The US' decision to release five Uighurs -- originally from China's Xinjiang Province -- who were being held in Guantanamo Bay and fly them to Albania for resettlement instead of back to China must be congratulated.
The Bush administration has come in for a lot of deserved criticism for its treatment of so-called "enemy combatants" and the way they have been held indefinitely and without charge in places like Cuba is odious. This, combined with incidents of mistreatment at Abu Ghraib in Iraq, the State Department's redefinition of torture and the secretive rendition flights, have rightly given the US and its "war on terror" a bad name.
However, the way that the US has dealt with the release of the five Uighurs illustrates the difference between a representative democracy with administrative checks and balances and a one-party dictatorship that answers to no one.
The Washington Post has reported that most of the Uighurs held in Guantanamo Bay -- there were about 25 -- had fled persecution in China by escaping to one of the many countries bordering Xinjiang and were taken prisoner either in Pakistan and Afghanistan solely because they were Muslims, foreigners and therefore classed as "insurgents."
The Post also detailed how at least five of them simply happened to be in the wrong place at the wrong time, and were picked up by Pakistani bounty hunters who sold them to US forces.
That these men had remained captive in Guantanamo for more than two years after being cleared of any charges is shocking, but not so surprising when you consider that this was because the US has been actively seeking safe havens for them instead of sending them back to China. They have been rejected by 25 countries so far. In doing so the US has probably saved their lives and has also proved that it still has some semblance of respect for basic human rights.
The reason given by the US for its decision on these five Uighur men was that it believed they would have been "persecuted" upon their return to China. Beijing may be a signatory to the UN's human-rights treaties and conventions, but its record on human-rights transgressions is well documented.
The communist leadership has used the US-led "war on terror" to crack down on Xinjiang separatists under the pretense that any Muslim who advocates a separate identity for Xinjiang must be a terrorist. The term al-Qaeda that is conveniently applied to all Muslim people struggling for a cause these days has also provided Beijing with a "blank check" in its fight against these people.
Aside from Xinjiang, Beijing has also ruled Tibet with an iron fist since its invasion in 1949, and has systematically tortured Tibetan monks, nuns and civilians for their refusal to denounce the Dalai Lama.
And more recently, Beijing has been in the news for allegedly harvesting organs from Falun Gong practitioners.
Anybody who held any illusions about China's human-rights record must be left in no doubt after this most recent episode.
It proves that anyone who opposes the policies and aims of the Chinese government is likely to meet with an unsavory end.
It also makes one wonder what would be in store for Taiwanese independence activists were Taiwan ever to be "unified" with China.