Time for Modi govt to turn the screws on China re: treatment of Uyghurs

Image result for pics of uyghurs detention camps in Xinjiang

[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.

About Bharat Karnad

Senior Fellow in National Security Studies at the Centre for Policy Research, New Delhi, he was Member of the (1st) National Security Advisory Board and the Nuclear Doctrine-drafting Group, and author, among other books of, 'Nuclear Weapons and Indian Security: The Realist Foundations of Strategy', 'India's Nuclear Policy' and most recently, 'Why India is Not a Great Power (Yet)'. Educated at the University of California (undergrad and grad), he was Visiting Scholar at Princeton University, University of Pennsylvania, the Shanghai Institutes of International Studies, and Henry L. Stimson Center, Washington, DC.
This entry was posted in asia-Pacific/Indo-Pacific, Asian geopolitics, Central Asia, China, China military, Culture, Decision-making, Europe, Geopolitics, Great Power imperatives, India's China Policy, India's Pakistan Policy, India's strategic thinking and policy, Indian democracy, Internal Security, MEA/foreign policy, Nuclear Weapons, Pakistan, society, South Asia, Terrorism, Tibet, UN. Bookmark the permalink.

18 Responses to Time for Modi govt to turn the screws on China re: treatment of Uyghurs

  1. Rupam says:

    Was it possible for us in anyway to covertly fund insurgency in Xinjiang and keep China in tenterhooks from 2014 onwards, similar moves in Tibet as well ?

  2. Apna says:

    You mean encourage Uyghur sunni terrorists to do terrorism just like British created Taliban and ISIS are doing in Afghanistan and Syria?
    Cut our nose to spite others?

    It’d be foolish to follow the British lead in destabilising China and thus Asia. India is already a slave country.

  3. Bharat kumar says:

    Arunachal MP stating 50 -60 kms of chaglagam north east of arunachal pradesh is under China’s control….. Is this true?

  4. vivek says:

    i feel that after doing multiple US trips your blogs are more inspired by US think tanks.Why dont you write about protests organised by US funded NGO in India to block construction of russian nuclear power plant installations.What is happening in Bolivia and Chile for lithium and in Hong kong to restrict china can happen in india for thorium or regime change in future. Why dont you write how India can be prepared dodge such organised protests in future.

    • Ironic, your slant on my post because my books and writings have consistently propagated the line that the getting close to the unreliable and unpredictable US is against national interest. In my latest book ‘Staggering Forward’, have dilated on American thinktanks establishing their presence in Delhi funded by Indian companies and becoming sources of policy advice and counsel conforming to the US desires, etc. Also, I wrote about the agitation against Kalpakkam being externally financed, etc.

  5. PRATIK KUMAR says:

    Hi Bharat sir….Just like u said that India should fund the tibetan guerillas and uighur muslims agains China for leverage. So can India also fund some taliban fighters and balochi rebels in pakistan for carrying out similar activities against chinese CPEC in pakistan???? I mean it will definitely send a very bold message to china..

  6. Gram Massla says:

    Tit for tat diplomacy provides fodder for the ardor for revenge but seldom constitutes sensible policy. It is merely political theater. The West can condemn events in East Turkestan but they do not share a border with China. China claims land from almost all countries it borders. The CCP is disruptive; it has no choice in this. It’s legitimacy to govern is tainted. There is no social contract in China between the CCP and the Chinese people. Therefore the CCP relies on brute force. As long as China is totalitarian it will remain expansive. India is a huge threat to the CCP but not from the power perspective. What terrifies the CCP is the spectacle of tens of millions of Indians trudging up to the ballot box The CCP feigns contempt for this extravaganza but has an army three times larger than the PLA to keep the Chinese people in line. The riots in Hong Kong has shaken the leadership of the CCP to the core.This insecurity is what drives the CCP’s foreign policy. How will the CCP deal with the threat of India’s democratic system of governance? This, in my opinion, is what the policy makers in Delhi will have to ponder, and deeply. For it behooves the CCP to lash out at India in violence to tell the Chinese people that it is acting on their behalf and that the democratic system of governance, in the real world, is built on a house of cards. Nothing moulds minds as extreme violence.

    • The absence of “the ardor of revenge” against China is precisely why Beijing has enjoyed the upper hand, and always will. Let’s also be clear that China long ago did its worst by nuclear missile arming Pakistan. India is still to.

  7. Rahul says:

    “Dushman hai ki zulm kiye jaata hai aur hum sharmaye jaate hai”. We should be ashamed of ourselves as a nation state.

    So we just appease? No. This is no solution.It only emboldens such behavior . We should go full throttle on disruption ,totally, completely and without stopping , for the next 20 years at least. If not disruption , a bare minimum of tit-for-tat is in order.

  8. Vaibhavafro says:

    The question that remains is “main aisa kyu hoon”? (Why are we Indians like this?) What is the solution to all this? How must our domestic system change to be able to be like China? Do we need to reform our bureaucracy? Or our political system?

    Or do we need to first build our economy to be able to hegemon over China? What is the solution?

    • Same guy says:

      Another area of concern is our nuke policy. Are we really arming our SLBM with 20 kilotons nukes? Or are we using some other “jugaad”; like building a 1 Megaton thermonuke, hoping that it will work and atleast produce 200 kilotons?

      And who shall we nuclear-missile arm? Japan? Taiwan?

      • Japan has long been at the weapons threshold,and will take only a few weeks to weaponize (assuming it hasn’t already done so). Taiwan too is N-competent. And the two can take care of themselves. No,have advocated N-missile arming Vietnam in particular, the only country other than Japan,and unlike India, to send shivers down Beijing’s spine ‘coz it’s the only one that has time and again shown the willingness to fight China.

    • India is what it is because the Establishment finds the status quo convenient and comfortable for their separate sectional interests, and not because it cannot undertake top-driven change which is what Modi promised but failed to implement. Building up the economy as prerequisite is fine except it is the same Establishment that will lose its perks and benefits in case of any radical economic shakeup –meaning zeroing out the role of the public sector, which is what is needed for India to get on a rocketing economic trajectory. So, it won’t happen.

  9. Robinson says:

    It’s sheer insanity to support an uprising in Xinjiang. It will be an uprising that will be led by religious fundamentalists who have and still continue to view non-Muslims as enemies. There will be a time that they will turn their attention to India. Hasn’t the world learnt enough from backing Islamists in Afghanistan and later in Syria. Look at has happened in Libya. Just let the Chinese deal with their internal, domestic affairs on their own.

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