Uyghurs Applaud Shooting Down Chinese Spy Balloon: ‘Must Never Be Allowed to Go Unpunished’

Members of the East Turkistan Awakening Movement sing the East Turkistan national anthems
AP Photo/Cliff Owen

Protesters representing the Turkic people of occupied East Turkistan convened in front of the White House on Sunday against China’s genocide, taking a moment to commend the Pentagon for shooting down a rogue Chinese “surveillance” balloon the day before.

The Chinese vessel, which Beijing confirmed originated in China but claimed had accidentally drifted far afield of its original course and into both Canada and America, flew for days across the western seaboard before confused onlookers in Montana began filming it in the skies, prompting the U.S. Department of Defense to confirm that a Chinese surveillance balloon had breached U.S. airspace. Pentagon officials claimed that they could not shoot down the balloon – which was flying at an estimated height of 60,000 feet, far above commercial aircraft – out of concerns that the resulting debris could injure people on the ground. Public pressure mounted over the weekend, however, from both concerned citizens and member of Congress that the balloon was equipped with advanced surveillance technology that China could use to gather intelligence of sensitive American military sites.

After initially informing Americans that they should brace for the balloon to hover overhead for “a few days” on Friday, the Pentagon confirmed on Saturday that an American F-22 fighter aircraft had shot down the balloon over the waters off of South Carolina.

The Chinese Communist Party responded with outrage to the balloon shoot-down, calling it an “obvious overreaction.”

Sunday’s protest was organized by the East Turkistan Government in Exile (ETGE), which represents the majority-Uyghur region that China refers to as the Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region (XUAR). The event was primarily meant to mark the 26th anniversary of the Ghulja massacre, a Chinese Communist Party crackdown of peaceful protests against the regime that resulted in at least 300 deaths and over 1,600 arrests in 1997.

Members of the East Turkistani diaspora community led by the East Turkistan Government in Exile شەرقىي تۈركىستان…

Posted by East Turkistan National Awakening Movement on Sunday, February 5, 2023

Aziz Sulayman, the foreign minister of the ETGE, expressed support for America’s decision to shoot down the balloon.
“We would like to commend the United States for shooting down the Chinese spy balloon and demonstrating that it will not violate China’s violation of sovereignty, territorial integrity, and international law,” Suleyman said. “China’s violations of international law, sovereignty, and territorial integrity must never be allowed to go unpunished by the United States and other nations.”

The balloon is believed to have spent some days in British Columbia, Canada, before entering the western United States, but the Canadian government did not act against it.

The ETGE has demanded international recognition of East Turkistan as an occupied country for years, noting that it came under Chinese communist control after existing as a sovereign state after a violent invasion in 1949. Protesters on Sunday equated China’s violation of American sovereignty to China’s refusal to allow East Turkistan to exist peacefully as a separate state.

Since the 1949 capture of the region, the Chinese Communist Party, led by the Han ethnic group native to eastern China, has committed human rights atrocities against the indigenous population of the region for decades. Most recently, under dictator Xi Jinping, the Party launched a campaign of genocide against Uyghurs, Kazakhs, Kyrgyz, and other Turkic people in East Turkistan, forcing millions into concentration camps where survivors have testified to extreme torture, slavery, forced sterilization, indoctrination, gang rape, and other atrocities.

Despite the overwhelming evidence of genocide against the people of East Turkistan – particularly surrounding forced sterilization, forced abortion, and the abduction of children to be raised under communist and Han traditions – China continues to maintain friendly relations with most nations and recently hosted the 2022 Beijing Winter Olympics.

“Since the People’s Republic of China violated East Turkistan’s sovereignty and territorial integrity with a belligerent armed invasion in late 1949, East Turkistan and its people have been subjugated and subjected to colonialism, genocide, and occupation for more than 73 years,” Suleyman said in his address at the protest, featuring dozens of Uyghurs and supporters. “The people of East Turkistan have been subjected to ongoing atrocities and massacres which continued even in 2023.”

The event on Sunday marked the anniversary of just one of those atrocities: the Ghulja massacre, which occurred in the eponymous city as a response to a peaceful protest movement arising in that city in 1997.

“Instead of hearing the East Turkistani people’s legitimate and peaceful grievances, the Chinese occupation forces engaged in state terrorism and violently suppressed the peaceful demonstration in what became known as the Ghulja massacre,” Suleyman explained. “More than 100 peaceful protesters were killed, more than 1,600 were arrested, and more than 200 were later executed by 1999.”

Suleyman urged the international community to “recognize East Turkistan as an occupied country, similar to Tibet.”

5 February 2023: Demonstration in front of the White House commemorating the 26th Anniversary of the 1997 Ghulja Massacre.

Posted by East Turkistan National Awakening Movement on Sunday, February 5, 2023

Ghulja became the focal point of another movement of peaceful protests in September, when hundreds of residents took the streets in defiance of a brutal Chinese government lockdown, allegedly in place to protect them from coronavirus infections. For days prior to the protest, locals throughout East Turkistan used social media to public videos of empty refrigerators as well as starving, or in some cases already dead, loved ones, killed by the lockdowns. Radio Free Asia (RFA) reported at the time that at least 22 people died in Ghulja on September 15.

The desperate situation resulted in an unknown number, believed to be at least hundreds of people, taking the streets of Ghulja demanding food and basic medicine

Chinese police arrested over 600 people in Ghulja in September following that protest, according to reports from locals. Chinese authorities initially admitted to only four arrests of individuals identified as having Han names, but relatives and neighbors identified hundreds more missing.

The Ghulja protests preceded a nationwide uprising in China in late November that prompted the Chinese government to claim to abandon large-scale lockdowns, followed by a wave of mass death the Chinese government barely reported, but was corroborated by multiple independent investigations.

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