of the People’s Republic of China (PRC). The other four are the Zhuang Autonomous Region, the Inner Mongolia Autonomous Region, the Tibet Autonomous Region, and the Ningxia Hui Autonomous Region.

Tibet (TAR) has long been picked by the US/NATO Empire as a choice ‘pressure point’ against China. In the 18th and 19th century, the British, then ruling India, favoured Tibet at the expense of China and to India’s advantage. The Nobel Prize conferred in 1989 on the Dalai Lama, along with sundry honorary doctorates from Western universities, are no fluke.

The Dalai Lama and his ‘Shadow Tibetan Government’ are established in Dharamsala, India, since his self-exile in March 1959. The same India, turned pro-US against China, is now under the fascist Hindu extremist rule of the BJP, a regime that routinely persecutes non-Hindu minorities and turns a blind eye to bloody pogroms against Dalit Buddhists (and Muslims and Christians too)–with the complicit silence of the West, including Canada, and of the Dalai Lama himself.

The Uyghur-peopled XUAR was picked as a supplementary, and more decisive, ‘pressure point’ against the PRC in the 1980s after US National Security Adviser Zbigniew Brzezinski successfully weaponized ‘Jihadism’, or ‘militant Islam’, to trigger a Soviet intervention in Afghanistan and fight this Soviet occupation via the Mujahideen. The Uyghur card is more ‘decisive’ for imperialists to play against China than the Tibetan card because young Muslims are more easily radicalized and weaponized than young Buddhists.

Brzezinski’s strategy was backed by the whole US/NATO Empire, including settler colonialist Canada, genocider of Aboriginal Nations, and also Turkey, whose 21st century leader, Islamist Recep Tayyip Erdogan, dreams of reconstituting the defunct Ottoman Empire all the way through Central Asia to China’s Xinjiang, which he calls ‘East Turkestan’.

But Uyghurs are not Turks. Turks in fact have their own origins among Mongols and Central Asians who migrated westward at the expense of the declining Byzantine Empire in the 12th century: Osman I set up the First Ottoman Principality in Anatolia and founded the Ottoman dynasty, which went on to conquer Constantinople in 1453, and expanded into the Ottoman Empire.

The Uyghurs are indigenous to the Xinjiang region, between the Dzungar Basin in the north and the Tarim Basin (and Taklamakan Desert) in the south, with the Shan Mountains as a separation wall between the two basins. The region was a key transit route on the old Silk Roads between China and the West. And it remains so now.

The 15 million or so Uyghurs are mostly in China, 12 million in the XUAR, 2.5 million in the rest of China, and about 2.5-million spread over Central Asia. They started getting Islamized around the 10th century, mainly under Persian (not Turkish) influence across Central Asia, centuries before Osman I founded his Turkish principality. Islamization stopped around the 16th century, again before the Ottoman Empire became all-powerful in the Balkans, in the Arab world and in North Africa.

As a matter of fact, the Hui people are predominantly Muslim too, and they are more than 20 million across China. They constitute one of the 56 ethnic nationalities recognized under PRC law, one of them being the Chinese Han who represent more than 91% of the population of 1.3-billion.

But who has heard of the Hui people? Imperialist propaganda never talks about the Hui. The reason is that the Hui people are strictly Chinese-speaking, and only their religion, Islam, the headgear of the older generation, and their cuisine, distinguish them from the Han majority. Not a good anti-China card to play. Better stick to the Uyghurs – who have their own official language in the XUAR, and whose nationalism has been whipped into rebellious separatism by Western powers, including Imperial Russia and Soviet Russia, in the century before the triumph of the Chinese Revolution in 1949.

A whole century before Sykes-Picot carved up Ottoman West Asia between the UK and France, Western imperialists marauded and bullied a divided, feudal and weak China through the Opium Wars and claimed ‘spheres of influence’ that cut their maps of China up into a dozen separate states.

Xinjiang fell under the rule of the Qing Dynasty, established in 1636 and ruling till the Republic was proclaimed by Sun Yat Sen in 1912. In 1931-1934, while the Japanese were occupying and bleeding Manchuria, a rebellion in Xinjiang in 1933 established a ‘Republic of Turkestan’. It was quashed the following year with support from the USSR.

In 1944, with USSR support this time, a second ‘Republic of Turkestan’ was set up, but it was absorbed by the PRC in 1949. With the Moscow-Beijing rivalry very much alive during the Cold War, the USSR continued to favour Uyghur nationalism – until Russia, emerging from the fall of the USSR in the 1990s, found itself threatened in Chechnya, Dagestan, Moscow and the rest of Russia too, by ‘Islamist’ terrorism, a US/NATO empire carry-over from its anti-Soviet war in Afghanistan that used weaponized Afghan Mujahideen and other ‘Islamist Jihadists’.

East Turkestan Independence Movement and Uyghur terrorist alliance with ISIS and Al Qaeda

In China, terrorist bombings started in 1992 in Urumqi, capital of Xinjiang, followed by the Urumqi bus bombings in 1997, the 2010 Aksu bombing, the 2011 Hotan and Kashgar attacks, and the 2014 Urumqi and Kunming attacks. Islamist Uyghur, and Pan-Turkish organizations claimed responsibility for these attacks, which killed and injured scores of people.

In 2009 ethnic violence broke out from July 25th to 27th in a Shaoguan toy factory in Guandong, Southern China. The violence was triggered by a rumour, which turned out to be false, that Uyghur workers had raped a Han woman co-worker. Two Uyghurs were killed, and as many as 118 Chinese and Uyghur people were injured.

The violence triggered the anti-Chinese Urumqi riots on July 6th of the same year, involving hundreds of Uyghurs and lasting several days. The Uyghurs attacked both Hans and the police. PRC officials said a total of 197 people died, most of them Hans, with 1,721 injured and many vehicles and buildings destroyed. Many Uyghurs were arrested in the aftermath.

This surge of terrorism and violence, involving Uyghur agents of ‘East Turkestan’ militancy abroad, in Turkey, in Germany and in the US, had the effect of pushing Russia closer to China, with Russia banning the Turkey-based Islamic Party of Turkestan as a terrorist organisation. The IPT remains banned by the UN, the EU and the US too. The surge also pushed China into launching a nation-wide anti-terrorism, anti-separatism and anti-extremism crack-down campaign  which aims at thwarting the US/NATO Empire’s offensive to destabilize the PRC.

Uyghur separatism against the PRC is driven by the World Uyghur Congress (WUC), based in Munich, Germany, funded mainly by the US National Endowment for Democracy (NED), a neo-CIA group which brings together various exiled Uyghur groups that aspire to “represent the collective interest of the Uyghur people” both inside and outside of the Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region (which they call East Turkestan).

The WUC was formed in April 2004 at a meeting in Munich, Germany, as a coalition of various exiled Uyghur groups including the World Uyghur Youth Congress (WUYC) and East Turkestan National Congress (ETNC). Erkin Alptekin served as the first president, and Dolkun Isa, General Secretary since 2004, is its current President. Rebiya Kadeer was elected WUC President in 2006, as well as President of the Uyghur American Association (UAA), a group also funded by the NED. The UAA has been very active in helping Uyghur ‘Jihadis’ captured in Afghanistan and Pakistan with other Al Qaeda terrorists and suspects, and imprisoned at Guantanamo. Uyghur ‘JIhadis’ keep popping up with ISIS and Al Qaeda terrorists in Syria and other killing fields where the US/NATO empire has a war of aggression or of regime-change going, with Israeli and Saudi involvement.

Rebiya Kadeer comes from a poor Uyghur family that worked with the USSR and befriended White Russian exiles in Xinjiang under the 2nd ‘East Turkestan Republic’ from 1944 to 1946. She became a very successful businesswoman and millionaire in the 1980s and 1990s, and also a Chinese Communist Party member often delegated to the People’s National Congress. In 1981, she married her second husband, Professor Sidik Haji Rouzi, who had been divorced by his first wife because of his Uyghur activism.  Rebiya Kadeer became more of an activist too. In 1996, Rouzi left for the US where he worked as broadcaster for the Voice of America and Radio Free Asia. Kadeer was jailed in 2000 on a charge of passing secret documents to her husband, but was released in 2005 and handed over to the US – at a time when China was in full sync with George W. Bush’s proclaimed ‘War on Terror’.

The WUC describes itself as a ‘nonviolent and peaceful movement’ that opposes ‘Chinese occupation of East Turkestan’ and advocates rejection of ‘totalitarianism, religious intolerance and terrorism as an instrument of policy’. But its attitude to Uyghur terrorists operating alongside or with ISIS and Al Qaeda in US wars of aggression in Afghanistan, Syria and other countries is one of support, not denunciation.

Uyghur Detention Camps

To start, let’s talk about the numbers. Where did the number 1 to 3 million Uyghurs detained by the Chinese government come from? Nobody really knows, as sources went around in a circle. The Western media said it came from the World Uyghur Congress. However, the Chairman of the WUC, Omer Kanat, when the same question in a video interview by Max Blementhal, hesitatingly said, “Er, um, it was given to us by the Western media.”

The state-owned CBC repeated the pack journalism on Xinjiang by quoting Adrian Zenz, a German fundamentalist Christian zealot who opposes gay rights and gender equality, working out of Washington with the Victims of Communism Memorial Foundation and alongside the US government-financed Network of Chinese Human Rights Defenders (CHRD). Zenz has become a Western media celebrity on Xinjiang. He has been featured on the right and the left media, Wall Street Journal, Democracy Now!, the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists and the CBC, as the go-to expert on the Uyghurs.

Getting back to the one million number. It actually originated with the CHRD, presumably based on some “research” by Zenz, who has never set foot in Xinjiang. This number was fed to the UN Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination in a 2018 report by the CHRD. That report was based on interviews with eight Uyghurs and then extrapolated from their village population of people who have been sent for re-education, that 1 million people in Xinjiang are detained in “re-education camps” and 2 million are forced to attend day or evening “re-education sessions.” There has been no independent verification by the West before the 1 million number became the word of God, let alone the 2 million figure. Then, Gay McDougall, American vice-chairperson of the UN Committee, ran with the CHRD report and introduced the 1 million figure into the 2018 report of the UN Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination as a question of concern.

In October 2018, China finally admitted that there were de-radicalization education camps in Xinjiang. Their rationale was to better integrate the Uyghurs into the workforce, as a way to de-radicalize and to fight extremism and terrorism. Seizing on this, Zenz then said, “It is possible that there are 3 million” Uyghurs locked in detention and re-education camps. There are 12 million Uyghur men, women and children in Xinjiang. Zenz’s credibility lays bare when he claims 25% of the population, including children and elderly, have been locked up. [CK1] The CBC also featured its own Xinjiang pundit, Olsi Jazexhi, who was dismissed from his university in Albania. In late 2019, China said the re-education camps are closed after achieving their purpose of training people for the job market.

Genocide and Forced Sterilization of Uyghur Women

Moving on, in July 2020, headlines splashed across the Western media, including the CBC: “Potential Genocidal Sterilization Plans in Xinjiang.” The source of this (mis)information is again Adrian Zenz, who apparently obtained some “secret Chinese government documents” with plans to sterilize Uyghur women. China’s 35-year one-child policy, which ended in 2015, applied mainly to the Han majority. Ethnic minorities did not have to adhere to this policy. [CK2] The Uyghur women were having two, three or more children. In 2000, there were 8.3 million Uyghurs or 45% of the population in Xinjiang. According to 2018 figures, there are 12 million Uyghurs, 48.2% of the population in Xinjiang.

The Uyghurs have more than doubled in the last 40 years (from 5.96 million in 1982). Reports show that the population of ethnic minorities in China has in fact been increasing as a percentage of the total population. Economically, Xinjiang’s GDP has grown 10 times larger over the last 20 years, which required a corresponding increase in the local population. Xinjiang was an important gateway for the ancient Silk Road and today it serves the same purpose for the new Belt and Road Initiative as more than 1,000 freight trains go through the region every month to Europe.

Cultural Genocide and Suppression of Islamic Religion

There are over 24,000 mosques in Xinjiang, a mosque for every 530 Muslim in Xinjiang-more than in most Muslim countries, and over 39,000 throughout China. The Western media, quoting the Zenz-like source, Australian Strategic Policy Institute, featured the destruction of old unsafe mosques to indicate the suppression of the Islamic religion. Islam was introduced into China 1300 years ago. Now there are up to 80 million people practicing the religion in the country. The majority are the Hui people, distributed across China, including Xinjiang. The irony is that while there is Islamophobia in the West, and total wars of aggression on Palestinians, Syrians, Yemenis, the West comes to the defense of the supposedly oppressed Muslims in China. Another irony is that progressives are skeptical of US intelligence, but when it comes to false reports on China, they eat it up.

Canada and the anti-China campaign on Xinjiang

On July 20, 2020, the dynamic duo of Olsi Jazexhi and Adrian Zenz were invited to testify in Canada’s House of Commons at a hearing of the Subcommittee on International Human Rights of the Standing Committee on Foreign Affairs and International Development. Zenz repeated the same fabrications that he gave elsewhere. This time he told Canadian Parliamentarians that “1.8 million Uighurs and other ethnic minority groups in the northwestern Chinese region of Xinjiang have been swept up in probably the largest incarceration of an ethno-religious minority since the Holocaust.” The Canadian politicians lapped it up. Following the hearings, Canada was urged to apply sanctions on China under the Magnitsky Act, similar to what the US Department of the Treasury has done. When asked if Canada will impose sanctions on China, Canadian Foreign Affairs Minister François-Philippe Champagne replied “Yes, we are considering all the options when it comes to standing up for human rights.”

The East Turkistan Islamic Movement (ETIM) was declared a terrorist organization by the US, the European Union and the UN Security Council Al-Qaeda Sanctions Committee. It, along with the Turkistan. Islamic Party, have recruited tens of thousands of Uyghurs to fight alongside Al-Qaeda in Syria. Many of these fighters return to Xinjiang to carry out the terror attacks in the region and elsewhere in China. The Canadian government has not condemned the acts of terrorism committed by these Uyghur separatists.

On October 22, 2020, the Commons Subcommittee released a report denouncing China for “genocide” against the Uyghurs and for Canada to apply the Magnitsky sanctions.

The Commons subcommittee also concluded that Chinese officials have forcibly sterilized Uyghur women and girls and pushed abortions and intrauterine contraceptive devices (IUDs) on hundreds of thousands in a systematic attempt “to persecute and possibly eradicate Uighurs .”

The subcommittee repeated Zenz’s (mis)information that while the Turkic-speaking Uyghurs are just a small ethnic subset, Chinese government documents obtained by the committee show that approximately “80 per cent” of all new IUD placements in China took place in Xinjiang.

Since the Commons subcommittee used fallacious data based on specious testimony to justify its position, a little bit of time is needed to refute the fabrications. Quoting at length from Liu Xin’s report in the Global Times investigation, July 3, 2020:

Using the same source, Annual Health and Hygiene Statistical Yearbook of China (this yearbook is not a government secret), “Zenz claimed in 2014 that 2.5 percent of newly placed IUDs in China were fitted in Xinjiang, and the number rose to 80 percent in 2018.” The Global Times found from the yearbooks on health and hygiene in 2014 and 2019 that in 2014, “the number of IUDs used in Xinjiang was 2,805,038, accounting for 2.1 percent of the total number in China (129,974,784). In 2018, the number of placements of IUDs in Xinjiang was 328,475, accounting for 8.7 percent of the total number nationwide, 3,774,318. Various birth control measures are widely used in other places in China, while IUDs are preferred in Xinjiang, which explains the higher ratio. The 80% cited in Zenz’s report cannot be arrived at by any calculation, except by misplacing the decimal point.”

In its report condemning China the Commons subcommittee cited Zenz’s figures. Through this process, Canada is complicit in whitewashing terrorism in Xinjiang. The US routinely bombs Uyghur jihadists in Syria and Afghanistan and had captured some Uyghurs and sent them to Guantanamo as “terrorist combatants.” When the jihadists return to Xinjiang, they are hailed by the West as “freedom fighters.”

Canada’s foreign policy on Xinjiang places itself at odds with the majority countries of the world. The Commons subcommittee chose to ignore the international community where in 2019, the fifty-seven-member Organisation of Islamic Cooperation voiced its support for China’s policies in Xinjiang. In July 2020, 27 mainly NATO countries, including Canada, with Australia and Japan, criticized China’s actions, “targeting Uyghurs and other minorities.” At the same time, 50 countries [CK8] expressed to the UN Human Rights Council that they support China’s handling of Muslims and other minorities. The statement read in part that they appreciate China’s efforts, “to safeguard the human rights of all ethnic groups in Xinjiang.”

More recently, 57 UN members supported China’s new National Law, with only 24 NATO and allied countries proposing to condemn it. At the UN General Assembly in October last year, 54 countries issued a joint statement approving of China’s “counter-terrorism” program in Xinjiang. Signatories included Russia, Egypt, Bolivia and Serbia.

The joint statement welcomed the results of counter-terrorism and de-radicalization measures in Xinjiang and noted that these measures have effectively safeguarded the basic human rights of people of all ethnic groups. The Group of 54 also called on the then 23 NATO and allied countries who were critical to ‘stop politicizing the human rights issue” and making “baseless accusations against China.”

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“The Canada Files is a socialist, anti-imperialist investigative news site covering Canadian foreign policy. Please consider setting up a monthly donation through Donorbox.”


Jooneed J Khan is a journalist, writer and human rights activist. Born in Mauritius, he was for 35 years a reporter and analyst on international affairs for the Montreal daily La Presse. He co-founded the Mauritian Militant Movement (MMM) in Mauritius, was often fired from his teaching jobs and did some jail time there. He also reported from some 60 countries. He is now retired but more active than ever, and a grandfather.

William Ging Wee Dere is the author of the award-winning “Being Chinese in Canada, The Struggle for Identity, Redress and Belonging.” (Douglas & McIntyre, 2019). He was a political organizer and a leading activist in the 2-decade movement for redress of the Chinese Head Tax and Exclusion Act.


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