One of the most ironic and poignant moments of the Beijing Olympics was when an Uyghur lit the flame. It was a reminder that the Xi government does not hesitate to employ the most visual of images to try to get across its point that really, all is ‘well and happy’ for minority people in China.
But, as Victorian Premier Daniel Andrews – defending his government’s decision to keep the terms of an agreement it had struck with China secret – told us, ‘That’s the way these things work.’ Daniel Andrews and Bob Carr have, each one in their own states, managed to convey that China is indeed a good and great friend to Australia.
Carr had once denounced Chinese Communist Party ideology as a ‘ludicrously outdated notion’. It changed in 2014 with his appointment to head the Australia China Relations Institute (ACRI) at the University of Technology in Sydney.
Here is the chilling testimony of Tahir Hamut Izgil, a Uyghur man who was asked to report to his local police station, as told to the Atlantic (US) magazine July 14, 2021.
‘When our turn came, we entered the second office. Güljan, from our neighbourhood committee, [another Uyghur] was waiting for us. She had us sign a registry. In addition to our fingerprints, she now said that they would also be taking blood samples, voice samples, and facial images. My wife looked at me anxiously.’
The Uyghurs are a Muslim Turkic people, not Han Chinese. What happened next to the Izgils is a look – not into the future – but at China as it is today, when each Uyghur household was directed to turn over any Islamic items they possessed within three days or face consequences.
‘[People were] thrown into a panic … some worried that it would be a sin to turn these items over to the state, which would surely burn them, so they hid their sacred belongings at home. Rumours [spread] that the police had a special device that could detect hidden religious objects … as soon as it was dark, terrified residents had begun tossing religious articles down the manholes that led to the complex’s sewer system … they hid inside the buildings’ entrances; when one person returned from tossing out their items, the next would run out, throw theirs into the manhole, and dart back inside. All of this happened surreptitiously, but because there were many people with items to throw out, it continued throughout the night.’
Bob Carr and Daniel Andrews are not stupid men; it takes a certain amount of strength, not to mention rat cunning, to claw one’s way up to the heights of premier of the two richest Australian states. But like others they were seduced by the promise of Chinese money.
In all his visits to China, Bob Carr may never have met any Uyghur or sensed their fears.
‘We had three copies of the Quran – one each in Uyghur, Arabic, and Chinese – as well as Uyghur-language editions of a few other books relating to Islam. None of these was prohibited; all had been published with state sanction. Recently, though, many previously legal things had suddenly become illegal, and it was impossible to say what was permitted and what was not. What counted was whatever the government said at any given moment.’
Tahir Hamut Isgil managed to make his voice heard. His daughter Asena made a podcast, discussing her family’s experiences called The Experiment.
A long time ago as a journalist on The Bulletin, based in Hong Kong covering north Asia, I was on my way out of the Sydney office when I met Bob, then writing on industrial affairs. ‘Off somewhere interesting?’ I asked politely, and Bob growled – it was that kind of day – ‘Trades Hall.’
Might things might have been different if we’d swapped places? Foreign affairs was his main interest and it has grown to the degree where Bob Carr is one of the most, if not the most, vocal supporter of the CCP in Australia.
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