The Hong Kong protests — now more than six months old — took on a new twist this weekend as demonstrators rallied in support of China’s Uighur population, currently the victims of mass arrests and forced “re-education” by Beijing. Already playing with fire by waving U.S. flags, protestors may have leveled up the pressure by siding with victims of Communist oppression in Xingjiang.
AFP News reported on Sunday that pro-Uighur chants and flags have become “commonplace” in Hong Kong, but that “Sunday’s rally was the first to be specifically dedicated to Uighurs.”
One speaker shouted to the crowd, “We shall not forget those who share a common goal with us, our struggle for freedom and democracy and the rage against the Chinese Communist Party.” Police quickly broke up the rally, which included about 1,000 people, after protestors pulled a Chinese flag from a nearby government building.
While China’s central government in Beijing has sometimes taken a hands-off approach towards its Muslim Uighur minority in the far-western Xinxiang province, under President Xi Jinping the entire region has come under systematic oppression. While not exactly new, the full extent of Xi’s efforts there — “the equivalent of cultural genocide” — didn’t become known until November of this year. More than 400 pages of secret documents were leaked, detailing China’s “absolutely no mercy” policy towards the Uighurs.
The New York Times reported:
Children saw their parents taken away, students wondered who would pay their tuition and crops could not be planted or harvested for lack of manpower, the reports noted. Yet officials were directed to tell people who complained to be grateful for the Communist Party’s help and stay quiet.
The leaked papers offer a striking picture of how the hidden machinery of the Chinese state carried out the country’s most far-reaching internment campaign since the Mao era.
The crackdown is aided by what might be the world’s most omnipresent, high-tech surveillance system, which is cruelly ironic when you consider that Xingjiang has long been China’s least-developed region. It’s like the Uighurs went from peasant-farming and goat-herding to something out of Brave New World virtually overnight.
Hong Kongers are really playing with fire by making the Uighur cause their own. Beijing can afford to take a softer approach with the former British colony, under the “one country, two systems” handover finalized with London more than 20 years ago. Or maybe it might be more accurate to say that Beijing can’t afford to take a firmer hand with Hong Kong, given the ubiquity of smartphones, hundreds of thousands of foreign nationals, and the city’s unique position in China’s financial system. Whatever the case, Hong Kong is seen on the mainland as an anomaly which probably poses no threat to Communist rule.
Perhaps ominously, Foreign Policy reports that protestors “waved the blue flag of ‘East Turkestan,’ as Uighur separatists call Xinjiang.” The mere suggestion of East Turkestan is a threat to Beijing, as it implies independence from the rest of China. While not many Hong Kongers have — yet? — demanded independence from the mainland, even implied support for Uighur independence might be more than Beijing can tolerate.
Having clamped down so hard in Xingjiang, Beijing can’t afford to back off. And if Hong Kongers side with the Uighurs, then maybe the protestors do pose an existential threat to the Communist ruling clique. If Beijing perceives that kind of threat, then all bets are off.