Uyghurs 'face fight for existence' against China: activist
By Kyoko Hasegawa ,AFP
May 15, 2012, 12:13 am TWN
TOKYO --Exiled Uyghur leader Rebiya Kadeer said Monday 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.
And in a move that looked likely to provoke China, Kadeer also visited Japan's controversial Yasukuni shrine, which commemorates those responsible for the brutal 20th century invasions and occupations in the name of the emperor.
Ethnic Uyghurs 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 told reporters after opening the conference. "But now we face a fight for our existence."
"The situation is now worse than it was in 2009," when Uyghurs demonstrated and clashed with the Chinese authorities, she said.
Many Uyghurs 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 nine million Uyghurs.
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 Uyghur 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 Uyghur 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 Uyghurs say the rules are not always respected.
After the morning session Uyghur representatives, including Kadeer, visited Yasukuni.
The shrine is a hotspot in Japan's relations with its Asian neighbors because it is dedicated to 2.5 million Japanese killed in wars — including top World War II criminals — and is often seen as a symbol of the country's wartime aggression.
The visit highlights the strange bedfellows that issues such as Uyghur separatism can often create: Japanese nationalists and wartime apologists are apt to make common cause with those who are a thorn in Beijing's side.