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‘People’s Premier’ Li Keqiang was just another repressive Chinese ruler to Uyghurs, Tibetans

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(, Oct31’23) – As the Chinese public mourn with fondness for its former premier Li Keqiang who passed away early in the morning of Oct 27, aged 68, as a moderate whose key focus was on the country and people’s economic wellbeing, all the more because he was overshadowed and sidelined by a domineering President Xi Jinping, the Uyghurs in Xinjiang and the Tibetan public have no love lost for him.

And so, while Han Chinese are showing an outpouring of grief for the late premier, Uyghurs and Tibetans are not displaying any warm sentiments for the official who is remembered more for Beijing’s repression than any economic reforms, noted Oct 30.

As the second-ranked member of the Politburo Standing Committee of the Chinese Communist Party from 2012 to 2022, Li played an instrumental role in the Chinese government’s crackdown on the predominantly Muslim Uyghurs and other Turkic minorities in Xinjiang that culminated in the mass detentions of an estimated 1.8 million people in internment camps in 2017 and 2018, the report cited two experts on the region as saying.

It cited Jojje Olsson, a Swedish journalist who runs Kinamedia, the country’s biggest new site on China, and a related newsletter, as saying in a tweet on X, the platform formerly known as Twitter, that people should stop romanticizing Li as a “‘man of the people’ just because he wanted less state control over the economy and didn’t show his cruel side as openly as Xi.”

Olsson has pointed out that in the so-called Xinjiang Papers, Li called for the implementation of the policies leading to hundreds of thousands of Uyghurs locked up because of their ethnicity.

Leaked in 2019 and first published by The New York Times, the Xinjiang Papers consisted of hundreds of pages of documents detailing the crackdown ordered by Xi. It spurred calls for global action to hold Beijing accountable for the abuses. These included torture of detainees, forced abortions and sterilizations of Muslim women, and forced labour that the United States and other nations have identified as genocide.

Li was stated to be among Chinese leaders who responded to President Xi’s call in 2014 for a “struggle against terrorism, infiltration, and separatism” using the “organs of dictatorship,” on the Uyghurs of Xinjiang by issuing statements which gave rise to repressive policies, including the internment of Uyghurs and other in “re-education” camps, the sterilization of detained Uyghur women, and the use of Uyghurs in forced factory labour.

“As many has [sic] stated before, upholding ‘liberal’ Premiers like Wen [Jiabao]/Li as ‘reformers’ because they are a bit less hawkish than other CCP leaders is not only wrong; it’s disrespectful to Uyghurs or AIDS victims in Henan. There was [sic] no ‘reformers’ on CCP politburo level since 1989,” Olsson was stated to have tweeted.

The “AIDS victims” refers to the fact that officials had tried to cover up a scandal over the spread of AIDS through the commercial sale of blood in rural areas while Li earlier served as governor and later party leader of Henan province in central China.

Likewise, Adrian Zenz, director of China Studies at the US-based Victims of Communism Memorial Foundation, who has spent years documenting China’s abuses against Uyghurs, has tweeted that his recent research shows Li Keqiang’s economic policy towards Uyghurs—forced labour.

Zenz has said his peer-reviewed academic article provides proof that authorities in Xinjiang placed Uyghurs, who refused to accept state work arrangements, as part of a larger poverty alleviation through labour transfer scheme, into camps.

The report cited Tibetans also as saying Li did nothing to protect their human rights during his years in power; that in a 2018 visit to Tibet, he reiterated that the territory was an inalienable part of China.

“The harsh policies adopted against Tibetans and the minorities by the Chinese Communist leaders have remained the same,” Bawa Kelsang Gyaltsen, the representative of the Office of Tibet in Taiwan, has said. “Even under the premiership of Li Keqiang, the human rights situation of Tibetans inside Tibet remained atrocious and very concerning.”


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