Block China With An Independent East Turkistan

Journal of Political Risk, Vol. 7, No. 5, May 2019 

Uyghur protest Berlin, July 2009. Source: Claudia Himmelreich via Wikimedia Commons.

Rukiye Turdush
Uyghur Research Institute

People of East Turkistan, called Xinjiang by the Chinese Communist Party, have endured the long and oppressive colonisation of China for many years. Although China did not round up people of East Turkistan and shoot them with machine guns in front of the world, they have locked them up and are eliminating them one by one in concentration camps. [1]

Every Uyghur living outside China is searching and asking for the location of their disappeared family members.  Uyghur girls are forced to marry Han Chinese as a part of their gene washing policy. Uyghur children are forcibly removed from their families as Chinese officials with genocidal intention proclaim, “cut the lineage, cut the roots, cut the connection.” [2]

Around three million Uyghurs and other ethnic Muslims are currently locked up in concentration camps and are being subjected to torture and death.[3] The religion, culture and identity of Muslims in East Turkistan are now entirely banned. The world has remained silent in its moral obligation to do something about this tragedy.

Under article 1(2) of the United Nations Charter, one of the main purposes of U.N. is to develop friendly relations among nations based on respect for the principle of equal rights and self determination of peoples, and to take other appropriate measures to strengthen universal peace. Self- determination and equal rights of peoples is again mentioned in article 55 which lays down general social, economic and human rights. The colonial history of East Turkistan since 1949 has proven that without the peaceful independence of East Turkistan based on the principles of self determination of peoples, there will be no peace.  Contrary to the UN charter, China‘s notion of peace and stability is to terrorize and eliminate the  nation of East Turkistan. Why does the global community allow this and take no collective action against it?

In fact, protection of the people of East Turkistan and support of their peaceful independence from the oppressive Chinese regime is not only about the moral obligation of the entire world, it is also about the security of every democratic nation in this world.

The Strategic Importance of East Turkistan in China’s Hegemonic Dream

China took the opportunity of the US conflict in the Middle East over many years, to emerge as a rising power on the global stage. It started to challenge U.S. sea power to gain hegemonic dominance. The energy resources and strategic importance of the South China Sea is not a secret to the world. It has abundant oil reserves that are estimated at more than 900 trillion cubic meters of natural gas and 7 billion barrels of oil. Eighty percent of China’s crude oil imports, and sixty percent of Japan and Taiwan’s energy supplies come through the South China Sea. More than half of the world’s annual trade passes through the Malacca chokepoint in the South China Sea.

In this regard, the instability of the South China Sea affects the entire global economy. Global economic interconnectedness and interdependence may prevent the outbreak of war in the South China Sea, assuming a balancing of power. However, this does not look possible, as China has shown a penchant for bullying in the South China Sea.

Beijing claims almost the entire  South China Sea as Chinese territory including islands currently held by Vietnam, Malaysia and the Philippines. China has rapidly expanded its naval military there, built airbases on land reclaimed islands, and has plans to build aircraft carriers to deploy in the South China Sea.[4]  A lot of Chinese money is being spent to give China’s armed forces the capability to fight and win major conflicts outside Chinese borders.[5]

In 1982, the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS) was adopted at a United Nation conference.  It established exclusive economic zones, continental shelves, and defined the concept of the Exclusive Economic Zone  (EEZ) , an area up to 200 nautical miles beyond and adjacent to the territorial sea.[6]  Despite the UNCLOS, in 1992, China drilled oil from Vietnam’s waters in the Gulf of Tonkin and landed troops on a reef. It seized almost 20 of Vietnam’s cargo ships in that year. China also occupied Mischief Reef not far from the Philippines soon after the adoption of UNCLOS.[7]

Carl von Clausewitz, a Prussian officer in French revolutionary and Napoleonic Wars, defined the nature of war through the idea of ‘trinities’ which is – passion, chance, and reason.[8]  China already reasoned itself into involvement in war in the South China Sea by convincing itself that it has a legitimate reason to be a dominating power in the region. First of all, China has seen the US, Japan, and Russia as interlopers and has witnessed declining power compared with ancient China’s traditional cultural and historical influence in the region.  Secondly, China’s great strategic concern is to control global supply routes for its enormous growing energy resource needs.[9] These could be the reasons for China’s passion towards war.

China’s imperialistic dream can also be seen through its Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) project that will expand China’s power in the Southeast, South and Central Asia, the Arabian Gulf, North Africa and Europe. The World Bank estimates that it will encompass 30 per cent of global GDP, 62 per cent of the world’s population and 75 per cent of currently known energy reserves.[10]

The BRI project expands China’s influence into the Eurasian subcontinent where the influence of the US is weak. This reminds us of Nicholas Spyman’s “Rimland” theory. If China succeeds in exporting dominance of its soft power through the BRI project, it could potentially pave the way for the dominance of hard power.  It will undermine existing military alliances and weaken the U.S. rebalancing policy in the South China Sea.[11]

East Turkistan, the land colonized by China in 1949 and which they call “Xinjiang”, is of indispensable significance to the BRI project and towards China’s hegemonic ambition. Three of the five corridors of BRI projects start from East Turkistan, and China is well aware that East Turkistan is a colonized country and that the people of East Turkistan are racially, religiously and culturally distinct from Han Chinese. Beijing will always worry that without total control of East Turkistan, and without the elimination of non-Han nations in the region, it will be impossible to achieve its imperialistic dream. As a result, to eradicate people of East Turkistan, China is implementing a genocidal policy in the region.

The world should know that an independent state of East Turkistan is the legitimate right of the people of East Turkistan. Without independence of East Turkistan, there will be no guarantee for the security of not just the South China Sea, but the Eurasian subcontinent in the long run.

Han Chinese ethnic nationalism and its intention of global dominance

China’s ambition of power dominance and Han Chinese ethnic nationalism is not limited to East Turkistan.  The world should not be misled into believing that this Chinese nationalism is limited within the claimed boundaries of the Chinese state.  They also shouldn’t confuse Chinese nationalism with Chinese state patriotism. The growth of ethnic Han Chinese nationalism has proven China’s intention to dominate the world. Some of China’s researchers have falsely argued that the Chinese Communist Party’s popularisation of nationalism was not focussed on ethnic nationalism but rather, state nationalism through providing patriotic education.[12]  In reality, the Uyghurs and other Turkic Muslims in East Turkistan have been forced to abandon their religion and culture, and they have been forced to accept an ethnic Han Chinese identity.

China’s imperialistic intentions are based on their “Tianxia” ideology which is very different from the liberal democratic principles that inform the West. China believes that it is the center of Tianxia (the world) and that it possesses the best etiquette and culture.[13]  The imperialistic tradition of China has both domestic and foreign elements, from neither of which did China divorce itself.  For example, China’s relations with “Tianxia” were expressed by modernized traditional Chinese intellectuals such as Kang You Wei as  “Tianxia as one, the great unity of the world without nation” in his book, the “A Book of Great Harmony”.[14]

China’s founding father Sun Yat-sen repeatedly referred to the  Chinese Confucian concept of “Family- Ethnicity- State- World” in his writings and he stated in his speech in 1921 that the Confucian ideal of “Tianxia” may actually be achieved to create a new Republic of China that is solemn and grand, and rise above Europe and America.[15] For China, “Tianxia” is a great unification of one world and imagines a political unit that surpasses the nation state.[16]

China has already set itself the goal of surpassing US military power by 2050. President Xi announced during the 19th Communist Party Congress in October 2017, that the modernisation of China’s armed forces would be complete by 2035, and that by 2050 China would be in possession of a world-class military.[17]

Over 2018, China vigorously increased its presence on South China Sea bases. In May 2018, long-range anti-ship cruise missiles and air- defense missiles were deployed to the Spratly Islands and China landed H-6K strategic bombers on Woody Island, giving an effective range over almost all of South East Asia – thus underlining the military significance of these island bases.[18]  It is clear that China’s military competition with the U.S is not driven by a security dilemma.  It is driven by its Han Chinese nationalism and its hegemonic ambition. Only an independent state of East Turkistan can block China’s export of dominance of the Han Chinese nationalism that could expand through the BRI project.

Can the US alone constrain China?

The neo-liberalist view of a cooperative engagement with China will not work if China’s military power surpasses that of the US, as it could provide an opportunity for China’s imperialism to grow. The Obama administration had a rebalancing  strategy against China that can be seen in Secretary Clinton’s U.S. requirements in her Hanoi remarks:[19]

“While the United States does not take sides on the competing territorial disputes over land features in the South China Sea, we believe claimants should pursue their territorial claims and accompanying rights to maritime space in accordance with the UN convention on the law of the sea..”

The rebalancing strategy suggests that the US should align with a group of states to build a coalition to defend their collective interest against the threat from China.[20] However, the rebalancing strategy of the Obama administration is not about grouping with like-minded states and isolating China. They tried to engage both with China and other territorial claimant states in the South China Sea by using arguments from Secretary Clinton’s Hanoi remarks. They stated that conflict and instability in the South China Sea would result in closed sea lanes and harm everyone’s economy. This action also sends a message that in order to avoid a clash with China, the United States would rather solve the conflict through multilateral cooperation.

In reality, it depends on how China interprets this message. China can manipulate the US reluctance to be involved in a war with them in the South China Sea. In this regard, many commentators suggest that this strategy should be backed up by American military power and that the current United States naval power in existing  sea lanes should move to secure competition with China.

The Trump administration has implemented a trade war against China in order to weaken its economy and at the same time does not recognize China’s leading role and increased military competition.[21] For example, the US rejects China as a responsible stakeholder and the US increasingly recognizes China as a threat and enemy when it announced trade war against China.  However, the Trump administration’s trade war alone is not enough to weaken the aggressive power of China. If the US is replaced by China in its 1990s role as an aspiring hegemon, the world will face a disruptive, dangerous and unpredictable autocratic regime.

Unlike American power that played a vital role in establishing the United Nations, the democratic world order, rights of every human, and freedom, China has no transparent political system and no respect for human rights and international law.

The torture of 3 million  Uyghur and other Muslims of East Turkistan in concentration camps because of their ethnic, religious and racial differences from Han Chinese; denying every  Uyghur and other Muslims physical  and mental autonomy by its use of surveillance technology in addition to the use of Chinese human spies positioned in nearly every Uyghur’s home, and instilling of horror in nearly every colonized person in East Turkistan. This should alarm the world and cause a revaluation of China’s growing role as a superpower that is destroying the post-WWII international order.

Competition for security will not put both US and China in an endless game of power balancing until one side displays its superior position. This position should belong to the United States to restrain China’s sea power and its dreams of a new autocratic and mercantilist global imperialism.

In addition to the Trump administration’s trade war, democratic alliances should prevent China’s BRI project, or they should reject aligning with this project. Otherwise, continued economic partnership will create further economic opportunity for China’s growth.  This could be a dangerous investment into an autocratic regime.

East Turkistan is an integral part of China’s BRI project. Democratic governments around the world should seek to keep the dragon in his den, help promote the peaceful independence of East Turkistan and thereby shut off one of China’s important and proliferating silk roads, across which it has a good chance of satiating its hegemonic appetite.

Rukiye Turdush, an ethnic Uyghur, was born in East Turkistan. She immigrated to Canada in 1999, where she studied International Relations at the University of Windsor and obtained a post graduate degree at George Brown College. She is a human rights activist and main contributor at the Uyghur Research Institute. JPR Status: Opinion.

[1] 1/18/2019 路德访谈米娜女士:述在新疆遭受中共国宝迫害,失去一个几个月大的孩子,被强迫查的经. [online] Available at: [Accessed 27 May 2019]. In this interview: Mihrigul Tursun is ethnic Uyghur. She was arrested at the airport while travelling to East Turkistan with her two month old triplet babies to get her parents’ support. Her children had Egyptian citizenship and the Egyptian consulate rescued her along with her other two children. She arrived in the United States from Egypt after a few months and gave U.S. congressional testimony about Chinese concentration camps on November 29, 2018.

[2] Lim, L. (2019). China: re-engineering the Uyghur. [online] The Interpreter. Available at: [Accessed 27 May 2019] [Accessed 28 May 2019].

[3] Stewart, P. (2019). China putting minority Muslims in ‘concentration camps,’ U.S. says. [online] U.S. Available at: [Accessed 28 May 2019].

[4] Munro, RH 1992, ‘Awakening dragon’, Policy Review, no. 62, p. 10.

[5] Ibid.

[6] (2019). Overview – Convention & Related Agreements. [online] Available at: [Accessed 28 May 2019].

[7] To, L. (no date) ‘China, the USA and the South China Sea conflicts’, SECURITY DIALOGUE, 34(1), pp. 25–39.

[8] John,B., Steve,S.,  and Patrica, O., (2014), The Globalization of World Politics: An Introduction to International Relations (Oxford: Oxford University Press): p 228.

[9] HEMMINGS, J. (2011) ‘The Potential for Sino-Us Discord in the South China Sea’, RUSI Journal: Royal United Services Institute for Defence Studies, 156(2), p. 90.

[10] The World Bank. (2019). Belt and Road Initiative. [online] Available at: [Accessed 28 May 2019].

[11] De Castro, R. C. (2018). 21st century U.S. policy on an emergent china: From strategic constrainment to strategic competition in the indo-pacific region. International Journal of China Studies, 9(3), 259-283.

[12] Modongal, S. (2016). Development of nationalism in China. Cogent Social Sciences, 2(1).

[13] Zhang, L., & Hu, Z. (2017). Empire, Tianxia and Great Unity: A historical examination and future vision of China’s international communication. Global Media and China2(2), 197–207.

[14] Ibid.

[15] Huang, M. (2006). The blueprint and aspiration of Sun Yat-sen’s construction of a Great Unity Society. Social Sciences in Guangdong, 5, 114–120.
Google Scholar.

[16] Zhang, L. and Hu, Z. (2017). Empire, Tianxia and Great Unity: A historical examination and future vision of China’s international communication. Global Media and China, 2(2), pp.197-207.

[17] LIANG, L. (2019). 19th Party Congress: China to have world-class military by 2050. [online] The Straits Times. Available at: [Accessed 28 May 2019].

[18] Asia Maritime Transparency Initiative. (2019). China Lands First Bomber on South China Sea Island | Asia Maritime Transparency Initiative. [online] Available at: [Accessed 28 May 2019].

[19] U.S. Department of State. (2019). Remarks at Press Availability. [online] Available at: [Accessed 27 May 2019].

[20] De Castro, RC 2018, ‘21st Century U.S. Policy on an Emergent China: From Strategic Constrainment to Strategic Competition in the Indo-Pacific Region’, International Journal of China Studies, vol. 9, no. 3, p. 259.

[21] Ibid.