View Full Version : Will the Urumqi riots create a new people's hero?

19-07-09, 04:36

The riots in Urumqi have some large question marks hanging over them.

Urumqi is a world away from the cities that fringe the Taklamakan desert, such as Aksu, Hotan and Kashgar.

In those cities, you can scent the fierce resentment among the local Muslim Uighurs for their Han Chinese rulers. And you can see the tight grip of Beijing everywhere, from the informers in the bazaars to the notices banning under-18s from worshipping in the mosque.

But Urumqi is different. The city is predominately Han, with only a smattering of Uighurs remaining. There have been sporadic reports of “terrorist” attacks in Urumqi, but they were never very convincing.
The suspicion was that China was drumming up a separatist threat in order to justify a huge security operation in the region.

So the first thought that crossed my mind when I heard Xinhua had released a shocking death toll of 140 was: Why has Xinhua put out a figure so quickly? Last year, during the Tibet riots, it took weeks for a death toll to emerge. When it did, it was generally agreed to have been significantly played down.

The Urumqi figure, by contrast, is enormous. It contradicts some eyewitnesses who said they didn’t see any bodies in the street and it rose very suddenly, from four casualties on Monday morning, to 129 by lunchtime and then to 140. Was the figure rushed out in order to justify another heavy-handed security operation?

If the death toll is accurate, the next question is how did all these victims die? It seems inconceivable that so many could have been killed without the use of guns. And if there were weapons involved, who fired first?

It’s also interesting that Beijing has not blamed terrorist separatists for the latest attack, choosing to point the finger at Rebiya Kadeer instead.

Ms Kadeer was a successful Uighur businesswoman, and a member of China’s National People’s Congress, who was jailed for nearly six years as a political dissident and is now living in exile in the United States. I’m in the middle of her autobiography, Dragon Fighter, which went on sale in the UK a few days ago.

The authorities have accused her of inciting the riot by making mobile phone calls to dissidents in Urumqi on July 5 and urging them to protest. “We also must expose Rebiya and those like her. We must tear away Rebiya’s mask and let the world see her true nature,” said Wang Lequan, the politburo member and hardliner in charge of Xinjiang.

Whether this is true or not, the effect of the accusation is likely to increase Ms Kadeer’s fame and allow her to be framed, outside of China, as a kind of Dalai Lama for the Uighurs, a new hero for the West.

(PS: This is a comparison that has already occurred to the publishers of her book - the Dalai Lama has written the introduction).