Making sense of the unrest — Decoding tensions between Uighurs and the Chinese

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The Uighurs are a mostly Muslim Turkic ethnicity who regard themselves as culturally and ethnically close to Central Asian nations. The majority live in Xinjiang, where they number about 11 million people”, says BBC.

The Uighurs and the Chinese have a complex history. The region has seen rioting, protests and police crackdowns over the last few years. 

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China blames ETIM for the unrest caused in Xinjiang. According to the UN Security Council, “The Eastern Turkistan Islamic Movement (ETIM) is an organization which has used violence to further its aim of setting up an independent so-called “East Turkistan” within China. Since its establishment, ETIM has maintained close ties with the Taliban, Al-Qaida and the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan.”

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Making sense of the unrest -- Decoding tensions between Uighurs and the Chinese
Image Source – The Atlantic                                                                                                                First East Turkestan Republic’s flag being raised by Turkish citizens to condemn China

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Uighurs have had an autonomous Islamic republic — Islamic Republic of East Turkistan (IRET) for a brief moment in history. It was founded in 1933, but it dissolved after a year. Some believe a cultural difference, apart from separatist movements have been a cause of this unrest.

In 2014, Uighurs working as civil servants were banned from fasting in Ramadan by the Chinese authorities. Over the years, testimonials have been published by former inhabitants of the region and researchers claiming that the Chinese government is violent against this ethnic minority. 

Are Uighurs being ethnically cleansed by China?

Adrian Zenz, a German anthropologist reported that this ethnic minority’s growth rates in China have declined by 84% between 2015-18 in two of the largest Uighur prefectures.

On 3rd September, a female doctor revealed performing forceful birth contractive operations on Uighur women in an interview with ITV, a British television channel. 

Young women were fitted with contraceptive devices, pregnant women would have to have an abortion, then sterilization. We even inserted birth control implants into women’s upper arms to prevent pregnancy”, said the doctor.

Mehrigul Tursun, a Uighur woman who is currently in exile in the USA had a video call at an event that was co-hosted by Amnesty International and Meiji University. She spoke about her ill-treatment in the Uighur detention camp recalling how she was tortured. She confessed that she had witnessed the deaths of nine detained women. After her exile, doctors from the USA discovered that she had been sterilized– a result of having been given unknown medications and injections in the centre.

China has consistently denied mistreating the Uighurs

CCP claims that the centres are actually ‘re-educational and training’ centres for those who are religious extremists; it says that the centre provides vocational courses and a chance to reflect on the detainee’s wrongdoings so that terrorism in the region is effectively combated. 

How has the World responded?

Surprisingly, the western world has been more vocal than the majority of Muslim countries on the Uighur-Chinese conflict.

In June, President Trump signed legislation which called for sanctions against China because of its oppressive treatment of Uighurs.

The Chinese Foreign Ministry retaliated by releasing a statement saying, “We again urge the U.S. side to immediately correct its mistakes and stop using this Xinjiang-related law to harm China’s interests and interfere in China’s internal affairs.” 

130 British lawmakers have signed a letter to the Chinese ambassador condemning China for ethnically cleansing china. 

The Muslim countries have by-and-large not publically condemned China. Perhaps, this is due to the allegiance they have with the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) after signing the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI), an ambitious infrastructural project to boost economical growth across Asia.

China’s foreign relations with the Western world may be severally impacted in the coming months.   


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Vanshika Yadav
She is currently studying English Literature from the Hansraj College, University of Delhi. Read her other writings at

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