Authorities in northwest China’s Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region (XUAR) have appointed an ethnic Han Chinese male as president of the region’s most prestigious college, in a move observers say is an assault on the final vestiges of so-termed autonomy for members of the Uyghur group.
On Sept. 25, Chinese state media reported that Yao Qiang, an ethnic Han gentleman who had been serving as Vice President of Xinjiang College in the regional funds Urumqi since March 2019, experienced been appointed as the school’s most recent president 3 days before. This marks the initially time considering that the founding of the XUAR by China in 1955 that a Han human being has served as the head of the college, which is the flagship institute of better education in the region.
Xinjiang College (XJU), which is located in Urumqi’s Tengritagh (in Chinese, Tianshan) district, has been in operation extended than any other college in the region. The university was established as the Russian University of Legislation in 1920 and by 1935 experienced grow to be identified as the Xinjiang Institute. Following 1949, the calendar year in which Communist forces invaded the region, large-ranking political figures from the Uyghur community this sort of as Burhan Shahidi and Seypiddin Eziz served as the institute’s president. Following the upheaval of the 1968-78 Cultural Revolution, a string of Uyghur scholars and educators served in that position, which include Enwer Hanbaba, Qeyyum Bawudun, Hakim Jappar, Ibrayim Haliq, Enwer Hamut, Tashpolat Teyip, and Wali Barat.
In March 2017, only 7 months soon after the appointment of Chen Quanguo to the role of Occasion Secretary of the XUAR, Teyip was permit go from his situation as president and changed by Barat, the president of Xinjiang Ordinary University. Afterwards in 2017, as authorities launched an internment campaign that has since viewed an approximated 1.8 million Uyghurs and other Muslim minorities held in a huge community of internment camps in the area, Teyip was detained together with a number of other effectively-recognized professors from the university, together with Abdukerim Rahman, Azat Sultan, Arslan Abdulla, Rahile Dawut, and Gheyretjan Osman, amid a lot of some others. Despite the fact that numerous had been unveiled in 2019, several of them look to remain in detention. In 2019, Teyip was charged with “splittism” and handed a two-12 months deferred loss of life penalty. Not even a calendar year just after staying named XJU president, Barat was also reportedly detained.
From 2018 right up until Sept. 22, 2020, the position of XJU president remained empty. In March 2019, professor Yao was brought to XJU from Tsinghua University in Beijing, and served XJU as vice president right until his promotion to president. He reportedly also served as the Celebration Committee Secretary of XJU.
Yao started research at Tsinghua College, one particular of the leading universities in China, in 1978. Right after his graduation, he labored at Zhejiang College and Tsinghua College, keeping a number of titles this sort of as professor, doctoral advisor, graduate advisor, and section chair.
XJU posted the announcement of Yao’s appointment to its site on Sept. 25, noting that it was “the final result of quite a few conversations and a vote amongst these workplaces as the Autonomous Region Party Committee, Central Propaganda Division, and Ministry of Education and learning.”
RFA’s Uyghur Support a short while ago identified as Yao’s workplace searching for comment from the new president on his appointment, but a Han worker claimed he was out of the workplace and not able to give an interview on finding out that the reporter was calling from the U.S.
Signal of alter
Analysts and observers of the circumstance in the XUAR told RFA they have been alarmed by the appointment of an ethnic Han to this significant position at XJU, stating the move signifies a key adjust in the ethnic politics of the location.
Dr. Erkin Sidick, a Uyghur NASA engineer based mostly in California, studied at XJU from 1978 until eventually his graduation in 1982.
In an job interview with RFA, Sidick referred to as the appointment a considerable turning point in the modern day background of the Uyghur persons.
“This is no regular matter. Xinjiang University is a symbol of the Uyghur academy. Right after the 1930s and 1940s, it educated many proficient, smart thinkers,” he stated.
“The point that the president of the college experienced always been a Uyghur was a recognition of the simple fact that Uyghurs had been the main populace. In my belief, to have removed them from the place of work of the university president is tantamount to evidence that they want to do absent with all acquired, intelligent, and able Uyghurs.”
Sidick claimed the appointment shows that the Chinese govt acknowledges the XUAR as “autonomous” only in title.
“If almost nothing else, they have at minimum identified that East Turkestan is Uyghur land by contacting it the Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Area,” he claimed, applying a title chosen by numerous Uyghurs for their homeland.
“As for what has been going on lately, the Chinese [authorities] are trying to adjust East Turkestan, entirely reducing almost everything that is related to Uyghurs or that shows this is Uyghur land.”
RFA also spoke with Teng Biao, an ethnic Han human rights law firm and authorized scholar who at this time teaches and conducts exploration at New York University.
Teng, who on numerous occasions has publicly defended the legal rights to autonomy of Uyghurs and other non-Han teams in China and spoken in assistance of jailed Uyghur intellectual Ilham Tohti, fled China for the U.S. following a July 2013 crackdown on a selection of human legal rights lawyers.
In accordance to Teng, the appointment of a Han president to the flagship university of the XUAR is a sign that the authorities are becoming a lot more radical in their repression of the local population.
“The Chinese government’s cultural genocide of the Uyghurs is increasing far more and more intensive, and features the suppression of the Uyghurs’ language, culture, and other traditions. The federal government is at the moment strengthening this suppression,” he mentioned.
Teng explained China’s legislation governing the legal rights of regional autonomy in the state have “only ever existed on paper.”
“The authorities use this for the sake of political expediency alone,” he stated.
“For many yrs, the Chinese federal government has been making use of this veil [of autonomy] to suppress Uyghurs, Tibetans, and Southern Mongolians. Now they have pulled off this veil and are overtly and a lot more intensely radicalizing their suppression of the language, culture, and traditions of these ethnic groups.”
Ilshat Hesen Kokbore, the Washington-centered head of the Chinese Affairs Committee of the Entire world Uyghur Congress and former president of the Uyghur American Affiliation, said he sees the earlier 70 a long time of Chinese Communist Party rule in the XUAR as colonialism below the guise of autonomy.
He informed RFA that Yao’s appointment to the presidency of XJU signified Beijing’s ever more hardline policies towards the Uyghurs, as nicely as its assimilationist ambitions.
“Xinjiang College is a heart of historical past and values, and of investigate into Uyghur society in East Turkestan,” he explained.
“The university is of a symbolic character in the so-termed autonomous location, and its presidents have always been Uyghur. The appointment of a Han as the president of a college that has lengthy been a image of Uyghur ‘autonomy’ displays that the autonomy regulation is totally devoid of which means.”
Documented by Mihray Abdilim for RFA’s Uyghur Services. Translated and penned in English by Elise Anderson.