Dutch Town Cuts Twinning Ties to China’s Wuhan Over Abuse of Uyghurs

The city council of Arnhem votes to dissolve its partnership with the central Chinese city.

Dutch Town Cuts Twinning Ties to China’s Wuhan Over Abuse of Uyghurs

A municipality in the eastern Netherlands has cut ties with China’s Wuhan over the government’s mistreatment of the Uyghur minority in the Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region, in an unusual move by a foreign city to break a twinning arrangement with a Chinese sister city.

A majority of city council members in Arnhem on Wednesday approved a proposal to end the partnership which has been in place since 1999, citing China's human rights violations targeting the predominantly Muslim Uyghur minority in Xinjiang, Dutch broadcaster NOS reported.

The twinning, or sister-city, arrangements pair towns or cities in different countries to encourage people-to-people contact and cultural links as well as economic benefits. Chinese cities have more than 1,400 sister cities around the world as a means of increasing China’s soft power and global influence.

The arrangements boost cooperation and exchanges among Chinese and foreign cities under the framework of China’s Belt and Road Initiative, President Xi Jinping’s massive loan, infrastructure, and trade program that stretches from the East to Europe and other continents. The Netherlands has not formally signed on to the BRI.

The move comes as many Western democracies are punishing China for its repression of the Uyghurs through legislation, calls to boycott the 2022 Beijing Winter Olympics, and sanctions on officials and entities deemed responsible for rights abuses against Turkic minorities in the XUAR, or that use Uyghur forced labor.

The city council’s decision to end the twinning arrangement came after an appeal from Ahmedjan Kasima, a Uyghur refugee living in the Netherlands who, along with other Uyghurs, talked to some of the town councilors during a demonstration prior to the council meeting.

Arnhem’s mayor and some of the councilors who favored keeping the relationship with Wuhan and maintaining dialogue with China about human rights, wanted to speak to their counterparts in Wuhan before holding the vote, but the council did not agree, NOS said.

A majority of councilors from the pro-immigrant DENK party, GroenLinks green party, social-liberal Democrats 66, Socialist Party, Christian Union, Nationalist Party for Freedom, and Party for the Animals, an animal rights party, voted for the immediate severing of ties, according to a report on the NL#Times website.

“We believe that human rights violations are taking place on a massive scale in China and the situation of the Uyghurs and other minorities in China is deteriorating by the day and that under these circumstances it is immoral to maintain city ties with China,” political parties said during the discussion, NL#Times reported.

Tülay Gemici, a councilor for GroenLinks, one of the parties that voted to cancel the twinning arrangement, told Omroep Gelderland, a regional public broadcaster for the Dutch province of Gelderland, that the demonstration “had played a role” in the party’s vote.

“When I see such a group of people, and a man tells me that he has not seen 19 of his relatives in four years because they are missing, it adds to the overall picture and reinforces the feeling that we should not [involve] Arnhem,” the broadcast organization quoted her as saying.

An evaluation commissioned by the municipality estimated that the economic impact of cutting ties with Wuhan would amount to several millions of euros and dozens of jobs for companies in the region, though the twinning arrangement did not yield any investment from China, Dutch media reported.

After the vote, Ahmedjan Kasima told NOS that he did not expect the city council to vote to end the partnership. He had called for the twinning arrangement to be dissolved a few weeks ago, but at that time it appeared as though a majority of members would vote in favor of keeping it, the report said.

‘A political strategy’

China has used the sister-cities arrangement since its opening up in 1978 as a political strategy to “infiltrate” the Western world, said Asiya Uyghur, a Uyghur intellectual and observer based in Netherlands.

“If the breaking of sister-city ties with the Chinese cities develops into a domino effect in Western society, it might severely damage China’s strategic plan of dominating the world,” she said.

“In this perspective, Netherlands’s Arnhem’s breaking ties with Wuhan over the Uyghur issue has a profound meaning and it is a significant setback for China,” she said.

Arnhem, capital of the province of Gelderland, has a population of about 159,300. Wuhan, the capital of central China’s Hubei province with a population of about 11 million, is the location where the contagious COVID-19 virus was first detected in December 2019. Wuhan has sister-city agreements with 13 other countries in Europe, the Middle East, Africa, and Asia.

The Dutch parliament in February said that the systematic persecution and mass detention of Uyghurs amounted to genocide.

The UK parliament and other democratic legislatures in Belgium, the Czech Republic, Canada, and Lithuania also have determined that China’s policies in the XUAR constitute genocide, citing internment camps that have held some 1.8 million people, some of whom have been tortured or subjected to other abuse.

In January, the U.S. government determined that serious rights abuses against Uyghurs in the region were part of a campaign of genocide, and in June, a German parliamentary committee declared that the abuses constitute crimes against humanity.

China has angrily rejected international scrutiny and criticism over Xinjiang, arguing that its policies are aimed at combating extremism and maintain stability in the region.

Reported by Uyghuray for RFAs Uyghur Service. Translated by Mamatjan Juma. Written in English by Roseanne Gerin.

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CNRP Activist Arrested After Returning to Cambodia to Start a Business

Kem Tola fled to Thailand in 2019 after being summoned for questioning over online posts supporting Cambodian opposition leader Sam Rainsy.

CNRP Activist Arrested After Returning to Cambodia to Start a Business

A court in central Cambodia’s Kampong Speu province has detained a former opposition party council member who recently returned from Thailand, sending her to prison following her arrest without a warrant on Friday, Cambodian sources said.

Kem Tola, a former commune council member for the Cambodia National Rescue Party (CNRP), was held overnight at the provincial police station before being turned over to the Kampong Speu Provincial Court and put into detention, her sister Kem Sitha told RFA.

“I want her to have her freedom back,” Kem Sitha said, adding that Kem Tola does not yet have a lawyer and that police have not provided any details of charges made against her.

“She returned to Cambodia after having already said she has retired from politics. She returned to Thailand to start a business,” she said.

Kem Tola had been tried in absentia in April and sentenced to a year in prison on a charge of “incitement” after she and other activists had gathered for a meal and posted comments on Facebook supporting the return to Cambodia of CNRP acting president Sam Rainsy, who now lives in self-imposed exile in Paris.

She had fled to Thailand in 2019 after being summoned for questioning over her online posts, but decided to return after Cambodian Prime Minister Hun Sen appealed to CNRP activists living abroad to come back, promising them amnesty if they returned.

No warning was given of her arrest when she came back, Kem Sitha said, adding that local authorities had instead approached Kem Tola to urge her to defect to the ruling Cambodian People’s Party (CPP). Kem Tola refused, though, saying that she wanted only to live a normal life and support her aging parents, she said.

Afraid of losing power

Klaing Bun Lai, a senior CNRP activist now living in Thailand, said that Kem Tola had been arrested because Hun Sen is afraid once again of losing power following the recent announcement by Sam Rainsy of a plan to form a new shadow government, citing the example of Myanmar’s National Unity Government (NUG) formed in opposition to that country’s Feb. 1 military coup.

“Hun Sen is a coward in the political arena. He just uses the law to unjustly persecute activists from the opposition party,” he said.

Kem Tola’s arrest will now cause fresh criticism of the persecution by Hun Sen’s government of political opposition figures, said Am Sam Ath, deputy director of the Cambodian human rights group Licadho, noting that Kem Tola was arrested only “after she returned in response to a government appeal.”

From the beginning of 2020 to June 2021, authorities of P Hun Sen’s ruling CPP have arrested around 80 political activists, environmental activists, monks, social activists, and members of youth groups, charging them with conspiracy, incitement, and insulting the authorities.

Cambodia’s Supreme Court dissolved the CNRP in November 2017, two months after the arrest of its leader Kem Sokha for his role in an alleged scheme to topple the government of Prime Minister Hun Sen. 

The ban, along with a wider crackdown on NGO’s and the independent media, paved the way for the CPP to win all 125 seats in the country’s 2018 general election.

Reported by RFA’s Khmer Service. Translated by Samean Yun. Written in English by Richard Finney.

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