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Uighurs in China: fallacies and facts

Two weeks ago, Thai police rescued some 220 suspected Uighur Chinese national from a human-trafficking camp in Songkhla. Although their identity had not been confirmed, The Nation published a March 18 editorial titled "Asean must stand up to China over Uighurs". Views expressed in this editorial were both surprising and disappointing.

The editorial claims that "Beijing is no doubt pleased by this policy [deporting these migrants to face prosecution in China], but it damaged Asean's reputation." It is plain wrong to set China's position against Asean's reputation. Just like many Asean member states, China is a multi-ethnic country. China emphasises the need for unity among all ethnic groups and develops relations with all countries by respecting sovereignty and laws and promoting comprehensive cooperation. China and Asean are consistent with each other on the above points. To deport illegal migrants is a natural action of law enforcement of any country. How could such cooperation with China damage Asean's reputation?

The editorial emphasises that "the law should always have a human face". However, we shouldn't forget that the law should always stand on foundations of rationality and justice. Should Thailand, a country under the rule of law, allow prejudice and emotion to override that law?

Someone maintain the view that these suspected Uighurs who entered Thailand illegally are in a "tough" situation and should be offered sanctuary as "political refugees". But this view runs contrary to the sense and rationality on which the law rests.

The editorial refers to the recent terrorist attack in Kunming, saying "Whether it was Uighurs who carried out the mass stabbing remains unclear [but] what is certain is that the Muslim ethnic Uighurs are being stereotyped by Beijing as separatist terrorists." Such a statement is simply untrue. It had already been proved that the March 1 Kunming Railway Station terrorist attack, which left 29 people dead and 143 injured, was orchestrated by terrorist gangs led by Abudureyimu Kurban. Kurban has close links with the East Turkestan Islamic Movement (ETIM), which was listed by the United Nations al-Qaeda/Taleban Sanctions Committee as a terrorist group in 2002.

The evidence is clear and irrefutable. If we fail to face the facts in this case, how can we convince the many casualties of violence in South Thailand that they are victims of violent crime?

The editorial echoes a popular view that the Chinese government considers all Uighurs terrorists. It is obvious that such view is a misinterpretation of Beijing's policy towards ethnic minorities. The general view in China is that the Kunming Station attack stemmed neither from an ethnic problem nor a religious one, but was a crime committed by a small group of terrorists who do not represent any ethnic groups or religion in China. The Chinese people, including those from Xinjiang Uygur Autonomous Region, were unified in condemning the Kunming atrocity.

We are aware of the fact that the issue of stability in the southern border provinces is a top priority for Thailand. The Muslim communities in the deep South and elsewhere in the country are indeed valuable members of Thai society. To promote stability in the region and safety for all members of society, Thailand has adopted various measures, including serious security moves against those who violate the law. It's the same in China. China also guarantees all its citizens - including valuable members of its multi-ethnic "family" such as Uighurs - the same rights under the law and protects them against abuse by those who seek to violate the law.

So, let's be fair and square and respect the facts with cool sense.

Zheng Xin is an international issues observer.


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