Central Asia Theater
Lawmakers in Kyrgyzstan unveiled a new constitution on Nov. 17, drawing criticism over the expansion of presidential powers. Shortly after a draft of the document was released, politicians and activists expressed concerns that it would lead to full-blown authoritarianism. Among the many changes, it reduces the size and power of parliament. Any responsibilities taken from parliament were transferred to the presidency. Significant differences exist between the Russian and Kyrgyz language versions, making it unclear whether the president could serve one or two terms. It would also establish a People's Kurultai, an ad hoc body consisting of members of the public that would propose policy changes. The drafters insist that the body would promote popular representation. Critics view it as potentially easy to manipulate. They also question the necessity, given that parliament already consists of elected representatives. Kyrgyzstan uses a proportional representation system, with seats apportioned between the parties based on the percentage of the national popular vote received.
Secretary of State Mike Pompeo announced Nov. 6 that he is revoking the "terrorist organization" designation of the supposed "East Turkestan Islamic Movement" (ETIM)—an entity that may not actually exist in any organized sense but has been used to justify China's mass detention of the Uighurs in Xinjiang region. Reaction has been perfectly predictable. The Washington-based Uyghur Human Rights Project called Pompeo's decision "long overdue" and a "definitive rejection of China's claims." It was likewise applauded by the DC-based self-declared East Turkistan Government in Exile. Beijing's Foreign Ministry, in turn, accused the US of "backpedaling on international counter-terrorism cooperation," and expressed China's "strong dissatisfaction and firm opposition to the US decision."
Protestors in Bishkek, capital of Kyrgyzstan, occupied and set fire to the White House, the building that houses both the president's office and parliamentary chamber. The headquarters of State Committee for National Security (GKNB), which oversees the secret police, was also taken over. Opposition politicians imprisoned there were liberated. The Oct. 6 uprising followed a day of demonstrations that filled the city's central Ala-Too Square, finally escalating to clashes with police, who fired rubber bullets into the crowd. The demonstrations were called to demand that parliamentary elections held one day earlier be annulled. The victory for the ruling party was marred by claims of fraud and vote-buying.
A new report by the Inter-Parliamentary Alliance on China and the Jamestown Foundation, a DC-based policy think-tank, has found evidence of a system of forced displacement and labor in Tibet, mirroring that put in place over the past two years in Xiinjiang. The report, entitled "Xinjiang's Militarized Vocational Training System Comes to Tibet," finds that over half a million people received instruction at "military-style" training centers as part of the program in the first seven months of 2020—around 15% of the region's population. Of this total, almost 50,000 have been transferred to jobs away from their homes within Tibet, and several thousand have been sent to other parts of China. Many end up in low-paid labor, including textile manufacturing, construction and agriculture. Those targeted for the program are designated "rural surplus laborers," which according to the report usually refers to traditional pastoralists and nomads.
Several human rights organizations signed an open letter Sept. 15 declaring that China's treatment of Uighur Muslims in Xinjiang province "strongly suggests that crimes against humanity and genocide are taking place." The letter cited a November 2019 UN report that raised concerns over "increasing practices of arbitrary detention, enforced disappearance, absence of judicial oversight and procedural safeguards...within an increasingly securitized environment, particularly for designated minorities, notably Uyghurs."
Thousands of ethnic Mongolians in the remote north of the People's Republic of China have gathered outside schools to protest a new policy that would restrict the use of their language in the public education system—a rare display of mass discontent. The policy change in Inner Mongolia means all schools in the region will now be required to teach core subjects in Mandarin, mirroring similar moves in Tibet and Xinjiang to assimilate local indigenous peoples. Students have walked out of classes and assembled outside school buildings shouting, "Mongolian is our mother language!" The protests, which have mounted over the past week, have been centered on Tongliao and Ulaanhad municipalities, where hundreds of students and parents have faced off against police.
Thousands of migrant workers from Uzbekistan have been stranded for weeks at the Russia-Kazakhstan border. Left without work in Russia amid the COVID-19 pandemic, they sought to make their way home by land through Kazakhstan—only to find the border closed by Kazakh authorities. The migrants have set up a makeshift camp in an open field, where they are struggling without adequate food, water or supplies in severe summer heat.
Lawyers have submitted a complaint to the Office of the Prosecutor at the International Criminal Court (ICC), demanding that an investigation be opened into senior Chinese leaders for genocide and crimes against humanity, allegedly committed against the Uighurs and other Turkic peoples. The complaint was filed on behalf of the East Turkistan Government in Exile (ETGE) and the East Turkistan National Awakening Movement (ETNAM).