China yesterday defended its policies on ethnic minorities, saying the violence in Xinjiang that killed nearly 200 people this month was triggered by separatists and not its treatment of Uighurs.
During a televised news conference, the vice minister of the State Ethnic Affairs Commission blamed an underground Uighur separatist movement and said China will never tolerate secession in its far western region.
“We know those behind the violence were ... seeking the independence of Xinjiang. To this, I can clearly tell them it will never happen,” Wu Shimin (吳仕民) said. “We can, however, continue to meet the reasonable demands to improve the lives of all ethnic groups in the Xinjiang region.”
Wu said China intends to continue the “success” of its current ethnic policies that focus on the economic development of the rugged Central Asian region — policies that Uighurs say have diluted or repressed their religion, language and culture in favor of the dominant Han ethnic group.
Tensions between the groups led to the country’s worst unrest in decades on July 5. The government says 197 people died and more than 1,700 were wounded.
Most of the dead were Han Chinese, though Uighurs say they believe many more of their community were killed in the ensuing government crackdown. Chinese officials this week said police killed 12 people during the rioting.
Liu Wanqing (劉萬慶), director of the supervision department of the State Ethnic Affairs Commission, said the violence was not due to religious or ethnic tensions.
“It should be said that people of all ethnic groups, including the Uighur people, were victims of the violent crimes. Therefore, we say that this was not an ethnic issue nor an issue of ethnic relations nor does it affect the national unity of our country,” he said.
China has repeatedly blamed outside agitators and the influence of the “three evil forces” — extremism, terrorism and separatism.
Specifically, it has blamed leading Uighur activist Rebiya Kadeer with instigating the protests that led to violence when police stepped in.
Kadeer, who lives in exile in Washington, has denied it.
On Monday, she urged the administration of US President Barack Obama to more strongly condemn what she called China’s continuing crackdown on Uighurs.
Kadeer told reporters that Beijing will determine that it can act with impunity unless governments speak out against China’s “international media blitz” aimed at demonizing her and the Uighurs.
Kadeer, speaking through an interpreter, said she hopes the US will not remain “silent and indifferent” to the Uighurs’ plight and warned of the executions of those detained following the riots.
Kadeer also called for an investigation into the violence and crackdown, saying China is still “hunting down” Uighurs.
The Chinese embassy in Washington released a statement during the violence that said Kadeer and her supporters were trying “to clear themselves of their evil acts, vilify the image of the Chinese government and mislead the American public.”
US State Department spokesman Ian Kelly said last week that the US wanted “China to handle the situation as they go forward in a transparent manner.”
“As they work to restore order, we believe that it’s important that they respect the legal rights of all Chinese citizens,” Kelly said.
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