Analysis and assessmentsPolitics

Why We Pursue East Turkistan’s Independence and What Must Be Done ?

This speech was delivered at the 15th Uyghur Brotherhood Meeting in Istanbul on September 24th, with excerpts added from the author’s recent book, “East Turkistan’s Right to Sovereignty: Decolonization and Beyond.”

 East Turkistan undeniably possess a legitimate argument for independence, and it demonstrates the potential to meet criteria defined by international laws as indicators of attaining independence. Nevertheless, it is essential to recognize that these legal frameworks, in practice, have often hindered the path to independence for colonized populations by imposing stringent eligibility requirements.  That is why, rather than succumbing to China’s genocidal colonialism and normalizing the belief that China possess unbeatable power while East Turkistan’s people are weak and helpless, it is imperative that we invest our efforts to strengthening our own capabilities to build foundation for an independent East Turkistan, even if it begins in the diaspora.

Keywords: East Turkistan, China, Genocide, Independence, Self-determination, International Law

Every Uyghur and other Turkic Muslims currently suffering under the ongoing genocide, stemming from China’s illegal occupation, are in dire need of liberation from Chinese colonialism. It is imperative to establish the capacity for them to regain their independent nation-state based on the principle of self-determination in international law. The people of East Turkistan believe that total independence from China is the only effective solution to end genocide because of following reasons:

East Turkistanian people have undertaken various strategies in their pursuit of existential survival. The peaceful demand for their basic human rights is harshly rejected by China, as China intent to destroy them. The case of Ilham Tohti, a prominent Uyghur scholar, service as a poignant illustration of this. He asked from the Chinese government to treat his people equitably as a Chinese citizens. Yet he was sentenced to life for advocating these basic rights on behalf of his fellow Uyghurs. Following China’s genocidal policies that implemented starting 2017, as many as 2-3 millions of Uyghurs were incarcerated in concentration camps;[1]  3 million people were forcibly transferred to labor intensive industries for forced labor;[2] more than 900,000 Uyghur kids were removed from their home and separated from their parents, origin, religion, language and  culture;[3] every Uyghur women become the strict target of China’s sterilization policy and Uyghur population drastically reduced since 2017.[4] What is happening in East Turkistan is clearly genocide as China intentionally, knowingly and willingly implemented its policies that has fatal consequences. This underscores the stark reality that Uyghurs and other Turkic Muslims in the region have been left no other alternatives than independence to ensure survival of its nation.

 East Turkistan has never been part of China until people’s Republic of China’s Invasion in 1949.  Uyghurs had city states, kingdoms and empires and nation states including the Uyghur Qocho Kingdom (844-1370) in the northeast, Qarakhanids Dynasty (840s- 1212) in the west.[5] The Chagatai Khanate (1220-1405) was ruled by Chingis Khan’s second son Chagatai.[6] Later Chagatai’s descendants converted to Islam and was Turkicized in East Turkistan. The Yarkent Khanate, was a Sunni Muslim Turkic state ruled by Turco – Mongol descendants of Chagatai Khan (1514-1705). The state of Kashgaria (1865-1876) also a Turkic state and governed by the ancestors of modern Uyghurs and has nothing to do with Han Chinese.[7] This state was defeated and East Turkistan was colonized by Manchu empire and named as ‘ Xinjiang” in 1884 which means new colony in Manchu dictionary. After Manchu’s collapse, several years before the emerging of people’s Republic of China and Chinese invasion in East Turkistan, East Turkistan Republic that considered to be nation state established twice in 1933 and 1944.[8]

                It is important to note that Manchus from what is now called Manchuria invaded China in 1644. They seized the Beijing which was the capital of the Chinese Ming dynasty and Ming dynasty territory was referred by Manchus as “China” and ethnic Han people as “Chinese.”  Manchus conquest of China centuries earlier than Manchus conquest in East Turkistan.  After the fall of Manchu empire (1911- 1912), Han Chinese people and their rulers began to claim and invade the territories that Manchu empire once had colonized despite that East Turkistan fighters defeated Manchus rule in East Turkistan and established East Turkistan Republic in 1944.  In 1949 with the help of Stalin, PRC invaded East Turkistan. China’s claim of Territory of East Turkistan is violated uti possidetis doctrine of international law as there was no mandated legal transfer of territory of East Turkistan from Manchu empire to PRC.  It is also serious violation of the UN charter, Article 2(4)’s prohibition of the use force in interstate relations.[9]

                To hide and justify its invasion, China always propagates the peaceful liberation of East Turkistan. However, non- stop resistance movements in East Turkistan and China’s killing 150,000 resistance fighters in short period of two years after the invasion evident that there was no peaceful liberation but aggressive invasion.[10] (This number was announced in Urumchi Radio in 1952)    

In the Declaration on the Deepening and Consolidation of International Détente, the Member States of the United Nations declared their reaffirmation of the Declaration on the Granting of Independence to Colonial Countries and People of December 14, 1960.[11] The Security Council, in resolutions 183 (1963) and 218 (1965), has also reaffirmed the validity of the principle of right to self-determination as stated in General Assembly resolution 1514 (XV).[12]  Particularly, the paragraph 4 of the resolution strongly supported peaceful independence of colonized people:

All armed action or repressive measures of all kinds directed against dependent peoples shall cease in order to enable them to exercise peacefully and freely their right to complete independence, and the integrity of their national territory shall be respected.[13]

In general, resolutions adopted by the Security Council acting under Chapter VII of the Charter, are considered binding. This interpretation aligns with Article 25 of the chapter V of the Charter, which explicitly states that.[14]

                Furthermore, end China’s current ongoing genocide and ensure peace can be achieved legally through supporting East Turkistan’s claim for external self-determination according to the principles of international law. Many conventional laws and resolutions related to self-determination is linked to the Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide in terms of peace and security of humanity, because the crime of Genocide is a significant violation of human security and peace.  For example, Article 1, Paragraph 2 of the United Nations Charter proclaims the principle of equal rights and self-determination: “To develop friendly relations among nations based on respect for the principle of equal rights and self-determination of peoples, and to take other appropriate measures to strengthen universal peace.”[15] Article 55 also specifically proclaims the principle of the equal rights and self-determination of peoples.[16] Many recent international instruments have also confirmed the principle of self-determination as articulated in Articles 1, 55, 73, and 76, which was also confirmed by Security Council Resolution 246 (1968) of March 1968.[17] 

The principle of self-determination is not only a conventional law as stated in the Charter, but also in many General Assembly declarations and resolutions, including resolution 1547 (XV) in December 1960, resolution 2621 (XXV) of October 12, 1970, and the Declaration on the Occasion of the Twenty-fifth Anniversary of the United Nations (General Assembly resolution 2627 (XXV)).  Resolution 2621 (XXV) reaffirmed that “colonial peoples have the inherent right to struggle by all necessary means at their disposal against colonial Powers which suppress their aspiration for freedom and independence.”[18]  

China’s invasion of East Turkistan in 1949 violated the state integrity law stated in UN Charter Article 2(4). This same law has also become the main impediment to East Turkistan’s peaceful independence today, as China claims that East Turkistan is an inseparable part of China, and that its independence would consequently mean a violation of China’s state integrity. Nonetheless, China’s assertion of state integrity contradicts the UN General Assembly’s Friendly Relations Declaration of 1970, which addresses the subject of conflicts between state integrity and self-determination on the basis of the principle of self-determination and equal rights of people. It emphasizes that a state will be recognized or considered a legitimate representative of its people only so long as it does not impede the political participation of people within the territory on the basis of their “race, creed, or color”.[19] Clearly, Chinese government is neither legally entitled to the territory of East Turkistan nor legally represent the people of East Turkistan.

Is demanding political rights is prerequisite for independence? I would say yes if China is democratic country. However, it is impossible to get political rights that include the right to vote, the right to be elected, the right to take part in public affairs for any Uyghur individual under China’s colonial system. As a result, Uyghurs and other Turkic people in East Turkistan were not allowed as an political party that represent their own people and participate China’s political governing system, since there are no room for any other party rather than Chinese communist party. Furthermore, current Chinese colonial system in East Turkistan is violation of the Vienna Declaration requirement that governments represent “the whole people belonging to the territory without distinction of any kind”

What Factors are Essential to be Prepared for and be Ready for in Anticipation of Our Nation’s Independence, Particularly in the Diaspora?

It is justifiable before the international court that East Turkistan has the right to sovereignty. What and how should we prepare in the diaspora to secure these inalienable rights, while China continues to systematically and gradually destroy the Uyghurs and other Turkic Muslims in East Turkistan?  Following factors are essential to be prepared:

The East Turkistanian people in the diaspora should unite around a common national goal, which is the independence of East Turkistan. Our principles of national independence, grounded in the reasons for our fight for independence, must be clear both to ourselves and to the outside world. This is because we need to not only convince ourselves but also convince international world about our principles of why we are fighting for and what we want to achieve. If we cannot convince ourselves in these principles of national aspiration that represent majority of the population of East Turkistan, it is impossible convince others and gain their support. If our principles for independence is not clear, or it is created as something symbolic or something that our people may decide in the future through self -determination, that is mean we don’t know why and what we are fighting for or we are fighting for the basic human rights or political rights that will not possible in China’s current state system. Each East Turkistanian organizations in diaspora may take different paths in their struggle. However, these paths must not abandon core principles of independence and every action that we take must consisted with this national aspiration, if not outcome may be very different from the aspiration of gaining independence that being promoted by majority of our people.

I am not talking about ethnic Uyghur identity here, ethnic identity also is important, however preserve and develop national identity is essential. Our identity, particularly our national identity must be defined by our people not outsiders. We should not allow anyone define our identity and distort our national identity. We are witnessing that sometimes others attempt to define our identity and classified us as an indigenous peoples in UN’s indigenous peoples category. Also, international media outlets are following China’s false claim and distorted history that define us as a “China’s Muslim Uyghurs” in “China’s Uyghur region”, as if we are in the Chinese territory, as if we are the China’s nation and Chinese government could represent us.  In fact, the international community should know that China is in our territory. We must intensify our advocacy efforts to challenge China’s distorted, coerced, and deceptive labeling of our identity. We must always remember our territorial and historical belongness, national emblem, national flag and its means, national anthem and its representation as an important part of our national identity.  Ideological values derive from the four principles of the East Turkistan Islamic Republic founded in 1933 including Islam, Freedom, Justice, and Brotherhood must preserved as an core national value of our identity. These principles could be developed, amended and extended. For example, we may amended “brotherhood” to “alliance” to make more clear that this principle is not restricted to only religious and racial lineage. We could also add “peace” to highlight the geostrategic means of independence of East Turkistan in terms of countering China’s aggression. “Science and knowledge” also can be added to the national value of East Turkistanian people to promote importance of science and knowledge as an essential weapon against the Chinese colonizers.

 UN general assembly resolution 742 (VIII), factors indicative of the attainment of independence or of other separate system of self- government can be briefly summarized as follow:

Full international responsibility of the Territory for the acts inherent in the exercise of its external sovereignty and for the corresponding acts in the administration of its internal affairs; Eligibility for membership in the United Nations; Power to enter into direct relations of every kind with other governments and with international institutions and to negotiate, sign and ratify international instruments; Sovereign right to provide for its national Defence; internal self- government formed by complete freedom of the people of the territory based on their desire.[20]

It is important to note that these factors in resolution 742(VIII) is considered non self- governing territories in this resolution. Resolution 1541, Principle VI requires countries to allow non-self-governing states to gain independence or freely associate with other states or integration on the basis of equality.[21]  Principle I of this resolution stated that Article 73, Chapter XI of the UN Charter, which is the declaration of regarding non self- governing territories should be  applicable to territories  which where  than known to be of the colonial type.[22] Although East Turkistan was not listed as a non-self-governing territory in General Assembly Resolution 66 (I), this does not alter its colonial status as an illegally occupied state. In this regard, factors indicative of the attainment of independence resolution 742 (VIII), can be applicable to East Turkistan.

Even though, we did not prepare many of these factors, yet most of these factors have potential possibility that can be attained.  For example, Territory of East Turkistan is illegally occupied, but we have the people who responsible and fight for that territory. Being eligible to UN membership among these indicative factors is totally political and it can’t effect East Turkistan’s independence. Because, many governments may choose to acknowledge East Turkistan’s eligibility for UN membership if it aligns with their national interests, while refraining from recognition when it does not serve their national interest.  When it comes to the forces for national defence, we have small armed Uyghur fighters under the leadership of East Turkistan Islamic Party.  These fighters may develop and provide future national defence for independent East Turkistan. However, it is challenging issue for us to provide military training and keep them active without any country’s support. We must be considering both soft and hard power such as military power is essential for capacity to establish independent nation state.

 Many Uyghurs and Uyghur organization are distant themselves with East Turkistan Islamic Party as the world community follow China’s unfair accusation of terrorism and aggression. In fact, resistance fighters of East Turkistan Islamic Party have clear goals that end Chinese colonialism. Besides, they were organized in war zones of Syria and did not involved any terror activity.

Although, “Definition of Aggression,” on the UN General Assembly Resolution 3314 (XXIX), Article 5(3), provides that “No territorial acquisition or special advantage resulting from aggression is or shall be recognized as lawful,”[23] ( Ironicly, China’s aggressive invasion in East Turkistan recognized as lawful)  and Resolution 3314 (XXIX) article 3 calls upon all States to refrain from all acts of aggression and other uses of force. However, we must pay attention that the same resolution article 7 further states that this law is not effect the people’s right to self- determination, freedom and independence who under colonial and racist regime:

Nothing in this Definition, and in particular article 3, could in any way prejudice the right to self-determination, freedom and independence, as derived from the Charter, of peoples forcibly deprived of that right and referred to in the Declaration on Principles of International Law concerning Friendly Relations and Cooperation among States in accordance with the Charter of the United Nations, particularly peoples under colonial and racist regimes or other forms of alien domination: nor the right of these peoples to struggle to that end and to seek and receive support, in accordance with the principles of the Charter and in conformity with the above-mentioned Declaration.

                That is mean, it is legally justified to resist colonialism and seek self-determination under international law. When a nation defends its territory and its people by repelling an unlawful colonizer, such actions should not be deemed aggressive or labeled as terrorism.

In conclusion, considering the other factors indicative of the attainment of independence in GA resolution 742, such as “authority to engage direct relations with other governments” and “internal self- government formed by complete freedom of the people of the territory based on their desire” are not the reality or existing factors in East Turkistan now. However, East Turkistan has potential capacity for self-governance establishment through the will of East Turkistanians in the territory of East Turkistan. Nevertheless, it’s crucial to recognize that any of those power limitations are not unattainable challenges for East Turkistan. People of East Turkistan has the potential capacity to build independent, peaceful nation state as long as China’s colonialism is end.

To thrive in the complex world of international relations, we must excel in mastering geopolitical strategy. This involves not only seizing opportunities to our advantage but also forging alliances and collaborating with friendly powers who share common adversaries. However, it’s essential to remain vigilant and independent, guarding against any attempts to manipulate our interests by these allies.

[1] Adrian Zenz, “Public Security Minister’s Speech Describes Xi Jinping’s Direction of Mass Detentions in Xinjiang,” China File, May 24, 2022, accessed May 25, 2022,,strategy%20for%20Xinjiang.”%20This%20is ; Zak, Doffman, “U.S. Accuses China of Detaining Up To 3M Xinjiang Muslims in‘Concentration Camps’,” Forbes, May 4, 2019, accessed December 26, 2021, https://www.forbes .com /sites /zakdoffman /2019 /05 /04 /xinjiang -u -s -accuses -china -of -putting -up -to -3m-muslims -in -concentration -camps/ #1dfa2ade72b1.

[2] Adrien Zen, “The Xinjiang Papers: An Introduction,” Uyghur Tribunal, November27, 2021, accessed January 1, 2022, https://uyghurtribunal .com /wp -content /uploads /2021/11 /The -Xinjiang -Papers -An -Introduction -01 .pdf.

[3] Amy Qin, “In China’s Crackdown On Muslims, Children Have Not Been Spared,” New York Times, December 28, 2019, accessed February 6, 2022, https://www .nytimes .com/2019 /12 /28 /world /asia /china -xinjiang -children -boarding -schools .html. ; The Economist “How Xinjiang’s Gulag Tears Families Apart,” The Economist, October17, 2020, accessed April 3, 2021, https://www .economist .com /china /2020 /10 /17 /how -xinjiangs-gulag -tears -families -apart.

[4] “ Chinese Police Could Prevent Millions of Minority Births in Xinjiang: Report,” France 24, August 6, 2021, accessed August 6, 2021,https://www .france24 .com /en /live-news /20210608 -chinese -policies -could -prevent -millions -of -minority -births -in -xinjiang-report.

[5] James Millward, Eurasian Crossroads (New York: Columbia University Press, 2007), 20-24; Turghun Almas, Uyghurs, 53.

[6] Facts and Details, “Chaghatai Khanate in Central Asia,” Facts and Details, last updated august 2020,

[7] Bano, Majida. “Mughal Relations With the Kashgar Khanate.” Proceedings of the Indian History Congress 63 (2002): 1116–19.

[8] Linda Benson, The Ili rebellion: The Moslem Challenge to Chinese Authority in Xinjiang, 1944-1949 (Armonk, NY: M. E. Sharpe, 1990): p. 49;

[9] U.N. Charter art. 2, Ř 4.

[10] Central Asian Review, 7:1 (1959), 95. Quoted in Donald Hugh McMillen, “Chinese Communist Power and Policy in Sinkiang, 1949-73: Revolutionary Integration vs. Regionalism” (master thesis, Colorado University, 1967), 55.

[11] G.A. Res, 32/155, Declaration on the Deepening and Consolidation of International Détente (Dec.19, 1977).

[12] Cristescu, supra note, at 20, ¶ 117.

[13]  G.A. Res, Declaration on the Granting of Independence to Colonial Countries and

Peoples, A/RES/1514(XV), para 4 (December 14, 1960).

[14] U.N. Charter art. 25.

[15] U.N. Charter art. 1, ¶ 2. See also: Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide Dec. 9 1948, 78 U.N.T.S. 277, S. Exec. Doc. O, 81-1 (1949)

[16] U.N. Charter art. 55.

[17] Cristescu, supra note, at 11, ¶ 59.

[18] G.A. Res. 2621(XXV), Programme of Action for the Full Implementation of the Declaration on the Granting of Independence to Colonial Countries and Peoples, (Oct.12,1970)

[19] G.A. Res. 2625 (XXV), UN.Doc. A/8082 (Oct. 24, 1970).

[20] G.A. Res. A/Res./742(VIII), Annex. Part 1 (November 27,1953)

[21] G.A. Res. A/RES/1541(XV), Principles which Should Guide Members in Determining Article 73e of the Charter ( December 15, 1960)

[22]  G.A. Res. A/RES/1541(XV), Principle 1

[23] G.A. Res, 3314(XXIX) Definition of Aggression, A/RES/3314, art.5, 3 (December 14, 1974)


Mediterranean Center for Strategic Studies: an institution of strategic thought and planning that is based on preparing estimates, providing consultations, and managing research projects on the Mediterranean and its regional and international interactions.

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