View Full Version : China misfires with divisive 'people's war'

27-08-08, 10:57
China misfires with divisive 'people's war'
By Wu Zhong, China Editor


HONG KONG - Chinese leaders can now let out a long and satisfied sigh of relief: the Beijing Summer Olympic Games have ended safely and without the interruption of any unsightly incident.
But the security of the Games was not achieved without cost. Certain heavy-handed tactics served to polarize China's ethnic groups and the government must now devote greater efforts to establishing solidarity between them. This is particularly important considering the growing distrust of the majority Han ethnic bloc towards the minority Tibetan and the Uyghur people.

China's Han majority accounts for over 90% of the country's 1.3 billion population. Many Han believe the successful Olympics

came at a great national price. They were humiliated and angry when the Olympic flame was dogged by Tibetan independence activists in overseas torch relays. They were shocked and outraged on hearing that the East Turkistan Islamic Movement (ETIM), an exiled group seeking independence for Xinjiang, had threatened to launch terror attacks against Olympic venues.

A series of terrorist attacks did rock Kashi and Kuqa in Xinjiang before and after the opening of the Games, leaving dozens dead, including policemen. According to Foreign Ministry spokesman Qin Gang, the ETIM is suspected in the attacks.

Still, subsequent terror strikes in Xinjiang were successfully contained and Beijing and China's other venue cities were not attacked. This was due in part to tightened security in Xinjiang, but also to the so-called "people's war" launched by authorities against attempted sabotage of the Olympics.

In the long term, however, the "people's war" may have increased the Han majority's suspicion of Tibetan and Uyghur minorities.

Following the first terror attack on armed police in Kashi on August 4, the Beijing Municipal State Security Bureau, the city's secret police, posted public notices asking citizens to alert them to suspicious persons or anything that "attempts to create ethnic conflicts, instigate national secession and threaten national security", media in Beijing reported. It was unusual for the State Security Bureau to make such a high-profile move. Reading the Chinese text, it was easily understood that Uyghur and Tibetan "separatists" were targeted.

Society in Beijing is well organized. In collaboration with a local police, several community committees (jumin weiyuanhui) are set up to help maintain social order. Members of such committees are normally housewives, retired cadre or workers familiar with the community. They keep an eye on strangers and inform the police of any abnormal happenings. Despite the rapid expansion of the city and increased social mobility, the system remains intact.

And with the recent surge of nationalist and patriotic sentiment, Beijing residents - who are mostly Han - were more than enthusiastic to help contain any attempt to sabotage the Olympics. Tibetans and Uyghurs generally have different physical characteristics from Hans and could be easily identified when arriving in a typical Beijing neighborhood. For ambitious Tibetan and Uyghur activists, the secret police notice must have been, at the very least, a deterrent.

Given Beijingers' overzealous enthusiasm for a successful Olympics, the public memo put locals on high alert against any Tibetan and Uyghur strangers. As such, it was hardly a positive sign for the implementation of Beijing's pledge of "solidarity between [various] ethnic nationalities" in the country.

With the Tibetan protests and terror attacks in Xinjiang, the Beijing Olympics have helped to bring the respective ethnic problems to the world's attention. This provides Beijing with an opportunity to review its ethnic policies. One positive step has emerged already: Beijing has conceded to resume dialogue with the Dalai Lama, the exiled Tibetan spiritual leader.

But there are potentially dangerous tends as well. Specifically that the Han majority's poor opinion of "trouble-making" Tibetans and Uyghurs may develop into a newfound Han chauvinism which could prevent Beijing from formulating more pragmatic and flexible policies toward ethnic minorities.

"What more do they [Tibetans and Uyghurs] want? The central government treats them better than us. They can give birth to more than one child, and their children could be admitted into universities with lower scores in the entrance exam. They enjoy tax incentives and even receive subsidies from the central government. What more do they want? Independence? Ask all the Chinese people first," said Xiao Ma, a minor civil servant in Beijing.

Xiao's opinion is by no means unique among Han people in Beijing or across the country, said a sociology researcher with the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences (CASS).

With the successful conclusion of the Games, the government must make efforts to calm nationalistic sentiments among Han citizens and prevent the majority group from descending into narrow-mindedness. Such a trend "can only be an obstacle to any government effort to stabilize the situation in Tibet or Xinjiang", said the CASS researcher.

The launch of the so-called "people's war" against ethnic separatism was the wrong tactic. And although it may have been effective in ensuring a safe Olympics, it must not be repeated again.

(Copyright 2008 Asia Times Online (Holdings) Ltd. All rights reserved. Please contact us about sales, syndication and republishing.)