On September 22nd in Kaohsiung, Taiwan, amid much controversy and disapproval from the Chinese government, city officials decided to air Australian Jeff Daniels' biopic documentary film, The Ten Conditions of Love. Centered around Uyghur activist Rebiya Kadeer, the film explores what Uyghur activists contend is persecution of the Uyghur minority under the hand of the Chinese government. The film has already debuted at the Melbourne Film Festival in Australia, where it has also caused tension between the Chinese and Australian government.
For years many Uyghurs, including Rebiya Kadeer, have been demanding a free Uyghur state of East Turkestan. Uyghurs are a Muslim Turkic ethnic group, distinct from the the majority Chinese population of Hans. The PRC has been unwilling to discuss the possibility of an independent Uyghur state, and considers Kadeer to be “a separatist and a criminal.” The Chinese government is adamant that the 'Uyghur issue' is a domestic, internal one, and not the business of the rest of the world.
This 'Uyghur issue' includes forced abortions and sterilizations, as well as forcibly transferring young Uyghur women to work in factories in other parts of China. These women, once moved outside of the XUAR region and away from the majority of Uyghurs, will be much less likely to have children with another Uyghur and much more likely to have children with a Han Chinese – thereby further diluting the Uyghur line, genetically and culturally. And in order to assimilate the Uyghurs that are already there, the PRC severely restricts the Uyghurs' ability to freely practice Islam or have any schooling in the Uyghur language.
At the same time, Chinese policy incentivizes Han Chinese to relocate to XUAR, strategically encouraging the already-growing Han majority. According to Uyghur activists, this is part of an on-going, multi-pronged strategy to curb any further growth of the Uyghur population in the XUAR region. And it is working. Whereas in 1949 the XUAR region was 6% Han and 80% Uyghur, it is today 40% Han and 47% Uyghur.
So what do you think? Does the international community have the right/responsibility to help the Uyghur people? Or does the Chinese government make a valid point, and would intervention be another instance of the West imposing its values and agenda on a non-Western society? When is it humanitarian involvement, and when is it a violation of a sovereign nation's affairs? No easy answers, that's for sure.
Nithi Zaveri is a volunteer for the Global Fund for Women.