Mr. Isa’s Visa

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India came in for criticism last month when it revoked the visa of an advocate for Uighur rights, Dolkun Isa. Delhi denies that it acted under pressure from China. But the Indian government’s stated reasons for canceling the visa appear less than credible. As Asia’s largest democracy, it is in India’s interest to reverse itself. India’s democratic allies should encourage it to do so.

Mr. Isa’s story attracted international attention when India prevented him from attending a democracy conference. Isa is the executive director of the World Uighur Congress, an exile group that supports democracy and human rights for Uighurs, a largely Muslim, Turkic ethnic group from East Turkestan, which China occupied in 1949 and now calls the Xinjiang Uighur Autonomous region. Xinjiang, however, is not autonomous, and it is less and less Uighur as a result of ethnic Han settlement and other communist policies.

In most ways, the Uighurs are in the same predicament as their Tibetan neighbors, who have lived under Chinese communist occupation since the 1950s. However, Beijing’s exploitation of the fear of Islamist terrorism has prevented the Uighur cause from receiving the support it deserves. Not incidentally, the Dalai Lama supports Uighur human rights, and the conference Mr. Isa was to attend was in Dharamsala, the northern Indian town that, thanks to India’s generosity, has been the home-in-exile for the Tibetan government since 1960.

Officially, India said that Mr. Isa’s visa was canceled on two grounds: first, that he wrongly applied for a tourist visa, and, second, that he was the subject of an Interpol Red Notice.

The first claim holds no water. Dozens of other conference participants also traveled on tourist visas. And the red notice excuse, belatedly offered by India, is also a red herring. China, Russia, and other authoritarian states abuse Interpol procedures to get custody of their critics and subject them to corrupt judicial systems. Germany, which welcomed Mr. Isa as a citizen in 2006, has never acted on the red notice. Nor has the United States. Mr. Isa has been admitted to the United States on several occasions, including in March to receive an award from the Victims of Communism Memorial Foundation at a ceremony in Washington.

In fact, Bloomberg reported, China tried to block Mr. Isa’s March visit to Washington because it coincided with General Secretary Xi Jinping’s visit to the nuclear summit. Beijing failed in that case, but it will undoubtedly keep trying. The more effective an advocate for the Uighurs Mr. Isa becomes, the more pressure Beijing will apply, and the more likely it is that other countries will acquiesce in one way or another, as Washington has done in the past with the Dalai Lama.

The stakes for Mr. Isa are greater than just missing a conference. Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi recently said that Chinese citizenship takes precedence over that of other countries. His implication was that Beijing was justified in snatching Lee Bo, a British citizen, from Hong Kong, along with four other men, including Gui Minhai, a naturalized citizen of Sweden. China has forcibly repatriated Uighur refugees, including children, from other countries on a number of occasions. Minister Wang’s assertion would certainly make citizens of Taiwan, which China regards as part of its territory, vulnerable as well. Indeed Malaysia and Kenya recently cooperated in extra-legal deportation of Taiwanese suspected of telecommunications fraud to China.

The stakes are high for the United States and its allies too. Beijing is elevating its own interests above settled concepts of human rights and international law. Initially at least Beijing’s claims that Xinjiang, Tibet, and Taiwan are “core interests” seemed designed to place them beyond the reach of foreign concern or principles of international law. Now, Beijing is using the same concept as the basis for interfering in other countries’ affairs.

The dynamic of pressure and concession is effective. Anytime a country abandons principle to achieve, for example, trade deals with Beijing, it increases the pressure on other countries to do the same. After President Obama delayed a meeting with the Dalai Lama to placate China in 2009, China redoubled its diplomatic pressure over Tibet, winning concessions from democratic countries that were normally staunch supporters of human rights. In 2009, seeking to attend another democracy conference in Seoul, Mr. Isa was held for two days before being deported.

If India’s government wishes to dispel the perception that it has buckled under Chinese pressure, it should invite Mr. Isa to return. Delhi might also invite along several other would-be participants in the conference who also failed to obtain visas, including a leader of Hong Kong’s pro-democracy movement.

That would be a good outcome, but more should be done. Beijing must not be allowed to dictate who may attend a conference, walk the halls of foreign ministries, or meet with Presidents and Prime Ministers. Of course, there will be hell to pay at first. But accommodation will only invite more pressure and lead to more concessions democratic nations cannot afford. Instead the United States and its allies should agree to resist and roll back Beijing’s self-serving campaign to degrade democratic values.

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