Supporters of Prime Minister Narendra Modi's government, who are often self-conscious about how India matches up with China, took to social media over the weekend to celebrate the news that Isa had procured a tourist visa to India, using the hashtag #ModiSlapsChina. Many viewed the visa as a "slap" because China had used its clout at the United Nations earlier in
April to block India's attempt to have Masood Azhar, the alleged mastermind of an attack on an Indian air force base in January, designated an international terrorist.
Hua Chunying, a spokeswoman for the Chinese Foreign Ministry, was quoted in the Indian media as saying that "Dolkun is a terrorist on red notice of the Interpol and Chinese police. Bringing him to justice is due obligation of relevant countries.”
A spokesman for India's Ministry of External Affairs, Vikas Swarup, was noncommittal in his response, simply saying, “We have seen media reports and the ministry is trying to ascertain facts.”
On Monday, it became clear that India's various ministries had not coordinated closely enough, if at all, on Isa's visa, and its potential geopolitical ramifications, and they canceled the visa. Isa came forward with a statement expressing disappointment and said he could only speculate that Chinese pressure led to the reversal. The turnaround by the New Delhi government did not please Indians, with the hashtag #ModiBowsToChina topping India's Twitter trends Monday.
Modi and Chinese Premier Xi Jinping have visited each other's capitals, and both have made overtures about solving border disputes that have persisted long after China easily won a 1962 war against India. India's hosting of the Dalai Lama and Tibet's government-in-exile is another major sore point.
Isa fled China in 1997 on a fake passport and has since lived in Germany, where he holds citizenship. He says he is a principled supporter of nonviolence. Here's an excerpt of his statement to the Indian press:
This is not the first time that I have faced difficulties in my international travels to advocate Uyghur rights. In September 2009, I was detained briefly and denied entry to South Korea while travelling to attend the World Forum for Democratization in Asia, to which I was an invited guest. China also has regularly attempted to block or interfere with my human rights work at the U.N in Geneva, in particular.
I also reject any comparison or association to China’s recent veto by the U.N. Security Council Sanctions Committee of Pakistani militant leader, Mazood Azhar [sic]. Such an unjustifiable comparison seeks only to delegitimize my decades of impassioned work as a strictly non-violent campaigner for Uyghur rights. China’s clear abuse of Interpol’s Red Notice issuance is also concerning.
Isa's trip to India would have allowed him to attend a conference aimed mostly at seeking democratization in China. Organized by Initiatives for China, a group that includes several student leaders who were present at the Tiananmen Square uprising, the conference will take place from April 28 through May 1 in Dharmsala, a city that hosts the Tibetan government-in-exile. The Dalai Lama will be in attendance.
The Uighur ethnic group to which Isa belongs faces restrictions regarding its culture, language, and religion, including not being able to fast during the Ramadan holiday, or take children to mosques. The Chinese government is wary of Uighur separatists, whom it has accused of fomenting unrest. It began to label some as "terrorists" in 2001 — and Isa in 2003 — as a way to appeal to an international community increasingly worried about the spread of radical Islam.
For its part, Modi's government, like the Congress Party-led one that preceded his, seems unable to avoid high-profile, public U-turns on policy and more quotidian matters such as Isa's visa. Although Modi's political campaigns have been characterized by slick, media-savvy offerings, the turnarounds provide ample fodder for the Indian media to question the cohesion of Indian bureaucracy’s many moving parts, something Modi promised to improve when he assumed office in 2014.