A controversial figure accused by China of inciting violence in the ethnically divided Xinjiang region, where clashes with police this week saw 21 people killed, arrived in Taiwan on Friday in a visit likely to irk Beijing.
Dilshat Rexit, a spokesman for the World Uygur Congress, an exile group branded by Beijing as “separatist”, said he was planning to meet with Taiwanese politicians to discuss Uygur issues in China and attend a seminar.
There are about nine million mostly Muslim Uygurs in western China’s vast Xinjiang province, which they consider their homeland, and many complain of religious and cultural repression by Chinese authorities.
The visit comes at a time of high tension after local government officials in China said 15 police and social workers were killed in Xinjiang on Tuesday, adding that six Uygurs shot dead in the clashes were suspected of terrorist plotting.
Rexit, who is based in Sweden, responded that “they always use such labels to justify their use of armed force”.
Beijing has in the past accused him along with exiled Uygur leader Rebiya Kadeer of orchestrating violence in Xinjiang, a claim both men deny.
In 2009 the China-friendly government of President Ma Ying-jeou denied a planned visit to the island by Kadeer over security concerns and Rexit has also previously been refused entry.
He said on Friday: “I couldn’t get in Taiwan the last time I tried in 2001 because of pressure from China. I expect Beijing to be upset by my visit.”
He is due to attend the eighth InterEthnic/Interfaith Leadership Conference in Taipei from Saturday hosted by Washington-based Initiatives for China, a grassroots movement founded by exiled Chinese activist Yang Jianli.
Relations between Taiwan and China have improved markedly since Ma became president in 2008 on a Beijing-friendly platform. The two sides split in 1949 after a civil war.