TEMPO.CO, Jakarta - IF one wishes to respond to and understand the complexity of the issues faced by Muslims in Uighur in China, it’d be best if they take off the lens of religion. Beijing’s bulldozing towards the Uighur tribe is tightly connected to the ethnic group’s long history and interweaves with their social and cultural fabric and their origins.
The Uighur issue is a humanity one, colliding with the centralistic nature of the Chinese government. The home of the Uighur is the autonomous Province of Xinjiang in northwestern China, which shares a border with Mongolia on the east, Russia in the north, and Kazakhstan, Kirgizstan, Tajikistan, Afghanistan, and Kashmir on the west. They have resided in the region since Year 60 BCE.
The tribe does not consider itself part of China because their ancestors came from Central Asia, mainly from Turkey. For this reason, the tribe has been trying to break itself away from China ever since the conquering Mongols took over power of the region during the Han Dynasty, and held sway for four centuries until 200 CE. After the occupation, China let the area remain lawless until the opening of the Silk Road.
The Uighur problem is similar to the Papuan issue in Indonesia, namely a differing take towards history in the frame of a unitarian state. It is erroneous if one reduces the tension in the region to that of being mere religious conflict. For, despite colliding with Uighur, China has benign relations with the Hui, also Xinjiang Muslims. The Uighur problem became even more trenchant since1960 with the provocation of the East Turkistan Muslim Movement and the Turkish Muslim Party. Later, Al-Qaidah and the Islamic States of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) jumped on the bandwagon of the issue of separatism there.
So, in the eyes of the Chinese government, what they are doing is simply preventing secession. But, since they are centralistic in nature, the approach used by Beijing is undemocratic in the measure of the Western countries. The Chinese government admits there are concentration camps, which by the international media have been dubbed ethnic cleansing camps, with the sole function of tamping the progress of Uighur ethnic separatism and making it part of “One China”.
An economic motive is another problematic layer. As reported by the New York Times back on December 20, 2014, there were 685 Chinese state projects in Xinjiang, a province rich in gas, mineral and oil reserves. The Chinese government claimed oil reserves in the province totaled 21 billion tons or one-quarter of the nation’s oil reserves. Additionally, coal reserves in the province contribute 38 percent of China’s total needs. Trade war has added fuel to the fire. The big nations surrounding Xinjiang obviously have an interest in Uighur’s secession because they are eyeing its huge economic potential.
Therefore, if Indonesia is to assist Uighur Muslims in a peaceful manner, our own handling of the Aceh issue could offer a solution. Inviting and encouraging the Hui Muslims to actively participate in seeking closure to the problem of their provincial sisters and brothers could be the best way out to the matter.
Indonesia cannot sit it out on this particular matter. As a member of the United Nations Security Council, the government has to actively seek a solution to this and similar problems. Also, Indonesia needs to learn some valuable lessons from it, that security, infrastructure, and propaganda approach can never solve conflicts originating from a historical frame. A humanitarian approach has to be foremost. The same approach is exactly what the government should be using in reaching closure to the issue of Papua.
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