Abe Shinzo: The Best Friend of the Uyghurs

A Uyghur activist remembers how much the assassinated Japanese ex-Prime Minister did for the case of the oppressed and persecuted minority.

by Kok Bayraq

Abe Shinzo with Rebiya Kadeer. From Twitter
Shinzo Abe with Rebiya Kadeer. From Twitter.

Istanbul and Washington are seen as the centers of the Uyghur National Movement in exile. But Abe Shinzo, the late former Prime Minister of Japan, was the most supportive leader in the world for Uyghurs.

“Abe Shinzo was a friend of the oppressed and an enemy of injustice,” said Uyghur leader Rebiya Kadeer in a condolence message. “He mentioned the Uyghur issue in a meeting with former Chinese President Hu Jintao in 2008, when the Uyghur situation was not internationally known,” the statement reads. “He also expressed concern about the Uyghur situation when he met with bloodthirsty Xi Jinping in 2019.”

Yes, siding with the world’s most oppressed nation requires a strong sense of justice from a country’s leader. It also takes great courage to speak out against one of the world’s most violent national leaders—Xi Jinping—and tell it as it is to his face. Kadeer rightly believes that Abe Shinzo cultivated these qualities in himself and contributed not only to the prosperity of Japan but also to international peace.

“Abe Shinzo was a wise, courageous, far-sighted statesman,” she said. This is not an emotional comment; it is based on a long and bitter political reality.

Leaders of the Central Asian countries to which Uyghurs trace their ancestry have deported, and even murdered, Uyghur activists at China’s request. Leaders of countries where Muslim brothers of the Uyghurs live, such as Egypt and Pakistan, have handed over thousands of Uyghur students to China. Cambodia, Thailand, and Malaysia have also competed for Chinese money by deporting Uyghur refugees.

In a written statement, World Uyghur Congress (WUC) President Dolkun Isa said of Abe, “I am utterly shocked by the news of his death. Abe Shinzo was a genuine ally of the Uyghur people… When he was in the Parliament, he helped create the Uyghur Friendship Group in the Japanese Parliament, which is one of the largest parliamentary groups for the Uyghurs in the world today.”

Abe Shinzo was noted for his frequent meetings with Uyghur activists around the world. News archives include photos of Abe Shinzo with dozens of prominent Uyghur activists, including Rebiya Kadeer, Dolkun IsaOmer Qanat, and Seyit Tumturuk.

According to official Chinese statements issued various times in past decades, Kadeer is number one among China’s “enemy forces” abroad, and she has been accused of being a provocateur of the July 5 Urumqi incident. Dolqun Isa was on Interpol’s red alert for two decades due to Chinese demand; Seyit Tumturuk was considered a “religious extremist” in Turkey, disturbing China–Turkey relations. Because of these labels, Kadeer’s visa was canceled twice by Taiwan, and Dolqun Isa was expelled from the borders of thirteen countries, including Italy, India, and South Korea during pro-Uyghur activities.

Dolkun Isa with Shinzo Abe. From Twitter.
Dolkun Isa with Shinzo Abe. From Twitter.

How did Abe Shinzo find the courage to embrace “dangerous” activists that leaders in other countries did not accept? I think the answer is clear. He fully understood what China is, and the threat it poses to the world. Abe Shinzo had not forgotten that the Chinese Communist Party, which leads China, was a force that retained its power by suppressing the country’s citizens with tanks in the 1989 Tiananmen Square Massacre. Abe also foresaw and predicted the signs of the Uyghur genocide tragedy that has been going on for the last five years.

More importantly, he was able to perceive the genocidal and murderous Chinese threat to the Japanese people. He may have imagined what a bandit government, with no mercy on its own citizens, could do to its neighbors, especially those introduced as historical enemies in Chinese state textbooks.

Experts commonly believe that the Uyghur region has been one of the worst in the world in terms of human rights for the last twenty years. Abe was the leader who noticed this the earliest, and who was most concerned about the situation. One of the major events of the World Uyghur Congress, the 4th General Assembly, was held in Tokyo in 2011, with more than 120 delegates from 20 countries around the world.

“China expresses strong dissatisfaction with Japan for letting the congress orchestrate its anti-China separatist activities,” Hong Lei, a spokesman for the Chinese Ministry of Foreign Affairssaid at a press conference in Beijing that day.

Xinjiang-related affairs are an exclusively internal matter, and China does not tolerate any interference from external powers. We require Japan to eliminate any negative impact and make efforts to safeguard Sino-Japanese relations,” Hong Lei added.

“The world needs more intelligent and courageous statesmen like Abe Shinzo if it is to become more beautiful, prosperous, peaceful, and just,” said Kadeer in her condolence letter.

Kutluk Kadeer, who teaches English literature in the Department of Economics and Humanities at the International University of Kagoshima, Japan, mentioned the strategic aspect of Abe Shinzo’s closeness to Uyghur activists in addition to the humanitarian point. “We know from China’s propaganda and policies that its two most dangerous enemies at home are the Uyghurs and the Tibetans; the two most dangerous enemies abroad are the United States and Japan,” said Kutluk Kadeer. “Because it has power, China is committing genocide and assimilation of the Uyghurs and Tibetans; because it lacks power, China is grinding its teeth and waiting to take action against the US and Japan; Abe Shinzo [was] a statesman who [was] fully aware of this.”

Abe was unusually active in the field of foreign affairs for a Japanese Prime Minister, making visits to 49 countries between December 2012 and September 2014, a number described as “unprecedented” in contrast with the foreign activity of his two immediate predecessors. Abe’s meetings with Uyghur activists were also unprecedented compared to those of fellow world leaders of the period.

According to Kutluk Kadeer, Abe Shinzo’s rapprochement with the United States was one of the measures he took against China, and his support for the Uyghurs was part of the same strategy, seizing China at its weakest point.

Abe wearing a Uyghur doppa (traditional skullcap) when visiting the Japan Uyghur Association. From Twitter.
Abe wearing a Uyghur doppa (traditional skullcap) when visiting the Japan Uyghur Association. From Twitter.

More than 200 Uyghur activists from various organizations gathered on nearly fifty occasions in Japan over the past decade, Rebiya Kadeer estimated. She has visited Japan dozens of times and has delivered more than 100 lectures in more than thirty cities there.

In my view, Abe Shinzo’s legacy is that he created a balanced military position between Japan’s World War II militarism and post-war pacifism. To create this balance, Abe formed the Quadrilateral Security Dialogue, set up the Japanese National Security Council, and changed the words and tone of the Murayama Statement. He also upheld the value of human rights by supporting the Uyghur cause.

Abe’s special efforts not to ignore the Uyghur situation and to encourage Uyghur activists to take their case to the international stage was part of an attempt to create balance between China and the captured nations within China.

Abe did not speak critically or aggressively against China; nor did he surrender to China’s unreasonable demands to stop supporting Uyghur “separatists.” He did not point Japan’s weapons at China, but he remained in a strong defensive position against the Chinese threat by helping to establish QUAD, “Asia’s NATO.” Abe did not call the Uyghurs to act against China, but he did help the Uyghur activists who suffered from the Chinese crackdown.

That is to say, Abe Shinzo was a leader of balance and a role model for shaping the world power balance. His closeness to and support for the Uyghurs will be another manifestation of this legacy.

According to Rebiya Kadeer, Abe Shinzo’s death is a loss not only for the Japanese people but also for the oppressed Uyghur people; there is now a huge void in the fight for peace and justice. Her message ends with the following: “Finally, I would like to wish for the birth and growth of thousands of Abe Shinzos in Japan.”