Lamenting China’s occupation of his homeland while recounting how Beijing has exploited his people and tried to destroy their culture, Japan Uyghur Association chairman Ilham Mahmut recounted how he become an activist for the independence of East Turkestan — now under Chinese rule as Xinjiang Uighur Autonomous Region — and urged Taiwanese to be cautious when dealing with China to avoid history repeating itself.
“When you try to deal with the Chinese, it is important to remember that the Chinese Communist Party [CCP] government could make hundreds or thousands of beautiful promises, but none of those will ever be realized,” Ilham told the Taipei Times in an interview on Thursday in Taipei.
“What is going on in East Turkestan or in Tibet are examples of what happens to a country when you trust China too much,” he said in response to a question about President Ma Ying-jeou’s (馬英九) proposed peace agreement with Beijing at some point within the next decade and his policies to establish closer relations with China.
Ilham was invited to Taiwan by the Taiwan Friends of Tibet to talk about the current situation in East Turkestan, and left for Japan on Thursday.
Although discussing the situation in his own country was the main purpose of the trip, Ilham said: “We [Uighurs] are already suffering under Chinese rule, so I feel obliged to remind Taiwanese about what could be ahead for them.”
Historically, the region was home to a handful of independent states, until it came under the control of the Qing Empire in the 18th century and was given the name “Xinjiang,” which literarily means “new territory.” After the fall of the Qing Empire in 1911, two short-lived East Turkestan republics were declared, first in 1933, and the second time in 1944, which lasted until the invasion of CCP troops in 1949.
“In 1949, the East Turkestan Republic was negotiating an agreement with the CCP, when seven of its top leaders were killed in a plane crash on the way to Beijing for further talks” Ilham said. “The Chinese reported the plane crash, but many people in East Turkestan still believe that could have been part of a CCP plot, as more than 150,000 troops invaded our country shortly thereafter,” he added.
Not long after Beijing took control of East Turkestan, its troops were renamed the “Xinjiang Production and Construction Corps [XPCC]” — a semi-military organization directly administered by the central government. This corps manages a handful of cities, establishes settlements and engages in agricultural and other economic activities, according to official information on the unit.
Official figures released by the corps indicate that the population of Xinjiang is currently more than 25 million, with nearly 90 percent being Han Chinese.
“The XPCC took over the best land in East Turkestan, mostly flat arable land,” Ilham said, holding up a map of the corps’ settlement locations and a map showing different terrain in Xinjiang.
“You can see that the XPCC also took over lands along mountain ranges, so that they could be in control of sources of fresh water,” Ilham said. “That enabled them to punish disobedient Uighur villages by cutting off the water supply.”
Citing research results by Japan’s Sapporo Medical University professor Jun Takada, and information from an investigative report aired by the BBC, Ilham accused China of conducting 46 nuclear tests — though China officially says it conducted only 45 tests — in Xinjiang from 1964 to 1996 without ensuring residents remained outside a 100km exclusion zone, “which, according to Takada’s research, caused 190,000 deaths, while impacting the health of more than 1 million people in the area.”