China and the Uighurs

I’ve been following Joshua Kucera’s series of articles over at Slate about his travels in the Chinese province of Xinjiang among the Uighur people. So an interview he did for EurasiaNet with Rebiya Kadeer, a Uighur activist, caught my eye. It’s worth a look, if only as a reminder of the stubborn ethno-nationalist faultlines that continue to percolate under the surface of China’s rise. The lack of that kind of threat to American national cohesiveness is obviously one advantage the United States will continue to enjoy over all of its strategic rivals of scale well into the future (unless, of course, you take a seriously alarmist view of the Red State/Blue State divide).

In addition to Kadeer’s remarks about the curse of oil reserves being discovered in the Uighurs’ homeland, the following also seemed noteworthy:

EurasiaNet: The world’s perception of the United States is diminishing now, are you worried about being perceived as being so close to the United States, as being American pawns against China?

Kadeer: We stand together with America, irrespective of how low its rating is in the world. Of course, the more credibility the United States has, the better for us. So our prayer is for the United States to have more respect and credibility in the world. We don’t think we’re a pawn for the US government. We are an orphan in the world, and now we feel like we are being adopted by this great nation. We believe the US reputation in the world will come back soon.

This is one often-forgotten area where foreign policy realism can overlap with idealism, instead of being adversarial. A realist policy of engagement and coalition-building can only help restore America’s standing abroad, which in turn can allow us to exert more leverage with more credibility on behalf of people like the Uighurs.