With the launch of the PRC’s Silk Road Belt initiative, the region known to Chinese as Xinjiang and to Uyghurs as East Turkestan appears set to reprise its historic role as the strategic crossroads of Eurasia. In Xinjiang, indigenous Muslim Uyghurs have long suffered under harsh rule, and the region has been plagued by communal violence between Uyghurs and Han Chinese who have migrated there in large numbers. Since 9/11, the PRC has dramatically ramped-up its security presence on the pretext of combatting terrorism. Some Uyghurs have joined Islamist terrorist groups, including in Syria, and some attacks on Chinese civilians have occurred, although information about these attacks has been suppressed by the PRC. Meanwhile, Chinese oppression of Uyghurs, their culture, and their Islamic faith has intensified.
What does the PRC’s deepening involvement in Xinjiang portend for civilian security—Uyghur and Chinese—and human rights? Will economic development of the region improve the situation, as Beijing claims, or will it be a cover for more state oppression? Can the U.S. cooperate with the PRC on counter-terrorism, and where should Xinjiang and the Uyghur plight fit on Washington’s diplomatic agenda with Beijing?
On April 25, Yang Jianli, president of Initiatives for China, Kilic Kanat, a professor at Pennsylvania State University at Erie, and Sean Roberts, a professor at George Washington University, joined Hudson Senior Fellow Eric Brown to assess the current security and human rights situation in Xinjiang and what it might mean for the Uyghurs, the Chinese and the PRC, and the New Silk Road.