U.S. President Barack Obama has dropped a hot potato in the lap of Australia’s pro-Beijing Prime Minister Kevin Rudd. He has asked him to take at least six and as many as 10 of the remaining 17 Uighurs being held at Guantanamo Bay.
Beijing wants them all returned. The U.S. won’t do that because of fears in Washington that the Uighurs, coming from a Muslim minority which has a separatist movement, will be persecuted. China accuses the Gitmo Uighurs of belonging to the East Turkestan Independence Movement, which is Beijing’s culprit of first choice for almost any act of political violence in China.
The Gitmo Uighurs, captured in Afghanistan in 2001, were cleared for release in 2004 after being cleared of links to terrorism. Albania took five and Sweden one but U.S. appeals to other countries to take some have fallen on deaf ears–or at least been drowned out Chinese warnings not to.
Australia’s foreign minister Stephen Smith has played a straight bat so far: “We will consider these individuals on a case-by-case basis in accordance with our immigration law, in accordance with our domestic and international immigration obligations,” he said and added “where it is appropriate, take into account security advice and considerations.”
In the end Australia will have to choose sides between its old best friend, America, and its new best friend, China.