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Right to Self Determination of East Turkistan

Akademische Arbeit 2020 17 Seiten

Politik - Internationale Politik - Thema: Völkerrecht und Menschenrechte


Table of Contents



East Turkistan is colonized territory

People of East Turkistan are not part of the Chinese Nation

China failed to provide internal self- determination to the people of East Turkistan




After the collapse of empires of Europe, new states emerged with a commitment of self – determination. After World War Two, self-determination into international law as an essential principle and guaranteed independence again for many states subsequent follow of decolonization. However, colonization is not ending, and independence movements are continuing today, including ethnic minorities' secession movements that were excluded or did not mention in UN self-determination law. This paper assesses the historical and current political trends of East Turkistan, China's colonized region, the beyond natural and logical boundary of its "Greet wall," with examples of international self- determination law and Chinese regional autonomy law to evaluate its justification for self- determination claim. Finally, the paper examines the importance of East Turkistan's independence to prevent China's total extermination of more than 11 million Uyghur and other Turkic Muslims and the importance of protecting international law principles.


Articles 1 and 55 of the UN charter both mention the right to self-determination.1 Resolution 1514 of the General assembly states that “All peoples have the right to self-determination; by virtue of that right they freely determine their political status and freely pursue their economic, social and cultural development.”2

The Declaration on Friendly Relations principle of equal rights and self- determination of people state that “By virtue of the principle of equal rights and self-determination of peoples enshrined in the Charter of the United Nations, all peoples have the right freely to determine, without external interference, their political status and to pursue their economic, social and cultural development, and every State has the duty to respect this right in accordance with the provisions of the Charter.” This resolution clarified the purpose of self-determination as a means towards a speedy end to colonialism and ensured peaceful and friendly relations of the states.3 These resolutions and articles of the UN charter mentioned above universally state that "all peoples" have the right to self-determination.

However, in the case of many minority ethnic or religious groups, their right to self- determination in the form of secession has been left unsettled in current international law. None of these articles or resolutions offer a definition of “all people” nor do they suggest that the aim of self-determination is to provide for secessionist liberty to establish an independent state based on their claim of ethnic religious distinctiveness.

In this respect, the Convention on the Elimination of All forms of Racial discrimination adopted the General recommendations about the right to self-determination in 1996. General Assembly documents, unlike UN security council resolutions, have no binding effect on all member states4, however, the general recommendation adopted, provided a comprehensive explanation on the legal principles of self-determination. According to the view of the committee in this document, “international law has not recognized the general right of peoples unilaterally to declare secession from a state.”5 They also distinguished two aspect of self-determination, made a distinction between internal and external self- determination. The internal aspect defines, for example, “the rights of all peoples to pursue freely their economic, social and cultural development without outside interference.”6 External aspects define as: “The external aspect of self-determination implies that all peoples have the right to determine freely their political status and their place in the international community based upon the principle of equal rights. Thus, the concept of external self-determination provides the legal framework necessary to the liberation of peoples from colonialism and also the prohibition of the subjugation of peoples to systems of domination and exploitation.”7

Clearly, for minority groups who do not fall into category of external self-determination though they may exercise their right to internal self-determination, their secession movements are not supported by international law. Previous cases such as Kosovo, Quebec, Northern Iraq, and Catalunya each had specific characteristics, but taken together, they provide a clearer understanding of the circumstances under which the right to external or internal self-determination may be claimed, according to international law. This paper will look closely at East-Turkistan in order to analyse the question of its right to self-determination, both in terms of decolonization and beyond, in order to examine whether East Turkistan can justify its claim to external self-determination in accordance with international law.

East Turkistan is colonized territory

The territory of East Turkistan and its people, mainly Uyghur and other Turkic Muslims, has been under the rule of the Chinese colonial empire since early 1950s.8 Though the Manchu empire conquered the region in 1750s, the territory was not considered an integral part of the empire.9 As historian Rian Thum, Gardner Bovingdon and many other experts of Uyghur history explain, at this point in time, East Turkistan was governed by a Manchu dominated military.10 Because there was no Manchu state or Qing state exist, and East Turkistan was not the province of Qing state as Qing or Manchu was the empire that conquered East Turkistan. In the 1860s, the peoples of East Turkistan rebelled against the Manchu empire and established kashkaria (yette sheher ) under the leadership of Yakupbeg11. In Manchu empire invaded again in 1876. After the many years of the savage wars, the Manchu Empire captured the region in 1884, changing its name from East Turkistan to Xinjiang, which means new territory.12 During the decolonization period of World War II, the Manchu empire was overthrown, and the people of East Turkistan established the first and second East Turkistan Republic in 1933 and 1944.13 In fact both East Turkistan republic are established before the emergence of People’s Republic of China. Though the First East Turkistan Republic soon fell to Soviet and Chinese military attacks, this republic represented East Turkistan’s first attempt at establishing an independent nation-state without the support of outside forces. The Second East Turkistan Republic was established with the help of the Soviet Union, only to be betrayed by the Soviet Union shortly after. Stalin shows his full support to the Chinese communist party and encouraged them not to delay the occupation of East Turkistan as he worried about western influence in this region.14 After two months of Stalin’s conversation between Chinese delegation, in august, 1949 leaders of the Second East Turkistan Republic were killed in a mysterious plane crash: many Uyghurs suspect the accident was an assignation purposefully planned by Mao zedong and Stalin because immediately following the crash, in October 1949, newly established Chinese nation-state invaded East Turkistan.15 Subsequently, Chinese Communist leaders have claimed East Turkistan as an integral part of China, despite the worldwide decolonization period. Between 1950 and 1955, troops of the East Turkistan Republic were disarmed, demobilized, and controlled by the Chinese communist party.16 Anyone who opposed the Chinese invasion or has a negative opinion about the Chinese army, or participated in the resistance guerilla movements in East Turkistan were sentenced to death or life imprisonment.17 Finally, China successfully achieved colonial administration, announced the so-called Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous region in October 1955.18

The United Nations recognized China’s claim, violating its own legal principles of self-determination. Like the Baltic states, which were occupied and annexed by the Soviet Union during World War II, East Turkistan was annexed by China. Today, three of the Baltic states have already seceded, and the question of whether East Turkistan should hold a right to external self-determination is still not on the table of the United Nations.

People of East Turkistan are not part of the Chinese Nation

Based on the UNESCO’s broad definition of the term “people” in right to self- determination international law, the “people” attempting secession should be distinct from the nation of the existing state. Different qualities, including language, religion, culture, and self -belongs, as well as ideological affiliation and territorial connection, help to determine whether or not a people should be considered distinct.19 In the case of Quebec, the Supreme Court of Canada also clearly distinguished the term “people” from the term “nation” of the existing state.20 Even in this respect, people of East Turkistan are not belong to the nation of the Chinese state. Moreover, not only is self-consciousness of the people of East Turkistan distinct from that of the Han Chinese, but also the alien treatment of the Turkic Muslims by the Chinese state intensifies this separation or distinctness, thereby defining the status of Uyghurs and other ethnic Muslims in international law.

One of the founders and most prominent members of the interdisciplinary field of nationalism studies Anthony Smith analyzed common assumptions of a nation, identifying fundamental features of national identity. According to Smith, external functions, such as political, territorial, and economical functions, are important in defining the identity of the nation of the state.21 Under the rule of the Chinese state, the people of East Turkistan have no access to any of these rights and functions which can be identified as the nation of the Chinese state.

The political rights of people of East Turkistan are not protected by Chinese state law; on the contrary, all of their basic human rights are grossly violated. The people of East Turkistan have no right to participate in political decision-making as legitimate Chinese citizens should have. Moreover, through genocidal acts, China’s genocidal intent was implemented in the region. Currently, more than 3 million22 people are incarcerated in Chinese concentration camps in East Turkistan. 80 percent of Uyghur women have been sterilized or otherwise forced to accept birth prevention measures.23 Men and women are sent separately to inland China, where they find themselves entirely removed from their families and society inside forced labor camps.24 Meanwhile, their children are sent to either Chinese boarding schools or children’s concentration camps.25

These violations aside, the political ideology of the Chinese state and that of Uyghurs and other Turkic Muslims in East Turkistan have nothing in common. Uyghurs and other Turkic Muslims believe in Islam and are more interested in Western democratic ideologies, whereas Chinese state political ideology reflects Chinese nationalism and legalism. As Victoria notes legalism in her article How China Was Ruled, “Legalism is the nemesis of Confucianism, for it is single-mindedly concerned with the maximization of state power through strict regulations and cruel punishments in domestic rule and territorial expansion in external relations.”26

Also, the territory of East Turkistan also has nothing common with Chinese territory. As I stated above sections, if we look at the history of East Turkistan, the peoples of East Turkistan never shared a historical homeland with the Chinese nation. Uyghurs and other Turkic Muslims are indigenous to the East Turkistan, and before the China occupies the region in 1941, according to the estimation in CIA document, the Chinese population only constitute 5.4 % of the population.27 In early 1950s, 4.87 millions of which 75% were Uyghur in the region according to the People’s Republic of China census registration.28 Based on the Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region Bureau Statistics in 2010, the Han Chinese population increased to 40.48%, and the Uyghurs decreased to 45.84%.29

Even though, article 118 of the constitution of the people’s republic of China clearly stated that, “Autonomous organs of ethnic autonomous areas shall, under the guidance of state plans, autonomously plan for and manage local economic development. When the state is exploiting resources or establishing enterprises in an ethnic autonomous area, it should be attentive to the interests of that area. ”30 None of these laws are implemented to benefit the indigenous people to the so called “Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region. Uyghurs and other Turkic Muslims in East Turkistan are totally segregated from state economic benefit. At the same time, we must recognize that members of the Uyghur and other Turkic Muslims, the indigenous people to the region are coercively enslaved through forced labor to the benefit of the Chinese state. Additionally, all the natural resources of East Turkistan are exploited to benefit the Chinese state and its people, rather than the native people. Almost 800-840 seats being reserved for the Han Chinese in all the administrative sectors and Uyghurs were left widely unemployed.

Almost 800-840 seats being reserved for the Han Chinese in all the administrative sectors and Uyghurs were left widely unemployed.31

The annual natural gas production is estimated at 1,800 million cubic meters, and oil resources have been estimated to total 2.08 billion tons, accounting for 30% of China’s continental oil.32 The coal resources of East Turkestan account for 40% of China’s estimated gross national resources.33 As for cotton, the total planting area in East Turkestan was more than 2.54 million hectares in 2019, accounting for more than 76% of China’s total cotton production.34 However, unjust exploitation of these natural resources by the Chinese state firms has no benefit for local people.35 Turkic Muslim and Uyghur minorities are totally disenfranchised from all economic benefits, wealth, and resources that other Chinese citizens enjoy.

Though China always claims that Uyghurs and other Turkic Muslims are part of the Chinese nation, the distressing reality of the situation in East Turkistan proves that its people are distinct from the people of the Chinese state, that they must be defined as a “people” of their own under international law.

China failed to provide internal self- determination to the people of East Turkistan

The Chinese government never intend to establish real autonomy in East Turkistan. Article 2 of the Regional Ethnic Autonomous Law stated that "All ethnic autonomous areas are integral parts of the People's Republic of China."36 means autonomous regions, including East Turkistan, do not have nominal rights to sovereignty. Article 3 of this law requires, "Ethnic autonomous areas establish autonomous agencies that function as local agencies of state power at their respective levels. Autonomous agencies in ethnic autonomous areas shall apply the principle of democratic centralism."37 Indicates that the local government has to be run under the unified leadership of the Chinese central government principle. According to a CIA report, the Chinese communist government trained a mass amount of Uyghur and other ethnic minority cadres in far more intense than any other ethnic regions, to prepare them extremely loyal to the Chinese central government before the announcement of the establishment "Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region."38 Based on the estimation of the same report, 2,600,000 books and periodicals published in the region by the Chinese Communist Party to enhance the political mind of patriotism to China and internationalism.39 Furthermore, between 1951 and 1952, every woman and man required to get a loyalty certificate to the Chinese Communist Party and a personal Loyalty certificate to the Chinese president Mao Zedong.40 In this way, resistance ideology against Chinese colonialism or the autonomous mind of self-governance was successfully eliminated. The so-called Xinjiang Autonomous Region was announced in 1955, but in reality, each district heavily populated with Uyghurs and other Turks surrounded by the Bingtuan Army (Chinese Construction Corps) as a part of the plan to control the indigenous population.

The Chinese president Xi Jinping explained his approach and role of the Chinese Communist Party at the 19th party congress in 2017: "Government, the military, society and schools, north, south, east and west- the party leads them all,"41 His speech reflected how Chinese party-state gains control over everywhere including its colonies. China's central government possesses the decision making of every institutional level of "Xinjiang" government, from educational institutions to religious institution and from policymaking to exploiting natural resources. The central government has chosen each successive executive of "Xinjiang," and China's supreme people's court dominate superpower over "Xinjiang" courts.42

Since early 2017, nearly all schools in East Turkistan have been transformed into monolingual Chinese language boarding schools, under the guidance of a new Chinese government document titled "The Standard Plan for Bilingual Education Curriculum in the Compulsory Education Phase of the Autonomous Region."43 This year, a Han Chinese had been appointed president of "Xinjiang" University.44 It could be seen as another example of the Chinese central government’s total control of education in the region.


1 Charter of the UN, supra note 2, art.1 and art.55, accessed October 8, 2020,

2 United Nations, General Assembly Resolution 1514 (XV), Declaration on the Granting of Independence to Colonial Countries and Peoples, December 14, 1960, accessed October 8, 2020,

3 United Nations, General Assembly Resolution 2625 (XXV), Declaration on Principles of International Law concerning Friendly Relations and Co-operation among States in accordance with the Charter of the United Nations, October 24, 1970, accessed October 9 2020,

4 Ibid; Charter of the UN, art. 25; art. 12. See also: United Nation, Power and function of General Assembly, accessed October 9, 2020,

5 United Nations, General Recommendation Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination, No. 21: Right to Self-determination, UN Doc. A/51/18 (1996). Para.6, August 23,1996, accessed October 15, 2020,,

6 Ibid; para.4

7 Ibid.

8 Linda Benson, The Ili Rebellion: Muslim Challenge to Chinese Authority in Xinjiang, 1944-1949. 1st ed, (Sharp Publisher, 1990), 10.

9 Kurmangaliyeva Ercilasun, G. and Ersilasun, K. The Uyghur Community, 1st ed, (New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2018), 6.

10 Rian Thum, ‘The Uyghurs in Modern China,’ Oxford Encyclopedia of Asian History (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2018), 4.

11 David Brophy, Uyghur Ntion, (Cambridge: Harward University Press, 2016),72.

12 Ibid;

13 Justin M. Jacobs, Xinjiang and the Modern Chinese State. ( Seattle: University of Washington Press, 2016) 133-135; Sean Robert, War on Uyghurs, (New Jersey: Princeton University Press, 2020) p36; James Millward, Euroasian Crossroads. (New York: Colombia University Press, 2020) 201-203,216

14 "Memorandum of Conversation between Stalin and CCP Delegation," June 27, 1949, History and Public Policy Program Digital Archive, APRF: F. 45, Op. 1, D. 329, Ll. 1-7. Reprinted in Andrei Ledovskii, Raisa Mirovitskaia and Vladimir Miasnikov, Sovetsko-Kitaiskie Otnosheniia, Vol. 5, Book 2, 1946-February 1950 (Moscow: Pamiatniki Istoricheskoi Mysli, 2005), 148-151, para.5. Translated by Sergey Radchenko,

15 "Cable, Mao Zedong to Comrade Filippov [Stalin]," October 25, 1949, History and Public Policy Program Digital Archive, Zhonggong zhongyang wenxian yanjiushi and Zhongguo renmin jiefangjun junshi kexueyuan, eds., Jianguo yilai Mao Zedong junshi wengao (Mao Zedong’s Military Manuscripts since the Founding of the PRC), vol. 1 (Beijing: Junshi kexue chubanshe; Zhongyang wenxian chubanshe, 2010), 53-54.

16 Gardner Bovingdon, “Autonomy in Xinjiang Han Nationalist Imperatives and Uyghur Discontent,” Policy studies, no .11 (Washington, DC: East West Center, 2004), 15.

17 United States Central Intelligence Agency, Chinese Communist Regime in Sinkiang Province, General CIA Record, Case no. 25X1. May 29,1953 (United States, Virginia: CIA, October 29, 2009),

18 Ibid; Gardner Bovingdon, Autonomy in Xinjiang Han Nationalist Imperatives and Uyghur Discontent, 16.

19 UNESCO, International Meeting of Experts on further study of the concept of the rights of peoples: Final report and recommendations, (Paris: Human Rights Division and Peace, UNESCO, February 22, 1990) available at

20 Reference re Secession of Quebec S.C.R. 217, para. 124 (Supreme Court of Canada 1998).

21 Anthony Smith, National Identity,1st ed, (London: Penguin Books,1991), 15.

22 Zak, Doffman. "U.S. Accuses China of Detaining Up to 3 Million Xinjiang Muslims in 'Concentration Camps',"Forbes, May 4, 2019, accessed October 14, 2020.

23 Adrian Zenz, “Sterilizations, IUDs, and Mandatory Birth Control: The CCP’s Campaign to Suppress Uyghur Birthrates in Xinjiang,” The Jamestown Foundation, July 21, 2020, accessed October 14, 2020,

24 Vicky Xiuzhong Xu, et al., “Uyghurs For Sale,” Australian Strategic Policy Institute, March 3, 2020, accessed October 16, 2020,

25 Amy Qin, “In China’s Crackdown On Muslims, Children Have Not Been Spared,” December 28, 2019, New York Times, accessed October 16, 2020,

26 Vcitoria Tin-Borhui, “How China Was Ruled?” The American Interest, Vol (2008), accessed October 15, 2020,

27 United States Central Information Agency, The Chinese Population of Sinkiang, General records, Case no. 50X1 (November 24, 1952), accessed October 14, 2020,

28 Stanley Toops,“Demographics and Development of Xinjiang after 1949,” Analyse and Publications, No.1. (Washington DC: East West Center, May 2004),1.

29 Stanley Toops, “Spatial Results of the 2010 census in Xinjiang,” Asia Dialog (blog), March 7, 2016, accessed October 10, 2020 ,

30 Constitutions of People’s Republic of China,( Adopted by the Standing Committee of the National People’s Cong., Dec 4, 1982), P.R.C. Laws of 1982, art .118, accessed October15, 2020,

31 Subhranil Gosh and Sreemoyee Majunder, “ China and Xinjiang: Fate of BRI,” The Geopolitcs, May 8, 2019, accessed October 20, 2020,

32 Edward Wong, “China Invests in Region Rich in Oil, Coal and Also Strife,” New York Times, December 20, 2014. Accessed October 14, 2020,; Ji ZenTu, “Energy and Natural Resources of Xinjiang,” in Xinjiang: China’s Northwest Frontier, ed . Warikoo Kulbhushan (London: Routledge Press, 2019), 22-29.

33 Ibid.

34 Mao Weihua and Zheng Caixiong, “Xinjiang still China's largest cotton producer in 2019,” China Daily, January 8, 2020, accessed May 14, 2020,

35 Nicolas Becquelin, “Staged Development in Xinjiang,” China Quarterly, Vol.178 (2004), 368-379

36 Regional Ethnic Autonomy Law of the People’s Republic of China ( Promulgated by the Standing Committee of the National People's Cong., May 31, 1984, effective Oct. 1, 1984) P.R.C. Laws of 1984, art. 2 ( amended 2001), accessed October 14, 2020,

37 Ibid; art.3.

38 United States Central Intelligence Agency, Autonomous Governments in Minority Inhabited Areas of Communist China, Geographic Intelligence Report, CIA/RR-G-7. (Central Intelligence Agency: Office of Research and Reports, September 21, 1991), 45, accessed October 14, 2020,

39 Ibid; 46

40 United States Central Intelligence Agency, Chinese Communist Regime in Sinkiang Province, General CIA Record, Case no. 25X1( May29,1953, released October 29, 2009), accessed October14, 2020,

41 Nectar Gan,” Xi Jinping Thought- the Communist Party’s tighter grip on China in 16th Characters,” South China Morning Post, October 25, 2017, accessed October 20, 2020,

42 Gardener Bovingdon, The Uyghurs Strangers In Their Own Land, (New York: Colombia University Press, 2010), 49.

43 Qiao Long and Yang Fen, “China Bans Use of Uyghur, Kazakh Textbooks, Materials in Xinjiang Schools,” Radio Free Asia, October 13, 2017, accessed October 18, 2020,

44 Yojana Sharma,” Alarm Over Choice of New Leader for Xinjiang University,” University World News, October15, 2020, accessed October 16, 2020,


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Titel: Right to Self Determination of East Turkistan