April 9, 2012 / 9:14 AM / 7 years ago

China pressures Japan to prevent exiled Uighur meeting

BEIJING (Reuters) - China urged Japan on Monday not to allow an exiled Uighur group to hold a major conference in Tokyo next month, saying the organization seeks to damage Chinese sovereignty.

Ethnic Uighur demonstrators, waving Turkish and blue East Turkestan flags, set fire to a Chinese flag during a protest against China near the Chinese Consulate in Istanbul July 21, 2011. REUTERS/Murad Sezer

China has blamed violence in its restive far western region of Xinjiang, home to the Turkic language-speaking Muslim Uighur people, on Islamic separatists who want to establish an independent state of East Turkestan.

The Germany-based World Uyghur Congress plans to hold its general assembly from May 14-17 in Tokyo with the opening ceremony to take place in Japan’s parliament, according to a statement on its website (www.uyghurcongress.org).

The group says around 100 Uighur delegates will attend, as well as unnamed Japanese politicians.

“We believe this organization harms China’s sovereignty and territorial integrity. They are engaged in activities that harm China’s sovereignty and territorial integrity. They engage in separatist activities to split China,” Foreign Ministry spokesman Liu Weimin said.

“We have already made representations to Japan regarding this situation. We hope Japan can adopt practical measures to prohibit this organization from using Japanese soil to engage in activities to split China,” he told a daily news briefing.

Japan’s Foreign Ministry declined to comment.

The World Uyghur Congress says it seeks to promote the right of Uighurs to use peaceful, democratic means to decide the future of Xinjiang.

Exiled Uighur groups and human rights activists say China overstates the threat posed by militants in energy-rich Xinjiang, which sits astride south and central Asia.

The Uighur people account for just over 40 percent of the region’s 21 million population. Many chafe at government controls on their culture and religion.

China has reacted with anger before at events overseas it views as supporting the exiled Uighur community, and has exerted diplomatic pressure to prevent the movement of its leaders.

In 2009, South Korea stopped the World Uyghur Congress’ general secretary Dolkun Isa — a German citizen — from entering the country to attend a forum on democracy, saying he was on a blacklist.

While economic and business links are close, political relations between Beijing and Tokyo have been strained by what Beijing says has been Tokyo’s refusal to admit to atrocities committed by Japanese soldiers in the country between 1931 and 1945.

Reporting by Michael Martina; Writing by Ben Blanchard, Editing by Jonathan Thatcher

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