Exiled Uighur leader Rebiya Kadeer yesterday said her people face a fight for their very existence against Chinese repression, as a conference in Japan threatened to drive a wedge between Tokyo and Beijing.
In a move that looked likely to provoke China, Kadeer also visited Japan’s Yasukuni shrine, which commemorates those responsible for the brutal 20th-century invasions and occupations in the name of the Japanese emperor.
Ethnic Uighurs and their supporters from around the world gathered in the Japanese capital for a meeting aimed at pressing their claim for freedom from what Kadeer called China’s intensifying crackdown.
“Before, we were fighting for our rights, we were protesting against China’s oppression,” Kadeer said after opening the conference. “But now we face a fight for our existence.”
“The situation is now worse than it was in 2009,” when Uighurs demonstrated and clashed with the Chinese authorities, she said.
Many Uighurs complain that they are the victims of state-sanctioned persecution and marginalization in their homeland in northwest China, aided by the migration of millions of Han Chinese into the territory.
The resulting ethnic tensions have led to sporadic flashes of violence in the Xinjiang region, which is home to 9 million Uighurs.
Kadeer told the meeting that Beijing’s policy of “forcible assimilation” was unacceptable in a modern democracy.
“The Chinese government says it is assimilating and eventually eliminating the Uighur people and other indigenous people ... meanwhile China is becoming a global power,” she said at the opening of the congress.
“We are peacefully struggling and hope the Chinese government will stop the repressing of Uighur people ... and take political reforms to change their authoritarian rule,” she said.
Beijing says it has poured money into Xinjiang in a bid to raise living standards and boost the local economy.
Xinjiang authorities have also announced measures stipulating all businesses and projects hire more ethnic minority workers, but Uighurs say the rules are not always respected.
After the morning session Uighur representatives, including Kadeer, visited Yasukuni.