Only ‘loyal’ Uyghurs will get degrees, says government

China has stepped up pressure on ethnic minority students and lecturers in the restive northwestern Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region, insisting that students must pass a test of political views and declare their allegiance to the Chinese state in order to graduate.

Official media in China reported on 25 November that students who were not “politically qualified” would not get their degrees.

Xu Yuanzhi, Communist Party secretary at Kashi Normal University in Kashi, in the Kashgar prefecture of Xinjiang, was reported in the official Xinjiang Daily as saying: “Those students who don't pass politics, however good they are in their specialist subject, should not be allowed to graduate.”

Lecturers could also be affected – for example, by being demoted – he said.

Uyghur groups have said this heralds a new wave of repression and discrimination against the Uyghur Turkic minority, who are Muslims.

“What this means is that students have to swear their loyalty wholeheartedly to the Chinese government and without which, even if they have excellent academic achievements, they cannot graduate and get their diploma,” said Alim Seytoff, a spokesperson for the exile group World Uyghur Congress.

He was attending a United Nations minority rights conference in Geneva this week, despite objections lodged to the UN forum by the Chinese government.

The Chinese government has always had compulsory ideology classes for university students in Xinjiang. “As long as they passed them, it was usually not a big problem.

“The big change is that Uyghur students not only have to pass the ideology tests, but throughout their college lives they have to prove their ultimate loyalty to the Chinese government,” Seytoff told University World News.

For example, he said, if an incident occurred in the region the authorities “may force a Uyghur student to accuse other Uyghur students, and if they refuse, then the Chinese state would see that as disloyalty and a failure of the ‘test’”.

According to Seytoff, the kind of loyalty the Chinese government was demanding was difficult for Uyghurs to pledge “in light of the current repression”.

After a violent Uyghur uprising in 2009, when more than 200 people were killed, and which led to a major crackdown in the region, “Uyghurs realised it did not matter whether they were loyal to the Chinese government or not, because the Chinese government treated all Uyghurs the same”.

The government stepped up security in Xinjiang – which borders Pakistan, Afghanistan and Central Asian republics, and is often called East Turkestan by Uyghurs – after a vehicle ran into pedestrians in Beijing’s Tiananmen Square on 28 October and burst into flames. The three occupants, and two pedestrians, were killed.

“After the Tiananmen incident last month, the Chinese government beefed up its strong security presence all over East Turkestan, including university campuses,” Seytoff said.

“Because students are usually the most active and are usually at the forefront of any change in society, the Chinese government is especially afraid of Uyghur dissatisfaction starting in colleges because they will be the intellectuals and the people of the future,” he said.

Global Times, a party publication, said this week: “The principals and the party secretaries in local universities agreed that the education system is one of the main battlefields against separatism, so being politically qualified is the prime request.”

“University students should safeguard ethnic unity and oppose separatism and that is the most important task of Xinjiang universities,” the paper quoted Li Zhongyao, party secretary of Xinjiang University, as saying at a regional education conference.