*Note* After the writing of the piece, a Uyghur human rights organisation released a statement insisting that no visa application was made. I suspect, however, that feelers were sent out about a visit to India (and possibly even a meeting with the Dalai Lama) and that they were nipped in the bud before a formal visa application could be made. In either case, the argument of the piece still holds; India is tacking a much closer course to China for reasons that may be sufficient for some, but disappointing for those who feel that there’s scope in India’s foreign policy to better articulate its ideals.
Last weekend, it was reported that India had denied a visa to Rebiya Kadeer, the ostensible leader in exile of China’s minority Uighur community, who China accuses of masterminding recent unrest in its western province of Xinjiang. Many Indian strategists applauded the decision – only for the Uighur Human Rights Project to later deny the reports. New Delhi, the strategists argued, had little to gain from riling Beijing and even less to gain from adding to Kadeer’s travel itinerary, a global junket aimed at building sympathy for the plight of the Uighurs. The Turkic, predominantly Muslim Uighurs made headlines this summer after riots and state repression shook Xinjiang. India’s interests, some say, would be best served by staying out of the mess altogether.
After all, a visit from Kadeer would, it seems, only cause grief for her would-be hosts. Her impending attendance at the Melbourne International Film Festival in Australia prompted Chinese directors to withdraw their films and Chinese hackers to attack the festival’s website. In a furious diplomatic spat, Beijing slammed Japan’s decision to grant her a visa. And Chinese officials threatened Ankara over the Turkish prime minister’s promise to allow Kadeer into Turkey.
This certainly isn’t the first (nor will it be the last) time a state has put pressure on other countries to curtail the movement of controversial individuals. But what we should find distressing is the extent to which countries have allowed their own affairs to be dictated by China’s propaganda campaign. Kadeer is supported by American money, but she is not a “terrorist” (as China insists on dubbing her and her allies), nor is she capable of orchestrating the unrest in Xinjiang (as China claims she did). Instead, China has turned this woman – who I had the pleasure of meeting briefly when she visited openDemocracy’s offices a few years ago – into a straw-man, directing domestic outrage against her while distracting attention from the real anger, real frustration and real grievances of the Uighurs.
Read the rest of the piece on the Guardian.