[A Chinese Uyghur concentration camp in Xinjiang]
Narendra Modi practices realpolitik at home but gets cold feet and displays a flagging will against an overweaning adversary such as China to a point where it is not unreasonable to conclude he shows no understanding of it, leave alone knowing when to turn the screws on an adversary and to not so subtly discomfit it, and rally international pressure against it.
Beijing, in like situation, showed no hesitation in joining Pakistan to raise alarms in the wake of the abrogation of Constitution Article 370 about India’s mistreatment of, and human rights violations against, the supposedly hapless Kashmiris. This while its ambassador in Delhi proclaimed the need for both countries to be mindful of each other’s “sensitivities”. This policy of double-dealing double talk is normal for China, something Beijing has masterfully executed against a fear-wracked Indian government apparently so apprehensive of crossing Beijing that whatever the scale of provocation, it has chosen to ignore it and generally to subside gently into doing as China wishes.
What is also increasingly normal for Delhi is the shameful wagging of its tail at Xi’s China, which contrasts sharply with the Modi regime’s almost malevolent reaction to even the littlest burp from Islamabad. It shows up this country to the world – to use Mao’s favourite words for Nehru’s India — as “an imperialst running dog”, except that empire is now Chinese!
India and China are ideological rivals, and as such cannot, in theory, abide each other’;s political systems and ideologies. Nothing should be more distasteful to Delhi in this context than the open and systemic victimization of a whole people by a country with an authoritarian Communist dispensation. And yet, in the last 40 years and more India has not officially raised the issue of the cultural genocide in Tibet (referred to by Beijing as Xizang) against its Lamaist Buddhist population, and now against the Uyghur Muslims in the area traditionally known as East Turkestan (that China calls Xinjiang). It is another matter that both these territories — one forcefully annexed by the PLA in 1949, the other transferred by Stalin to Mao in the 1950s, were only tenuously connected to China, their historical linkages to the Yellow Emperor more Chinese pretence than actual historical fact.
Until the new millennium, Beijing was happy to let Xinjiang remain an economic and social backwater because it was strategically critical. Its vast arid expanse providing the perfect location for China’s nuclear weapons development and underground explosive testing complex at Lop Nor. But with 9/11 and the rise of radical Islam, which was manifested in stray incidents of Uyghurs knifing Chinese settlers, Beijing acted preemptively to nip the Islamic terrorist threat in the bud.
First it moved in a huge PLA presence with severe surveillance and policing measures and followed up some five years ago with an official campaign to eliminate this latent threat altogether by re-educating the Uyghur youth — the most likely recruits for Islamist causes. Over time this programme of re-education has taken the shape of a series of barbed wire-laced, high walled, high-tech detention centres in which over a million young men are presently incarcerated, undergoing what Beijing quaintly refers to as “vocational training”.
These “camps” using modern and heinous brain-washing techniques perfected during the Korean War of the early Fifties are supposed to help mainstream the Uyghurs into Chinese national life, but in reality divests them of their separate Muslim and ethnic identity. The so-called “China cables” recently leaked to the West are the first view of Beijing’s how-to manual for non-Uyghuring the Uyghurs by means that China successfully tested and used against the Tibetans in Tibet — a sustained programme of alienating the natives of these lands from their cultural roots, religion and traditions. Indeed, these concentration camps are a follow-on to Chinese laws that have made illegal even the vestiges of Islam in East Turkestan, including beards, worry beads, and Muslim names for children.
In July this year, 22 EU states wrote formally to Beijing to permit UN officials to inspect these crowded internment centres and to prevent the ill-treatment of the Uyghurs by the Chinese state. The methods Beijing has adopted to rub out Uyghurian sensibilities are so extreme, egregious and Orwellian, the UK Foreign Office has demanded in diplomatically acceptable language “an end to the indiscriminate and disproportionate restrictions on the cultural and religious freedoms of Uighur Muslims and other ethnic minorities in Xinjiang.”
It is the right time for Delhi to dig the spurs into China’s flank and demand that Uyghurs be treated humanely and their rights respected by Beijing. It would be the right sort of action to take at this time because it would mean diplomatically piggybacking on the pro-Uyghur UK and EU sentiment and initiatives. It will also be payback for Beijing’s complaining about Kashmiris being hounded by Indian security forces. There’s moreover no hypocrisy here. It is one thing to ask the Srinagar Valley Muslims to stay indoors in their own homes, quite another thing for an entire generation of Uyghurs and Tibetans to be locked up in vast prisons.
The Question is will Prime Minister Modi show some slight stomach, at a minimum, for a diplomatic fight with China? Will he muster the gumption to stick it to Xi on the human rights issue and mirror the Chinese ploy by simultaneously having his mouthpiece, Jaishankar, go against his grain and voice concern for the well being of Uyghurs and Tibetans who have suffered the historic misfortune of their countries taken over by a dastardly China, and instruct our ambassador in Beijing to speak unctuously of cooperation for the greater good of mankind or some such nonsense. Shouldn’t India, for once, stand up and be counted with other countries as supporters of minorities and their absent human rights in China?
Alas, as on so many other previous occasions, Modi will show no such enterprise for fear of diplomatically ruffling China’s feathers. He will thus miss out on an historic opportunity to do the right thing — mobilize international opinion against Beijing and shove China into a corner. More importantly, he will forfeit the chance to make the point that if the Uyghur populated Xinjiang is an internal security matter for China, Kashmir is even more so for India, and thereby publicly put Beijing on notice that two can play at this game. It may even win Modi some respect from Xi Jinping.