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31-07-09, 03:29
Xinjiang claims reviewed

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Updated July 31, 2009 14:17:02

The Australian government has reportedly granted a short-stay business visa to exiled Uighur leader Rebiya Kadeer, despite protests from the Chinese embassy.

Riots in July left nearly 200 people dead and Ms Kadeer claimed this week that 10,000 Uighers are now missing.

Presenter: Liam Cochrane
Speaker: Professor June Tuefel Dreyer, Deptartment of Political Science at the Univeristy of Miami

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DREYER: Well both sides are apt to exaggerate on purpose, but I notice that the Chinese say that they have arrested a small number of people, whereas Ms Kadeer says that the people are missing, and it could be that some of the people who are missing have done the prudent thing and got out of Urumqi, decided this would be a good time to visit their relatives in some small town somewhere in Xinjiang, because anyone who is Uighur is suspected of complicity in these riots and is liable to be picked up and thrown in jail and beaten up or worse.

COCHRANE: The Chinese officials say that Rebiya Kadeer has masterminded the unrest that we saw earlier this month, do you think that's possible?

DREYER: It's most unlikely. The problem with being in exile is you lose touch with the people back in Xinjiang, and of course she has good sources of information, but I would think limited ability to control what goes on. There seems to have been a spontaneous protest, at least [it] began as a spontaneous protest against the mistreatment of a Uighur who was accused of, misaccused, because the accuser later recanted, misaccused of raping a woman in Quangdong province in the southeast and the authorities mishandled the case and they weren't handling it at all properly and that is why the Uighurs in Xinjiang began their demonstration.

COCHRANE: The issue surrounding the Uighur people has had a fairly low profile prior to the events of earlier this month. Now it's all over the headlines around the world. Is there a sense that like Tibet, prior to the Olympics, the Uighurs feel this is their moment to make their cause heard?

DREYER: Oh, I think that there are connections between the exiled groups of these people in Xinjiang and Tibet, but I don't think there was any direct connection between the demonstrations. The Tibetan ones had very, very different causes and there was a sympathy demonstration to the Tibetans in Xinjiang at just before the Olympics. But this one erupted out of an entirely different set of grievances. But I think the underlying problem is that these people feel they are being treated very badly, and they are being treated very badly by the Communist authorities, their heritage is essentially being destroyed.

COCHRANE: And we heard this week that Chinese authorities are demolishing the old part of Kashgar. Could this be grounds for further unrest, do you think?

DREYER: I think it can be yes, and I notice that as soon as the demonstrations began in Urumqi, that a very heavy police presence was introduced in Kashgar, because the situation there is so touchy and I find it ironic that the authorities are saying well, we need to put up earthquake proof buildings in Kashgar, whereas one of the impasses for the demonstrations on the Tibetans was the fact of all these schools collapsing, because they had not been earthquake proofed in their areas.

COCHRANE: And what precisely does Rebiya Kadeer and the movement she represents, what do they want from the Chinese Government?

DREYER: Eh, I think what they would like is for the Chinese Government to back off on the destruction of their culture and it seems to me that the Uighurs could at least be, or at least many of them could be assuaged - there are probably people who would settle for nothing less than independence. But most Uighurs could be assuaged if they were just allowed to use their own language and practice their own customs and truly follow their version of Islam, which is a very mild version of Islam.