'I’m Uyghur by Blood, Chinese by Birth, Taiwanese by Choice'
Exiled student leader Wu'er Kaixi – or Uerkesh Davlet in Uyghur – speaks to ChinaDiction on identity and exile in a China-dominated world.
Mourning for the death of Nobel Peace Prize winner Liu Xiaobo, 2017, Hong Kong: Photo: WikiCommons.
ChinaDiction: It’s nearly June 4, the anniversary of the Tiananmen Massacre in Beijing 33 years ago. How do you look at everything that happened then and since?
Wu’er Kaixi: We were naive. We took to streets in hope. We’d been promised opening and reform for years, and it really seemed back then that something was happening and when we took to the streets we did – I think, most of us – we thought we could add that extra push.
We thought we could push them to make changes. It seems like we were so young now – and China, you know, the Party, are less changed than ever before.
How do I feel? I think like a lot of us who were part of that uprising, we feel betrayed, we were a betrayed generation – betrayed by the Chinese government, later by the world. We hoped the world would unite with us and make China a better place, but the world just threw money at China and made things worse.
ChinaDiction: Is there anger?
Wu’er Kaixi: Yes, but you have to understand, we took to the streets not in anger. The anger came later. Yes, we were frustrated back then in 1989 – we felt isolated from the greater world, we studied and graduated; the government assigned us jobs. No autonomy, or self determination.
The anger comes from betrayal, first by the Chinese government, which promised us opening up, and then with the world for giving China such an easy time, and throwing so much money at such an intolerant system – the Tibetans were oppressed, we Uyghurs were oppressed, everyone who wasn’t a party member was oppressed, and even party members had issues if they broke the so-called rules. It’s like a government of thugs, like the mafia took over town.
ChinaDiction: Identity, I know you were raised mostly in Beijing, because we’re old friends and we’ve talked endlessly about everything, but I have the feeling you were somewhat coy on your Uyghur identity and that has changed over the past decade.
Wu’er Kaixi: I’ve been telling people for years, I’m Uyghur by blood, Chinese by birth, Taiwanese by choice.
I support self-determination. I’m Taiwanese by choice because Taiwan supports the expression of non-mainstream views, it’s a democracy and the Taiwan government was good enough to welcome me as a citizen.
ChinaDiction: Hong Kong?
Wu’er Kaixi: There won’t be a vigil in memorial of Tiananmen in Hong Kong today. There was for three decades. There won’t be one today because China doesn’t really do legal agreements and Hong Kong is gone. Whatever Margaret Thatcher agreed with Deng in December 1984, Hong Kong’s just now another Chinese city governed by Chinese law, which is not law as the West understands it. It’s just about protecting non-elected policies and officials.
ChinaDiction: The Uyghur issue?
Wu’er Kaixi: This is just ridiculous. The UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Michelle Bachelet. She goes to China and gets a short visit to Xinjiang and says thanks for letting me visit … That’s it. She can’t even condemn cultural and literal genocide, which is what’s going on in Xinjiang.
When I talk about betrayal, this is how many of us feel – betrayed by how the world deals with China. Yes, I’m in exile, most of friends are, I have friends who were murdered by the regime and Uyghurs I know are disappeared, but the world is like let’s give the CCP another chance.
ChinaDiction: You suggested ChinaDiction use an image of Liu Xiaobo [Chinese Nobel Peace Prize winner, an intellectual mentor to the young protesters in 1989, died in jail in 2017, his ashes disposed at sea] for this recorded interview.
Wu’er Kaixi: I can’t talk about it, not really. I miss him a lot. It’s just heartache and anger, his name, for me. I can’t get over that he was killed. It’s deeply personal.
ChinaDiction: You said the world threw money at China and made it worse after you were forced into exile …
Wu’er Kaixi: Yes, you legitimized an illegitimate regime and now you’re dealing with the consequences of it. No accountability and too many people think you can do a deal.
China doesn’t do lasting deals.
This interview has been edited for clarity.
Has Xi Blown It? No Spoilers, Highly Unlikely
Who is this guy? Xi Jinping’s signature. Picture: Wikicommons.
A lot of the “adoring masses” narrative is simply propaganda: the important point is whether Xi has his grip on the handle of the CPC – and he does: the military and everything else too.
As The Economist notes (paywall), yes, there are rumors of internal political fissures over the economy, the handling of Covid-19 and much more, but it’s unlikely there’s a real threat to Xi’s continued rule.
At times of great stress, such as that China’s economy is now facing, it is not unusual for Mr Xi to push others to the fore. In the early stage of the pandemic, in January 2020, Mr Li was the first central leader to visit the city of Wuhan, where covid was discovered. In August last year Mr Li, not the president, paid a visit to Zhengzhou after flooding killed hundreds in the city. China’s paramount leaders have a record of working with prime ministers who cultivate an image of being in tune with public suffering. Zhou Enlai played such a role under Mao Zedong. Wen Jiabao did so under Hu Jintao, Mr Xi’s predecessor. No obvious power struggles were involved.
George Soros (he’s getting on in years) doesn’t agree:
Soros thinks that Xi has blown it by taking on the economy, both with socialist ideology and his Zero-Covid policy, which most prominently shutdown Shanghai for two months, and won’t get the the third term he wants.
But, as the The Wire puts it …
No leader in China, and certainly not Li Keqiang, would dare to coordinate opposition to Xi in the run-up to the all-important 20th Party Congress this autumn, where he is expected to secure a further term in office. In addition to the fact that Xi controls the security services and their vast surveillance power, coordinating such a conspiracy would run counter to long-standing party rules against “factionalism.” Senior leaders like Li all know these rules and would not dare to break them.
That doesn’t mean there’s no disquiet about Xi’s way of operating. As a powerful secretary-general, Xi has the final say across a large number of vital issues via the party’s leading small groups — from the degree of leverage that’s appropriate for the economy, to military reform, to the development of artificial intelligence in China. These leading groups sometimes promulgate up to ten new decrees during a single meeting, meaning that Xi, who chairs the vast majority of them, can end up making dozens of decisions in a week that will have a profound impact on the trajectory of Chinese growth and technological development. Some recent decisions, such as the stricter limits placed on real estate purchases, restrictions on youth video gaming, the virtual ban on after-school tutoring, and the implementation of strict cybersecurity reviews for domestic and overseas listings, have pummeled the stock market and undermined general economic growth in China. Many of these announcements were made with little warning to stakeholders, and without a consultative process. Xi also chaired a Politburo meeting in May which decided on the “unwavering” continuation of China’s zero-Covid policy, which many blame as the main source of the country’s recent economic weaknesses.
Of course there’s opposition to Xi, but how do you take him on? He’s a double-down guy and relentless.
The Great Pacific Game
The great standoff: US vs China. Image: WikiCommons
It started in Honiara, capital of the Solomon Islands, in late March, as ChinaDiction reported at the time, and morphed high-speed into a broad Pacific trade and security act with 10 Pacific nations in a move that put the fear in Australia, New Zealand and the US.
The deal was rejected. As the ABC reports:
Fijian Prime Minister Frank Bainimarama said Pacific nations were united in their approach after the decision was announced on Monday afternoon.
"As always, we put consensus first among our countries throughout any discussion on new regional agreements," Mr Bainimarama said at a press conference with Mr Wang [Wang Yi, PRC foreign minister].
Mr Bainimarama said he sought a stronger commitment from China on climate action and cutting emissions, as he did with all world leaders.
"Geopolitical point-scoring means less than little to anyone whose community is slipping beneath the rising seas," he said.
ABC reporter Stephen Dziedzic notes:
Doubling Down on Demographics
According to reports, Taiwan is contemplating doing something about an impending demographic crisis and labor shortage, by making its domestic workers become skilled and part of the work force.
It’s just a tentative first step, but it’s a big deal.
US Steps Up Support for Taiwan
US Senator Tammy Duckworth touched down in Taiwan and spoke out again – it’s her second visit in a year – on US support for Taiwan. The Associated Press reports:
Duckworth, meeting with Taiwan President Tsai Ing-wen, emphasized the close economic, political and security relations between Taipei and Washington.
China sent 30 military aircraft toward the island on Monday in an ongoing campaign of regular flights. Taiwan’s Defense Ministry said it responded by scrambling jets, putting air defense missile systems on alert and issuing radio warnings.
A new trade deal was announced on Wednesday – the US-Taiwan Initiative on 21st Century Trade – after Taiwan was excluded from the US Indo-Pacific economic initiative announced by President Joe Biden recently.
Beijing will know now it’s being blocked at every turn.
It’s June 4 …
The fall of Hong Kong is everybody’s loss:
Borrowed Time for Hong Kong’s FCC?
The South China Morning Post commentary on the club’s meeting about press freedom is touching. The writer, Douglas Wong. was FCC President from 2012-13 and a Human Rights Press Awards judge from 2012-21
After becoming the subject of unflattering editorial cartoons for both malign opposition and craven surrender to Chinese authority here, the club continues to be a canary in the coal mine. Its lease on its iconic heritage Hong Kong government-owned premises ends this year. Borrowed place, borrowed time, as member Richard Hughes wrote of the city and its many faces.
Not only are its landlord’s intentions even harder to discern than ever, the FCC’s members are leaving in numbers not seen since Hong Kong’s return to Chinese sovereignty in 1997. But why should any non-member care?
His Holiness Blesses New 233-Volume Tibetan Dictonary
His Holiness the Dalai Lama inaugurates the new ‘Monlam Grand Tibetan Dictionary.’ Photo: DIIR
The Monlam Grand Tibetan Dictionary, which involved some 200 scholars working together over nine years, has finally dropped – all 223 volumes, more than 64 million words of it, reports Tibet.net.
Don’t confuse the total word count with entries. The new dictionary, compiled by the Monlam Tibetan IT Research Center at Tsuglakhang in Mcleod Ganj, has around 200,000 entries, putting it on a close par with the Oxford English Dictionary.
It goes without saying that it is a serious statement of Tibetan identity. Imagine the OED being published in 2022 by an English government in exile in Himalayan India.
Singapore Reels Amid Chicken Shortage
A US version of Hainan chicken (we would love to do better). Photo: WikiCommons
Singapore, where Hainan chicken is practically the national dish, is facing a chicken shortage, as Malaysia moves to ban exports of the feathered delicacy due to shortages of its own and “price spikes,” reports Bloomberg.
While the imminent embargo is often framed as dour news for fans of hawker-center dishes like chicken rice, more consequential risks lurk in the background. Singapore gets many of its building blocks of modern life from its northern neighbor: power, water, labor and food. While the government has worked hard over the years to reduce dependence on agricultural imports, with kale farms inside former industrial warehouses and fisheries springing up on vacant lots, food security is a long term project.
The more protectionist, politically contested world we now inhabit brings real challenges for Singapore. Not only does the city-state need to worry about availability of supplies — as it did during border closures early in the pandemic — but how lower stocks will accelerate rapid price increases that have affected every corner of life, from fuel and electricity bills to rent and groceries.
Yes, it’s an old tweet (2021!!), a postcard from when Taipei was Taihoku (the Japanese pronunciation of the characters for “tai north,” or 台北), but ChinaDiction was reminded of the period and its historical significance because of a post by Sense Hofstede (highly recommended reading), arguing that Taiwan became non-China in 1895 … Not 1949, at the end of the Chinese civil war.
Apart from the incorrect ‘breakaway province’ cliché, another favourite of the press when writing on Taiwan is to mention that the island was separated from China in 1949, at the end of the Chinese Civil War. In this piece I argue that this is wrong. Taiwan was separated from China in 1895, when the Treaty of Shimonoseki ceded Taiwan to the Japanese Empire. There has been a distinct Taiwanese society ever since. The chaotic 1945–9 period during which it was part of a Nanjing-based Republic of China (ROC) was too short and tenuous to undo this. The post-1949 period was indeed initially dominated by refugees from the Mainland, but they were migrants making a new home in an existing society. The fact that they brought their Chinese cultural background with them and sought to remould Taiwanese society in that light does not change the fact that the end-product was something new and different. The real point of divergence for Taiwan was 1895.