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China Change, September 30, 2018
Unsettling news from China emerges every week — on social media, in reports, and from our own sources in the country. Not every new development is suited to a fully fleshed-out analysis, and as with so much in China, many reports and developments cannot be immediately confirmed or properly evaluated. Nevertheless, while each individual brush stroke may not be decisive, upon stepping back a fuller picture begins to emerge. China Change catalogues and contextualizes these items so as to keep a growing awareness of changes in China. — The Editors
‘Public-private partnerships’ 2.0: la chasse à courre
Chinese officials have come out with a string of comments recently that have spooked private companies. The first was a “senior financial figure” Wu Xiaoping (吴小平), who advised that “the private sector in China has already completed its task of assisting state sector economic development, and it should now gradually diminish in importance.” This was shortly followed by vice-minister of the Ministry of Human Resources and Social Security, Qiu Xiaoping (邱小平), saying that private enterprises must implement the “democratization of management, with the participation of workers led by the Party organizations of private enterprises,” and that “workers and enterprises must work together to create mechanisms for co-creation of benefits, sharing of benefits, and sharing of risks.” This process appears to be already underway.
On September 26, The Economic Daily (《经济日报》) defended the practice of SOEs buying stakes in troubled private companies and becoming the controlling owners. The paper argued that private companies encountering difficulties should turn to SOEs to be rescued — and indeed there have been many private companies that have already “sold” control rights to SOEs or state capital to survive. “The introduction of new SOE shareholders in listed private enterprises and the reform of mixed ownership are very much in the same direction. Both are in order to stimulate enterprise vitality, improve production efficiency, and achieve mutual benefit and win-win results.” Yet the author neglected to delve into the institutional reasons as to why private enterprises in China are facing such peril. “According to the chief economist of China Merchant Bank, all 11,000 businesses that went bankrupt between 2016 and the first half of 2018 were private,” Huang Yasheng wrote in an op-ed in The New York Times.
In a September 27 article titled “Vigilance against new public-private partnerships under the banner of ‘sharing’”, Hu Deping (胡德平), the son of the former Party secretary Hu Yaobang (胡耀邦), voiced unease and opposition to the above prescriptions and maladies. He cited a certain ‘Document 15’ from 1991 meant to encourage the development of private enterprise. Hu concluded that, “At a time when the private sector is in such difficulty, I feel that what’s happening in some places differs starkly from what people thought they understood clearly yesterday. Problems that have been understood clearly and resolved previously are now being brought back in a new form. There’s still a wish to crush private enterprise and force them into public-private partnerships. If this becomes a trend, and none dare to criticize it, then the consequences will be frightening.”
Just a few days ago, an essay titled “Wandering in the land of one’s ancestors” began spreading on the Chinese internet, despite being repeatedly censored and deleted. Who is said to be wandering on the land of their ancestors? China’s private enterprises — because the country doesn’t belong to them. A 60 year-old businessman lamented, as the author explained it: “After so many years of doing business and experiencing so many trials and tribulations, this is the first time that death has felt so close to his business: he suddenly felt like a wanted fugitive and pursued by tax, environmental, industrial, and urban management authorities, even neighborhood committees. In order merely to survive, his enterprise debt has been levered up to a degree that would wake him in his dreams. His company is walking on a tightrope. If short sellers attack him in the market, or a bank tries to pull one of the loans, the company could collapse overnight.”
The author writes: “Chinese SOEs occupy over 70% of the resources, but generate less than 30% of GDP, whereas in the four decades of reform the private economy contributed at least 50% of China’s GDP, 60% of the tax base, 70% of the technological innovation, and more than 80% of urban employment. Even in 2017, the peak year of the targeted tightening of supply-side reforms, private industrial enterprises outperformed state-owned industrial enterprises, getting an overall return on net assets of 19.6%, versus less than 10% return on net assets by SOEs. If private enterprises can be liquidated and banished at any moment, is there any other outcome than a net loss for society?”
The author continued: “It is no accident that China’s economy has been on a downward spiral since 1956 when joint public-private operations came into effect. By 1978 China’s GDP’s accounted for only 1.8% of global GDP, and the national economy was on the verge of collapse.”
The article features numerous graphs and data points.
The reason private companies can be ‘beaten’ at a moment’s notice, the author writes, is because of their ‘identity,’ or the nature of their ownership. The fact that the enterprises are private means that they’ll always be outsiders and exiles in China. The author asks: “Why can’t we put aside the debate about the ‘identity’ of who owns the means of production? Why can’t all enterprises simply follow the law across the country, work hard, serve this country, and be equally treated, honored and praised? Why is that so hard?”
It’s very hard. Because it’s the equivalent to demanding that China changes its political nature, establish a functioning rule of law, protect private property rights, and enshrine liberty and equality before the law. For the Communist Party, this is a hard ask indeed.
123 Hong Kong-listed SOEs amend their charters to give the Communist Party sweeping control over companies
Hong Kong’s Apple Daily reported that, from March 2017 to today — a period of about 18 months — 123 Hong Kong-listed SOEs have amended their articles of association to expand the power of their Party committees without limit, including eight blue-chip companies: Commercial Bank of China (939), Industrial and Commercial Bank of China (1398), Bank of Communications (3328), Bank of China (3988), CITIC (267), Sinopec (386), PetroChina (857), and China National Petroleum Corporation (1088). The state-owned companies involved included Conch Cement (914), China Jiaotong Construction (1800), and China Huarong (2279), among others.
The revised constitution stipulates that the companies must set up Party Committees: “The Party Committee will play a core leadership role, taking charge of the direction, managing the overall situation, safeguarding implementation, ensuring supervision of the implementation of Party and state policies in the company, and implement the major strategic decisions of the Party Central Committee and the State Council.”
The revised constitution also gives the Party Committee the power to override the board. “When the board makes major decisions, it must first listen to the opinions of the Party Committee.” Also, executive appointments and dismissals also fall into the hands of the Party.
Aren’t they just writing into articles of association what they already practice?
Xi embarked on a tour of northeast China this week. He visited the Heilongjiang Agricultural Reclamation and Construction Jiansanjiang Administration (黑龙江农垦建三江管理局), an important grain production base; in Qiqihar, he visited China First Heavy Group (中国一重集团), the old industrial base of China’s planned economy; he went to Chagan Lake in Jilin and the oil fields in Liaoning; he also went to Lei Feng Memorial Hall.
One may as well say that Xi was on a trip strengthening the symbolism of the Maoist era.
He also visited the Zhongwang Group (忠旺集团), a private enterprise in Liaoning, and said that the Party has always encouraged private economic development, and has promoted policies supportive of the private sector. Huh? Does China’s Chairman-of-Everything not know that private companies in China are falling off the cliff?
Of the 30 minutes of CCTV’s Evening News (新闻联播) on September 30, 25 minutes were dedicated to Xi Jinping’s inspection tour of the three northeastern provinces. One of the recurring watchwords was ‘self-reliance.’ Chinese must be self-reliant on grain, self-reliant in industry, etc.
Observers noted that whenever the Party was faced with serious political and economic challenges on the one hand, and become isolated internationally, it called for ‘self-reliance.’ The phrase first appeared in 1941, when the Party mobilized its people to grow opium in Nanniwan, near Yan’an, in the Party’s Shaanxi-Gansu-Ningxia base. The second time it was used was in 1960 during the great famine, and the third time in 1975 during the Cultural Revolution. This is the fourth occasion. Those who study China can reflect for themselves on the meaning of those four occasions.
Throughout his trip in the three provinces, Xi Jinping talked about ‘rejuvenating the Northeast.’ In the course of his visit, he even held a seminar on the very topic. The fact is that the economies of the three provinces — Liaoning, Jilin, and Heilongjiang — have been deteriorating for a long time now (read more), exhibiting the weakest economic growth numbers in China, and likely exhibiting decline over the last few years.
Less discussed is the bureaucracy, corruption, and mafiazation of the northeastern political sphere. In 2016 Sina Finance published an article titled ‘How bureaucratism has destroyed the northeastern economy,’ which was quickly deleted. The article however is still visible on some discussion forums.
None of these hard facts has made into Xi Jinping’s photo ops and the state media verbiage.
On the other hand, China’s grain crisis has been a major topic of public discussion recently, and research indicates that China is headed for serious food supply problems in the years ahead. On September 21, Xi led the Politburo in its ‘eighth collective study session’ to discuss the implementation of his rural revitalization strategy.
On September 26, the State Council issued the ‘Strategic Plan for Rural Revitalization’ (2018-2022), the first basic principle of which is to “adhere to the Party’s control over rural work,” and “ensure that the Party always assumes full control of the overall situation in rural work, coordinates all parties, and provides a strong political guarantee for rural revitalization.”
No reporting bad economic news
Chinese regulators in recent days have demanded that online finance websites like Sina Finance and Phoenix Finance be suspended and rectified. ‘Big V’ financial commentators on Weibo have also been commanded one-by-one to stop posting. Media reporters revealed that almost every web portal received notice from the Central Propaganda Department to cease reporting in six categories of news: 1) Disclosure of declining economic data, 2) Local government debt risks, 3) The adverse effects of Sino-US economic and trade frictions, 4) Data showing a decline in consumer spending, 5) Inflation and economic stagnation, and 6) Hot social trends. All such reports are to be strictly censored, the notice said.
The New York Times has a detailed report on this.
Once again, a campaign against ‘bourgeois liberalization’
Global Times said CCP has new rules that will “expel members who express support for bourgeois liberalization online.” We ran through the article twice trying to find out just what ‘bourgeois liberalization’ is. We didn’t find a definition but we did learn what behaviors can lead to expulsion under the label: “opposing the Party’s decisions on reforms and opening-up through online platforms,” “speaking out against the Party’s major principles online,” and betraying faith in the Party without discarding Party membership.
Also, criticizing problems like corruption, or the gap between rich and poor is also ‘bourgeois liberalization.’
Beijing-based historian Zhang Lifan (章立凡) said that the bourgeois liberalization being talked about now appears to be referring to freedom of thought outside the scope of the regime. “The ruling party has become the biggest landlord and the biggest capitalist in China; the crony capitalists are the real bourgeoisie, and they treat those who think and speak critically of them as ‘bourgeois liberalists.’” Zhang continued: “Raising once again the idea of anti-bourgeois liberalization is due to the Sino-US trade war of late, which brought out a lot of divergent views from within the party, and so now they’re clamping down on public opinion.”
Deng Xiaoping was the one who invented the term “anti-bourgeois liberalization,” because he was afraid that the opening up and reform he had championed would lead to the erosion of the Party’s ideology. In 1987, there was a national “anti-bourgeois liberalization” campaign in response to vibrant discussions of democratic values on university campuses.
Mass trials in Xinjiang; Uighurs are being shipped to other provinces
Many thanks are due to Twitter user @uyghurspeaker who has been translating reports from RFA’s Uighur service into both English and Chinese. We post below some of his tweets edited for clarity:
Kunes County, Ili, is reported to be holding mass trials in internment camps, sentencing around 500 prisoners on each occasion. Officials asked the inmates: “Will you eat halal or non-halal foods?” Those who answered “halal” were sentenced to 3-5 years. (link)
Mass trials are also taking place in camps in Tokkuzak, Kashgar. At least 50 people per day have been sentenced for 3-15 years. Nejmidin, the political commissar at the Bulaksu police station, said that he escorted a group of convicts to prison in Chinese provinces three weeks ago. (link)
These RFA reports about mass sentences in internment camps are consistent with recent news of railways closed-off in Urumqi, Gansu, and Qinghai for the purpose of dispatching Uighurs throughout prisons in China. That is, it appears the authorities are handing down sentences, then sending Uighurs to prisoners around the country. We first noted The Epoch Times’ reports of such news in Signs of China (2).
A RFA Chinese report, citing a Uighur service report on September 28, says that in a township in Kashgar, policemen were taking local Uighurs in internment camps to other provinces in China. They said the transfer started early this month.
The Chinese railway and Urumqi tourist bureau announced that “due to adjustment to the operation schedule of passenger trains,” starting October 22, the railway will not sell train tickets going to or leaving Xinjiang. It didn’t say when service will resume.
The Uighur writer and activist Ilshat Kokbore writes: “We’ve already heard some things about this. The farthest they’ve transferred Uighurs is to prisons in Heilongjiang.” Heilongjiang is China’s northernmost province, bordering Siberia.
More Uighur elites sentenced or sent to camps
According to an RFA report, Halmurat Ghopur, president of the Xinjiang Food and Drug Administration’s Department of Inspection and Supervision in the regional capital Urumqi, was taken into custody in November 2017 and is being held in an unknown location for “acts against the state,” sources in exile told RFA’s Uighur Service earlier this year. He was recently given a two-year suspended death sentence for exhibiting “separatist tendencies,” according to an official source.
According to a RFA Uighur-language service report, Sattar Savut, chief in the education bureau, and Yalkun Rozi, a writer, critic, and editor, as well as three others, were charged with separatism for teaching children about Uighur cultural figures. Sattar’s sentence was given with two years of reprieve, while Yalkun was reported to receive a life sentence.
‘Where are my family members?’
Member of the Uighur diaspora initiated a YouTube series in which overseas Uighurs tell stories of their loved ones who have gone missing, been tortured, or died in internment camps.
How much money do Chinese officials have in the United States?
The United States recently announced sanctions on PLA lieutenant general and director of the military’s Equipment Development Department, Li Shangfu (李尚福), because the department he led violated American sanctions by buying military equipment from Russia. The sanctions on Li include a visa ban that restricts him, and his agency, from U.S. financial transactions and access to any assets in the jurisdiction of the United States.
Some have asked: is there any evidence of the much-talked-about notion that high-level Party officials and relatives have assets in the United States? The Weibo account ‘Los Angeles Landlord’ (“洛杉矶房东”) recently reminded everyone of a case as a way of answering this question: “A shocking case took place in the San Francisco Bay Area last year, where a certain Tiffany Li (李凡妮) was charged with murder of a man. Bail of $70 million was put up. Tiffany’s Li’s mother, Li Jihong (李继红), traveled from China to the United States and submitted to the court real estate assets of $62 million, as well as $4 million in cash for the bail. This was the eighth largest bail amount in the history of the U.S. court system.”
According to the reporting of Apple Daily last year, a California property insurance company’s investigation revealed that Tiffany Li and her mother, personally and in a trust, had multiple properties in San Mateo and the elite areas of Hillsborough and Burlingame.
Internet users are adamant that Tiffany Li’s mother, Li Jihong, is the younger sister to Li Jinai (李继耐), former director of the General Political Department of the PLA.
The example of the Li family highlights why sanctions against characters like Li Shangfu might cause unease and panic among senior Communist Party officials who have family and vast wealth in the United States.
Men in Black on Tiananmen Square
PRC National Day is upon us (it falls on October 1), and security officers are now out in force on Tiananmen Square. The following video clip was posted online, showing the conspicuous ‘undercover’ officers in black suits, with black umbrellas. What is the purpose of the latter? So that if anything happens on the square, they can quickly open their umbrellas, cover the scene and prevent it from being seen or photographed.
Signs of China (1), September 16, 2018.
Signs of China (2), September 22, 2018.
August 10, 2018
It is now clear, from numerous reliable sources, that shocking human rights atrocities are being perpetrated in the Xinjiang Uighur Autonomous Region of China (XUAR).
The Communist Party authorities have established a large number of political re-education centers in Xinjiang, detaining people without any judicial process, stripping them of their personal liberty, imprisoning them, and detaining them for indeterminate ‘sentences.’ Estimates of the numbers detained range from hundreds of thousands to over a million, primarily targeting Uighurs, but also Kazakhs, Hui people, and other minorities who follow Islam. Among those detainees are peasants, workers, university, college, high-school and middle-school students, teachers, poets, writers, artists, scholars, the head of a provincial department, bureau chiefs, village chiefs, and even Uighur police officers. Uighurs overseas, as well as their family members and Uighur students who return to China after studying abroad — and even Uighurs who have simply visited abroad for tourism — have been particular targets of attack.
Those locked up in detention centers have been forced to sing Red Songs, learn Mandarin Chinese, and study Xi Jinping Thought. Many have been forced to eat pork, drink alcohol, and been force-fed unidentified drugs. Abuse and torture is common in re-education centers, and reports of deaths in custody due to torture have become common. The well-known deaths confirmed to date include Muhammad Salih Hajim (穆罕穆德.萨利阿吉), the renowned Uighur scholar of Islam known for translating the Quran with official approval; Halmurat Ghopur (哈木拉提·吾甫尔), a leading food safety administrator and Communist Party official in Xinjiang; and Ayhan Memet, mother of Dolkun Isa (多里坤·艾沙), the chairman of the World Uyghur Congress. Many children, because their parents were disappeared, have been crammed into orphanages and are now suffering terrible conditions.
According to official Chinese statistics, over 227,000 Uighurs in Xinjiang were criminally arrested in 2017, 8 times the 27,000 recorded in 2016. In 2017, the number of people detained on criminal charges in Xinjiang was 21% of the total in all of China, while Xinjiang’s population is only 1.5% of the country’s.
Further, Communist Party authorities have set up a comprehensive electronic surveillance system trained on the daily lives of Uighurs in Xinjiang. They’ve deployed cameras with facial recognition capabilities, cell phone scanners, a DNA collection system, and a ubiquitous police presence, turning the entire Xinjiang region into the world’s most high-tech Police Garrison. All of the Party’s efforts are directed toward the cultural destruction of the Uighur people, who now face a crisis of survival.
In light of this grave human rights catastrophe, all who value human rights and universal values cannot be silent. We hereby state the following:
- We strenuously protest the CCP’s unilateral barbaric violence, and we demand that the authorities immediately cease the political persecution of Uighurs and other minority peoples, shut down the political re-education camps, and release all prisoners of conscience including Ilham Tohti (伊力哈木.土赫提) and Gheyret Niyaz (海莱特尼亚孜);
- We support the righteous struggle by Uighurs and other minority peoples in XUAR aimed at securing their basic human rights;
- We call upon the U.S. government to continue speaking out about the human rights abuses in Xinjiang, and to put more effective pressure on Party authorities;
- We call upon the United Nations to launch an investigation into what is taking place in XUAR and to publicly censure the CCP’s despicable acts.
Hu Ping (胡平), honorary chief editor of Beijing Spring, New York.
Wang Dan (王丹), founder and director of China Dialogue, Washington, DC.
Teng Biao (滕彪), human rights lawyer, visiting scholar at New York University, Princeton.
Xia Yeliang (夏业良), independent scholar, Washington, DC.
Mo Li (茉莉), teacher, Sweden.
Fu Zhengming (傅正明), scholar, Sweden.
Cai Chu (蔡楚), editor of minzhuzhongguo.org and canyu.org, Mobile, Alabama.
Zhang Yu (张裕), coordinator of the Committee on Imprisoned Writers, Independent Chinese PEN Center. Stockholm, Sweden.
Lü Jinghua (吕京花), deputy chair of Chinese Alliance for Democracy, New York.
Liao Tianqi (廖天琪), president of Independent Chinese PEN Center, Köln, Germany.
Zhang Qing (张菁), chairwoman of Women’s Rights in China, New York.
Liao Yiwu (廖亦武), writer in exile, Berlin, Germany.
Yaxue Cao (曹雅学), editor of chinachange.org, Washington, DC.
Sulaiman Gu (古懿), student, Georgia, USA.
Wang Juntao (王军涛), chairman of the National Committee of China Democracy Party, New Jersey.
Qi Jiazhen (齐家贞), independent writer, Melbourne, Australia.
Chen Weijian (陈维健), chief editor of Beijing Spring, Auckland, New Zealand.
Xia Ming (夏明), professor of political science, CUNY, New York.
Sheng Xue (盛雪), writer, journalist, Toronto, Canada.
Zhou Fengsuo (周锋锁), president of Humanitarian China, New Jersey.
Zhong Jinjiang (钟锦江), chairman of Chinese Alliance for Democracy, Sydney, Australia.
Guo Dongcheng (郭冬成), worker, Sweden.
Cai Yongmei (蔡咏梅), writer, Hong Kong.
Chen Chuangchuang (陈闯创), member of China Democracy Party, New York.
Yang Jianli (杨建利), founder of Initiative for China, Washington, DC.
Pan Yongzhong (潘永忠), secretary general of Federation for a democratic China, Germany.
Chen Pokong (陈破空), political commentator, New York.
Li Weidong (李伟东), director of China Strategic Analysis quarterly, USA.
Zhang Lin (张林), internet writer, New York.
Wang Ce (王策), chairman of Chinese Republican Party, Madrid, Spain.
Li Ruijuan (李瑞娟), journalist and editor, Taipei, Taiwan.
Wuerkaixi (吾尔开希), initiator of Friends of Liu Xiaobo, Taiwan.
Zhao Xin (赵昕), civil rights defender, Bay Area, California.
Su Xiaokang (苏晓康), writer, Washington, DC.
Guo Chen (郭琛), businessman, former chief supervisor of the Association of Taiwanese in Europe, Germany.
Bob Fu (傅希秋), founder and president of ChinaAid, Texas.
Fei Liangyong (费良勇), engineer, member of Federation for a democratic China, Nuremberg, Germany.
Wang Jinzhong (王进忠), deputy chair of Chinese Alliance for Democracy, Tokyo, Japan.
Chen Liqun (陈立群), deputy chair of the National Committee of China Democracy Party, New York.
Ma Yuzhong (马育忠), editor, Xi’an, China.
Fu Sheng (付升), scientist, Xi’an, China.
Cai Shufang (蔡淑芳), Friends of Conscience, Hong Kong.
Ren Wanding (任畹町), founder of Human Rights Defenders, France.
Chen Hanzhong (陳漢中), board director of China Spring Research Foundation, chief supervisor of Chinese Alliance for Democracy, California.
Zhang Jie (张杰), Boxun News journalist, USA.
Hong Zhesheng (洪哲胜), chief editor of Democracy Forum, New York.
Xue Wei (薛伟), manager of Beijing Spring, New York.
The City of Weimar in Germany Saw Its Website Attacked for Giving Human Rights Prize to Uighur Professor Ilham Tohti
China Change, November 8, 2017
The city of Weimar announced on June 30 that, in compliance with the Weimar City Council’s recommendation, they were awarding this year’s Weimar Human Rights Prize to Ilham Tohti in recognition of his work upholding the rights of the Uighur people and promoting understanding between Uighurs and Han Chinese. In accordance with tradition, the Prize is awarded every year on December 10—International Human Rights Day.
The Weimar City Council, in announcing the award, said: “As a professor of economics and sociology at the Central University for Nationalities (Minzu), for decades Ilham Tohti spared no effort in publicizing the economic and social difficulties faced by Uighurs in Xinjiang. At the same time he advocated the peaceful coexistence of Uighurs, Hans and all other ethnic minority groups. He urged the Chinese government to respect its Regional Ethnic Autonomy Law.”
In September 2014, Ilham Tohti was sentenced to life in prison for “separatist activities,” and his real “crimes” though were his efforts to build bridges between different ethnic minorities and his speaking out bluntly about China’s draconian, unproductive policies in Xinjiang. The Weimar City Council hopes that by awarding the Human Rights Prize to Ilham Tohti, “his advocacy for peace and dialogue will not be forgotten, and support for his release will be strengthened.”
Mr. Oehme is in charge of the Weimar Human Rights Prize. He told Radio Free Asia that, starting in early July and shortly after the prize was announced, the city’s official website was attacked and continues to be until now. All news about the award and the December 10 prize ceremony has been removed. Mr. Oehme said that the Weimar government deeply regrets that hackers have deleted the content from the webpage that has been three years in the making.
Mr. Oehme also revealed that the City Council’s Human Rights Prize Committee received a telephone call in July from a self-identified “Ms. Li” from the Chinese Embassy in Berlin, alleging that Ilham Tohti’s work had nothing to do with human rights and freedom of speech. She protested Weimar giving the human rights prize to a “Chinese criminal.”
The Weimar municipal government also learned that, after the announcement of the prize, Beijing had protested to Berlin through diplomatic channels.
The Weimar government asked the police to conduct a criminal investigation into the hacking. It’s not yet clear where the cyberattacks originated. But Isa Dolkun, current General Secretary of the World Uyghur Congress based in Munich, believes that this attack is undoubtedly being carried out by China.
Mr. Oehme said that no matter what happens, there will be no change in awarding this year’s human rights prize to Ilham Tohti.
In advocating with partners for Ilham Tohti’s case in Europe over the past two years, China Change has learned that ethnic minority issues are something the European countries face, and they take very well Ilham Tohti’s advocacy for ethnic minority autonomy, dignity and peaceful coexistence. This is undoubtedly the consensus among all civilized countries.
The Chinese government’s irrational attack on and interference with the Weimar Human Rights Prize shows how essential this award is, what a dire situation Ilham Tohti faces in China, and what an awful government there is in Beijing.
To be honest, it is fortuitous that the Chinese Communist Party is committing such foolish acts all over the world. This has a much more powerful effect than our earnest remonstrations.
Not to mention that the city of Weimar will be forever spared of a statue of Marx like the one that now stands at a corner of the city of Trier, Germany, a gift from China.
Before he was arrested, 48-year-old Ilham Tohti was a professor at the Central University of Nationalities (中央民族大学), teaching and researching Xinjiang issues and Central Asian sociology, economics, and geopolitics. In 2006, Ilham Tohti founded the UighurBiz website, a Mandarin website that brought news about the Uighurs to the Chinese population. In January 2014, Ilham Tohti was arrested, his house searched and bank account frozen. In September of the same year, Ilham Tohti was sentenced to life in prison by a court in Urumqi for the crime of secession. He is presently serving his sentence in Xinjiang’s Number One Prison. He is in solitary confinement, and his application for retrial has been rejected. Family visits have been limited. His family has been warned not to give interviews to foreign media. All of these practices are illegal under Chinese law, and aimed at eliminating all news of Ilham Tohti.
In 2016 Ilham Tohti was nominated for the European Parliament’s Sakharov Prize for Freedom of Thought, and he won the city of Geneva’s Martin Ennals Award for Human Rights Defenders, known as the “Nobel Prize for Human Rights.” The United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights Zeid Ra’ad Al Hussein gave the award to Ilham Tohti’s daughter. The Chinese government subsequently attacked the High Commissioner for “interfering with China’s internal affairs and judiciary sovereignty.”
Ilham Tohti: A Short Introduction, June 15, 2016.
My Ideals and the Career Path I Have Chosen, Ilham Tohti, April 6, 2014.
Present-Day Ethnic Problems in Xinjiang Uighur Autonomous Region: Overview and Recommendations (downloadable), Ilham Tohti, May 19, 2015.
China Pushes ‘Human Rights With Chinese Characteristics’ at the UN, Andrea Worden, October 9, 2017.
Elliot Sperling, February 5, 2017
In memory of Elliot, who passed away last week. I recovered this from my email archive, dated September 17, 2016, the day after Ilham Tohti was nominated for the Sakharov Prize. It is published here for the first time. – Yaxue Cao
The nomination last week of the imprisoned Uyghur Professor Ilham Tohti for the European Parliament’s Sakharov Prize for Freedom of Thought is welcome recognition of the role this courageous individual has played in working for the fundamental rights of a beleaguered people, a people subject to one of the harshest regimens that China visits on any nationalities or collective groups within its borders. But the persecution of Ilham Tohti serves as an example of how China’s repressive policies create damage and danger that go far beyond its own borders. There are good reasons for international concern and outrage over Ilham Tohti’s imprisonment.
On the heels of recent attacks in Europe, and concern about new ISIS-aligned actors outside the group’s core Middle East area, a recent report from the New America think-tank has revealed, among other things, that China’s treatment of its Muslim population is boosting radicalization: over 100 Turkic Uyghurs, Muslims from the region of Xinjiang in China’s northwest were recruited into ISIS response to the harsh state repression visited on them as Muslims and as Uyghurs in full disregard of common human rights norms. But the particularly harsh persecution of Ilham Tohti demonstrates a terrible dynamic in that process: the one-party Chinese state, by targeting moderates effectively nurtures extremism as the outlet for legitimate grievances over China’s policies.
On January 15, 2014 Ilham Tohti was spending the afternoon resting with his two young sons in his apartment on the campus of Minzu University where he taught economics. When a large contingent of police and state security agents burst through the door, suddenly and unexpectedly, waking the napping professor, his life changed forever. He was dragged from his apartment and has spent all of his subsequent days behind bars. As for legal formalities—such as they are for an outspoken liberal Uyghur intellectual in China—his trial on charges of supporting separatism, advocating violence among his students, etc.—took all of two days and produced a life sentence. And what had he really done? He had written about what had been happening in Xinjiang in a way that was markedly different from the official line; he circulated word of what he had found openly and on his own website; and perhaps most dangerously, he invited response and discussion. Though fluent and literate in Uyghur, he constituted his website as a Chinese-language venue so as to initiate dialogue between Uyghurs and Chinese. In retrospect that, as well as Ilham’s charismatic teaching, was intolerable. And so he was taken from his family and months later subjected to a kangaroo court (witnesses he asked for were not called; in contravention of Chinese law he was tried in a venue hundreds of mile from Beijing, his place of residence and the place in which his supposed crimes had allegedly been committed).
The intrinsic merit in Ilham’s activities and the egregious injustice of his imprisonment have been acknowledged internationally: he was the recipient of the PEN American Center’s Barbara Goldsmith Freedom to Write Award and just recently named one of three Finalists for the Martin Ennals Award for Human Rights Defenders. And now he is a nominee for the Sakharov Prize.
One might be inclined to see in Ilham Tohti’s case just one more sad instance of Chinese authoritarian repression and hostility to free thought. But in the present climate of anxieties about extremism, about Islam and about terror, his case is especially significant. Given China’s record of cynical misuse of the terrorism issue to attack dissent among Uyghurs and Tibetans, observers are rightly concerned that the state’s adoption of a new, broad anti-terrorism law just this past December has set the stage for actions that will exacerbate China’s problems.
By any measure, Ilham Tohti is a moderate person. A Muslim, he is liberal in his practice and entertains close friendships across lines of nationality and religion. But from the perspective of the authorities, moderates such as Ilham—non-violent critics who operate openly—are threats and are targeted for severe repression. The ills and abuses they bring to the surface are ignored and fester. Thus, the persecution to which Uyghurs are subjected continues. Bans on beards and head scarves in public venues, coercion to violate religious prohibitions concerning food and drink, violence and incarceration as a response to dissent: this is precisely the kind of abuse that, in the absence of a moderate core seeking dialogue, lends itself to exploitation by extremists. Indeed, China seems to go after the moderates because they can be seen: they operate in the open and call for dialogue and honesty about what the state is doing. Their imprisonment leaves the field to extremists who operate below the radar; they become the only ones articulating to an aggrieved population anything contrary to the official line. For all its propaganda about fighting extremism China is actively abetting its rise: in this instance among a population that has previously been noted for its moderation and restraint. Given current anxiety about Islamist extremism, the international community ought to be horrified by what China is doing. The Islamic world, wherein this extremism is wreaking the greatest havoc should be even more alarmed—and should make the persecution of writers and intellectuals such as Ilham Tohti a prominent issue in its relations with China.
The original sin, so to speak, in modern China’s dealings with Uyghurs as well as Tibetans was its annexation of these peoples without any regard to what they wanted. (And for most it was unwanted.) This original sin and the brutal periods of Chinese rule that followed have fostered a situation in which a free, open discussion of the history of Uyghurs and Tibetan under PRC rule cannot be entertained without severe damage to the myths that are enforced as the official line. Thus, when discontent surfaces the Party finds itself structurally incapable of asking what it is doing wrong. Instead, the question becomes “Who is doing this to us?” And it answers the question by seeking scapegoats. Not long ago Tibetan disgust at the appearance in the media of fake “Chinese Lamas” produced an incoherent and irrelevant response from official quarters denouncing Tibetan separatism, something that only exacerbated Tibetan frustration at their concerns not being taken seriously. Matters in Xinjiang have brought no serious questioning of the repressive Chinese policies. When French journalist Ursula Gauthier questioned China’s deployment of the terrorism narrative to defend its actions there she was expelled from China. And Ilham Tohti, who tirelessly pursued a principled quest for dialogue and change, languishes in a prison in Xinjiang. The injustice inherent in Ilham’s case is symbolic of the way China is making extremism the only option for the disaffected in Xinjiang. It should be a primary concern of the international community.
Elliot Sperling is the former chair of the Department of Central Eurasian Studies at Indiana University and formerly the Director of its Tibetan Studies Program. He is the author of “The Tibet-China: History and Polemics.”
André Gattonlin, Marie Holzman, and Noël Mamère, July 18, 2016
This is a translation of Donnons le prix Sakharov à un intellectuel ouïghour published in the French newspaper Libération on July 14, 2016. – The Editors
The Sakharov Prize is awarded every year in October, to honor individuals or organizations who have dedicated their lives to defending human rights and fundamental freedoms.
The award, which was created in 1985 by the French MP Jean-François Deniau, may well be awarded this year to an Uighur intellectual who was sentenced in 2014 to life in prison. It turns out that this professor from Minzu University (University for Nationalities) in Beijing had been discovered in 2008 by the French Ministry of Foreign Affairs and was invited to spend a week in France under a program called “Personalities of the Future.” This project gave civil society actors under 35 years of age from around the world the opportunity to meet personalities of their choice in order to sharpen their knowledge of the workings of our country.
Since these “Personalities of the Future” were also chosen for their moral qualities, it is not surprising that many of them, including Ilham Tohti, chose to meet with organizations made up of human rights defenders, or representatives from the legal world or from trade unions. In other words, France invited people who might carry far and wide the universal values for which our country is proud to be a beacon.
This is what Ilham Tohti has tried to do. Having received an excellent education in Uighur as well as in Chinese, he had the rare privilege of being able to become a university professor in Beijing and to provide education in economics and geopolitics. His pedagogical gifts, the strength of his arguments and the breadth of his views quickly made him a charismatic teacher whose courses, taught in Chinese, were avidly followed by his Uighur students as well as by Han, Mongolian, and Tibetan students, among others. He expanded his circle by creating a site, Uighur Online, from which he conveyed constructive suggestions aimed at those active in China’s political and economic life, with the purpose of improving the situation in Xinjiang, the far west Chinese province, which is the cradle of the Uighur ethnic group and which joins together eight million people in the interior of China.
However, since September 11, 2001, and the subsequent worldwide struggle against terrorism, the Uighurs have become a favorite target of the Chinese government which accuses them of all evils: fundamentalism, Islamism, and terrorism. The new anti-terrorism law, passed on December 27, 2015, has simply added one more layer to this. While the counter-productive and repressive strategies regarding ethnic groups—such as Tibetans and Uighurs—have so far raised tensions between Han and non-Han ethnic groups, via torture, imprisonment, extrajudicial killings and the heavy-handed policing of even the most peaceful demonstrations supporting religious or cultural identity, the Chinese government has found nothing better to do than to sentence to life imprisonment, under the pretext of “separatism,” one of the only Uighur intellectuals who had attempted, by any means, to find common ground for cooperation between Uighurs and Hans.
46 years old, Ilham Tohti has already received several awards, including the Barbara Goldsmith Freedom to Write Award from the PEN American Center in 2014. World leaders have protested his conviction as unfair. It is time for French public opinion to take up his case: by dint of discussing the harm done by ISIS or Boko Haram, we’ve come to forget that certain Muslim citizens could make a difference and bring peace to a world torn by hatred and xenophobia. Ilham Tohti is certainly one among them. His place is not in the No. 1 Detention Center in Urumqi in Xinjiang. The Sakharov Prize would be both a tribute and a message of hope sent to an innocent victim of the ruthless dictatorship of Chinese President Xi Jinping. It is up to the European Deputies to rouse themselves on his behalf!
André Gattonlin is a French senator. Marie Holzman is the President of Solidarité Chine. Noël Mamère is a deputy of the National Assembly. This op-ed was translated from the French by Elliot Sperling, Professor Emeritus of Eurasian Studies, Indiana University.
Essential readings about Ilham Tohti:
My Ideals and the Career Path I Have Chosen by Ilham Tohti, 2011.
Present-Day Ethnic Problems in Xinjiang Uighur Autonomous Region: Overview and Recommendations (downloadable PDF) by Ilham Tohti, 2011-2013.
Voice of America Interview with Uyghur Professor Ilham Tohti, November, 2013.
Ilham Tohti, a 30-minute Documentary , October, 2015.
A Short Introduction to Ilham Tohti, 2016 (downloadable PDF)
Making the Case for Nominating Ilham Tohti for the Sakharov Prize – My Remarks at the European Parliament
Yaxue Cao, May 31, 2016
On May 25, a conference titled “Does China Want Real Ethnic Harmony? Professor Ilham Tohti in Perspective” was held in the European Parliament in Brussels. It was sponsored by MEP Ilhan Kyuchyuk of the Alliance of Liberals and Democrats for Europe; MEP Barbara Lochbihler, with the Greens/European Free Alliance and the vice-chair of Subcommittee on Human Rights of the Committee on Foreign Affairs, gave the closing remarks. Both members displayed a sound grasp of the plight of Uighurs and Ilham Tohti’s case, and explained how the Sakharov Prize should be seen as a vehicle of change. I spoke along with five other panelists from academia and human rights groups in Europe and the US, and together we made the case for nominating Ilham Tohti for the Sakharov Prize for Freedom of Thought. My remarks focus on Ilham Tohti’s ideals and work. — Yaxue Cao
I’m not always acutely aware of identity as a Han Chinese, but this is one of those few occasions when I am. I am deeply honored to be here, speaking about Ilham Tohti. You will see why.
The Chinese government has a long standing ethnic policy since the beginning of the founding of the People’s Republic: it selects the brightest ethnic youth, whether Tibetans, Uighurs or from other ethnic groups, and brings them to study and attend colleges in Beijing or other cities in interior China. With better education, they eventually become the elites of their ethnic groups; many become party cadres, others become writers, and others university faculty or successful businessmen.
Ilham Tohti was one of the Uighur elite educated in interior China, as was his father before him. So were his two brothers. He was born in 1969 and grew up in a government compound where Han and Uighur party cadres and their families lived. He was selected to study in Beijing when he was 16. He studied economics and eventually became a professor at Minzu University in Beijing. He is an expert in Xinjiang studies and Central Asia studies, including geopolitics, culture, economic development, and religion. In recent years, he has focused his research on the Uighurs’ economic, religious and political rights, and the increasingly difficult relationship with Han Chinese who have migrated in large numbers to Xinjiang over the last six decades. He is interested in the technicality of governing a multi-ethnic society where groups co-exist peacefully, enjoying equal rights, while preserving their cultural identity. He studied cases of successes and failures in many countries, including in Europe. Not surprisingly, through his research, he saw that his ideals of peaceful ethnic coexistence and good governance would require values and institutions that are rejected by the Chinese government.
His research has inevitably led to criticism of Chinese government’s ethnic policies. In his writings, he analyzed problems in Xinjiang and made policy recommendations that, as far as we can see, have fallen on deaf ears.
Ilham Tohti evoked the ire of the government from the very beginning of his teaching career. In 1994 he was tracked down and threatened by domestic security police (political police, in essence) for the first time, for questioning in a paper he had written the truthfulness of some official data. Over the years he has been alternately barred from publishing and teaching, from traveling to Xinjiang, and from traveling overseas. He was videotaped when he taught, and the government sent minders to sit in his classes. He had been subjected to short detentions and house arrest. In January 15, 2014, he was arrested, and in September, 2014, sentenced to life in prison. Ilham was charged with separatism despite his well-known insistence on peaceful ethnic coexistence.
Long before the Chinese government embarked on the so-called One Road One Belt strategic development blueprint that seeks westward economic expansion along the old Silk Road through Xinjiang, Central Asia and onto Europe, Ilham Tohti believed that China can and should play a more active and effective role in Central Asia, and that Uighurs can take part in that process and contribute to it significantly, because of their cultural affinity with the people of Central Asia.
In his widely-read 2009 essay “Farewell, Ilham,” Ilham’s long-time friend, Chinese writer Huang Zhangjin wrote, “Ilham believes that, if China is a free and democratic country and Xinjiang is a region with true autonomy, the Uighurs will be very proud of being part of China, that China will have strong soft power in Central Asia, and that the Uighurs will become the natural force in expanding China’s influence in the culture and economy in Central Asia, because of their linguistic advantages.” According to Huang, Ilham had planned to propose this national development strategy to leaders. “The situation will be so different even if the Uighurs are treated with some equality,” Ilham Tohti told his Han friend.
But the reality is, ethnic tension between Uighurs and the government, and between Uighurs and Han Chinese, has been deteriorating steadily since the late 1990s. What’s worse, in addition to the intrinsic problems he pointed out, China has seized on the international campaign against terrorism and exploited it through disinformation and distortion for the brutal suppression of the cultural and religious identity of Uighurs. Uighurs have lived in unprecedented fear: they have been subjected to arbitrary detention; they are given long imprisonment for everyday scuffles, or any number of minor offenses; discrimination against them is written in policy announcement across China. Any violent events are quickly labeled terrorist attacks, while similar acts by Han Chinese are described in non-politicized terms.
It was against this backdrop that Ilham Tohti, the Uighurs’ foremost public intellectual, emerged, answering a call of duty.
Now, let’s pause to consider again: 1) Ilham is an elite Uighur with advanced education and research expertise about his homeland and his people; 2) He speaks fluent Chinese and teaches and lives in Beijing, China’s political and economic center; 3) He knows like the back of his hand the views of Han Chinese and the Chinese government’s approach to his people; and 4) As an intellectual, regardless of his ethnicity and religion, he is firmly in the camp of the liberal intelligentsia in China who embrace freedom, democracy, and the rule of law. How many Uighurs inside China are like Ilham Tohti? Very few. So he felt he had a responsibility to his people, and for peace and understanding between Uighurs and Chinese.
Ilham wrote in his autobiographical essay “My Ideals and the Career Path I have Chosen” in 2011, “I know very well that there are not many people from my ethnic group like me who have enjoyed quality education and have had opportunities and experiences. Similarly, few people in China possess the same advantages as I do with regard to Xinjiang issues and Central Asian issues. The challenges facing Chinese society are so arduous that I can’t rightly dismiss my responsibility.” He understands perfectly that, to answer this call of duty, “not only knowledge and training, but above all, courage” will be required.
Part of his answer to this call of duty was to set up the website Uighur Biz in 2006. It was a Chinese-language website that posted news, commentaries, and discussions about what was happening in Xinjiang and to Uighurs and other ethnic groups that the mainstream Han Chinese seldom cared about and hardly knew. The idea was to facilitate access to information and mutual understanding. Ilham Tohti believes in the power of communication. He said that confronting differences is not dangerous, but silent suspicion and hatred are. The site was repeatedly hacked or ordered to shut down. At around the time of his arrest, it had ceased permanently.
Over the years, Ilham Tohti repeatedly emphasized that he is a scholar, not a political figure, and that he serves his people’s interest best as a scholar rather than a political symbol. Yet today he is the No. 1 political prisoner in China in that he is the only person since China’s opening up more than three decades ago who has been sentenced to life in prison for his ideas and expression. The Nobel Peace Prize laureate Liu Xiaobo was sentenced to 11 years in prison for drafting and spreading Charter 08, a blueprint for democratic transformation in China. Ilham Tohti’s recommendations to the Chinese government are sound, and they are also measured and realistic. He is punished so much more severely simply because he is a Uighur.
Recently, around the world, there has been much looking back at the Cultural Revolution among journalists, academics and China watchers, given that this year marks the 50th anniversary of the beginning of Mao Zedong’s notorious political campaign that laid China to ruins. Ilham Tohti’s father, like hundreds and millions of Chinese, died during the Cultural Revolution at the age of 28 when Ilham Tohti was two years old and his younger brother was eleven months. Fifty years later, Ilham Tohti is serving a life sentence for speaking out for his people.
In a nutshell, this is how much China has changed politically over the last fifty years and how bad ethnic tensions have become.
Yaxue Cao is the founder and editor of this website. Follow her on Twitter @yaxuecao.
My Ideals and the Career Path I Have Chosen, April 2014.
Ilham Tohti, a Documentary, 32 minutes.