Aristotle once said, “Big cities are difficult to govern because crowds are never easy to manage,” but Chinese history is full of philosophers who have developed ideas about how to govern a country by respecting every individual.
Amnesty International’s latest report on China is full of negative remarks. For example, Beijing is currently trying a number of people and will probably condemn them to death for allegedly participating in demonstrations in the Xinjiang region, populated by Uyghurs, a Turkic-speaking Muslim people. China says they are terrorists and counters that Western countries also have harsh regulations against terrorism. The problem is whether these people can really be qualified as terrorists, and even if they were, whether the death penalty the best solution.
There was a serious uprising in the Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region in 2009, and the Chinese government suppressed it in a very bloody manner. In Urumqi alone, the region’s capital, 200 people were killed. The government has decided to invest huge amounts of money in the region, hoping that this will make local people more docile towards Beijing, and China has proudly announced these investments as proof that there is no discrimination in China. The Chinese authorities have also developed the habit of explaining the riots through foreign conspiracies that intend to divide and weaken their country.
However, people in the region believe that Beijing has a discriminatory policy towards them, as they constitute an ethnic and religious minority. Amnesty International claims that the repression has grown stronger with every passing day since the 2009 uprisings. The assimilation policy practiced against ordinary people is flagrant.
The Xinjiang region is strategically important as it is situated in the western part of China and is very rich in natural resources. It is a gateway to Afghanistan, Pakistan and Central Asian countries. During the last couple of years, China has looked for ways to reshape its relations with India and has tried to establish cooperation with Russia against Muslim minorities. That’s why it is not surprising that India and Russia are not particularly disturbed by China’s repressive policy towards its Muslims.
Moreover, in regards to Turkic-speaking and Muslim people, there is a blatant lack of interest in the Western world concerning their human rights. Xinjiang is very far away from the US and Europe, and they don’t seem much concerned by the difficulties experienced by the Uyghurs. China’s violations of human rights give everybody occasion to notice similar practices in China’s neighbors as well as the double standards of Western democratic countries on these issues.
China has a feeling of impunity when it violates basic human rights. It appears that many countries are, if truth be told, happy with China’s authoritarian regime as they fear that an eventual disintegration of China poses an incalculable risk to the international system. We all remember what happened when the Soviet Union was dismantled: The international system’s very structure changed. Then, during the 1990s, the Western world helped Moscow prevent the disintegration of the Russian Federation. Even to contemplate a possible collapse of China is a nightmare for most Western decision-makers.
However, if China keeps acting as it has acted until now, and if the repression continues in the Xinjiang region, the situation may get worse. Turkey is particularly experienced in this matter. Ankara once thought that the Kurdish issue could be resolved by denying its existence. Everyone knows what happened later.