View Full Version : China: Trouble in the colonies

23-07-09, 18:29
China: Trouble in the colonies

“The incidents in China are, simply put, a genocide. There’s no point in interpreting this otherwise”, said Turkey’s Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan on July 10. He was talking about the deaths of at least 184 people in the recent street violence in Xinjiang, the vast province that occupies the north-western corner of China.
A majority of Xinjiang’s people are Uighurs, who are Muslims and speak a language closely related to Turkish, so Erdogan’s comments were bound to appeal to his audience in Turkey. The Chinese government, predictably, condemned his charges as “irresponsible and groundless”. The Chinese government was right -- but also terribly wrong.
It wasn’t a genocide. The deaths of 184 people, for whatever reason, do not constitute genocide. Erdogan was claiming that there had been a genocide against the Uighurs, but three-quarters of the people killed in the riots were Han Chinese. “Genocide” is a word that should only be used very precisely, and Erdogan owes Beijing an apology.
Even if the Chinese authorities exaggerated the number of Han dead and understated the Uighur death-toll, as Uighur nationalists abroad claim, there is no doubt that this violence started as an Uighur attack on Chinese immigrants. However, Beijing owes the Uighurs more than just an apology, for it is Chinese policy that drove them to such desperate measures.
The Chinese authorities genuinely believe that the development they have brought to Xinjiang has been for the Uighurs’ own good, even if it has also brought large numbers of Han Chinese immigrants to the province. But they are certainly not distressed to see this sensitive frontier province that was 90 percent Uighur and Muslim sixty years ago become a place where a majority of the residents are instinctively loyal Han Chinese.
More importantly, they lack the cultural imagination to see that this process will be profoundly alienating for the Uighurs. It may sound preposterous, but most of the men who rule China simply could not come up with an answer to the question: “Why don’t they want to be Chinese?” So if there are anti-Chinese riots in Xinjiang, it must be “outside agitators stirring up our Uighurs”.
That is how Beijing explained the riots to itself and to the nation. As Xinjiang’s Communist governor, Nur Bekri, said in a televised address, the exiled Uighur leader Rebiya Kadeer “had phone conversations with people in China on July 5 in order to incite [the violence]”. Beijing explained the even bloodier anti-Chinese riots in Tibet in March of last year in exactly the same way, except that that time the outside agitator was the Dalai Lama.
What’s more, most Chinese believe it. They have been schooled to believe that Xinjiang and Tibet have been an integral part of their country since time immemorial. They also believe the Uighurs and Tibetans who live in those places are (or should be) profoundly grateful for the development and prosperity that have come to their provinces as a result of their membership in the Chinese state.
The gulf of incomprehension is so vast that it is reminiscent of the gap between the Russian and non-Russian inhabitants of the former Russian empire before the collapse of the old Soviet Union in 1991. Almost all Russians believed that the non-Russians were (or should be) grateful for all that had been done for them, and even resented the fact that they got more investment per capita than the Russians themselves. As for the non-Russians, they took their independence as soon as they could.
The truth is that the Chinese empire first took effective control of Tibet and Xinjiang in the same period when the Russian empire was conquering the other Central Asian countries. Whatever vague claims to “suzerainty” Beijing can dredge up from the more distant past, they do not convince the Uighurs and the Tibetans themselves, who would cut loose from China instantly if they got the chance.
It’s called decolonization, and China is the last hold-out. The only way it can ensure a different final outcome to that of the other empires is to swamp the local people with Han Chinese immigrants -- and that, oddly enough, is the principal result of its “development” policies. The development creates an economy that the local people are not qualified to work in, and Chinese immigrants come in to fill those jobs instead.
The Tibetan Autonomous Region still has a large Tibetan majority, but in Xinjiang the Uighurs are already down to 45 percent of the population, while the Han Chinese are up to 40 percent. The Uighurs feel that their country is disappearing in front of their eyes, and they are right.
So they attack innocent Chinese immigrants, which is shameful but all too understandable. Chinese mobs attack them back, which is equally shameful and equally understandable.
It is already ugly, and it’s probably going to get a good deal uglier. The repression needed to hold down Xinjiang and Tibet may lead to increased repression in China in general, and it will almost certainly lead to more violence in the colonies.


23-07-09, 18:31
China Paramilitary forces scale back in Urumqi

A Uighur man crosses a street in Urumqi as well-armed Chinese soldiers march on patrol on July 15

A shop assistant packaging a carpet for a customer in Urumqi’s Uighur district last week. Despite the continued heavy presence of military and paramilitary forces, life was gradually returning to normal

Exiled Uighur leader Rebiya Kadeer: “Global terrorists should not take advantage of the Uighur people’s legitimate aspirations and the current tragedy in East Turkestan to commit acts of terrorism”

Paramilitary forces withdrew on July 16 from most of their positions in the Uighur district of Urumqi, capital of the northwestern Chinese province of Xinjiang for the first time since unrest that left at least 192 people dead. A command center in front of Urumqi’s Grand Bazaar was dismantled, shopkeepers said, allowing stores to open for the first time since July 5, when the city experienced the worst ethnic violence in China in decades. “It is calmer and safer now that the soldiers have moved away”, one Uighur shopkeeper in the bazaar said on condition of anonymity. He said that had his shop stayed closed longer, most of his stock would have spoiled. However, paramilitary forces did not leave the district completely, maintaining barricades to prevent vehicles from entering some roads, witnesses said. These included positions near where the government said police shot and killed two knife-wielding Uighur “lawbreakers” and wounded another on July 13. For the most part, the green camouflage uniforms that were evident on most corners of the district made way for the light blue worn by unarmed city police. The district’s sidewalks bustled last Thursday evening as loudspeakers broadcasting government messages against Uighur separatists had to compete with stall owners using megaphones to peddle polo shirts.

At Urumqi’s People’s Square, the scene of a Uighur protest that officials said turned violent, black-clad police had removed their helmets but were still preventing people from going into the square.
Most of those killed in the unrest were Han, China’s dominant ethnic group, while more than 1,600 were injured, officials said.
Thousands of Han Chinese retaliated in the following days, arming themselves with makeshift weapons and marching through parts of Urumqi vowing vengeance against the Uighurs.
The Uighurs, many of whom have complained of repression under China’s 60-year rule in the vast mountainous region, have accused Chinese forces of opening fire on peaceful protests.
They say the number of people killed is far higher than the official tally and that there were also attacks on Uighurs in other parts of Xinjiang.
The Chinese Communist Party’s official mouthpiece, the People’s Daily, published a commentary saying more evidence was emerging to show the July 5 violence “was a serious criminal incident intentionally organized by hostile forces”.

US commission seeks China sanctions
The US government commission on religious freedom has called for targeted sanctions against China over the ethnic unrest in the predominantly Muslim region of Xinjiang.
The US Commission on International Religious Freedom said it was “gravely concerned” about China’s “repression” of the cultural and religious traditions of the Uighurs, the ethnic group native to the vast, arid region.
The religious freedom commission called for President Barack Obama to consider sanctions on exports coming from Xinjiang or travel restrictions on Chinese government officials in charge of the northwestern province.
“Protests such as those occurring last week happen for a reason”, said Leonard Leo, chairman of the commission, on July 15.
“Beijing has pushed its ethnic and religious minorities, its human rights lawyers, its labor activists and its free speech advocates to the wall. The international community must speak up”, he said.
The commission, which includes appointees of both main US political parties, monitors religious freedom abroad and makes recommendations to policymakers but cannot impose sanctions on its own.
Any attempts to impose sanctions on China, the largest creditor to the heavily indebted United States, could face a tough sell in Washington, where the Obama Administration has sought a broad partnership with Beijing.
In 2000 Congress gave China the trading status of most favored nation, putting an end to annual votes that had turned into fights over Beijing’s human rights and commercial policies.
The religious freedom commission also called for an independent investigation into the violence in Xinjiang.
China says it has brought development to Xinjiang and has called for national unity among the country’s various ethnicities.
Beijing says most of the victims of the violence were ethnic Hans killed and injured in “rioting” by Uighurs.
But Rebiya Kadeer, the Washington-based head of the World Uighur Congress, told a meeting of the religious freedom commission that Chinese forces used indiscriminate force on peaceful protests.
“You can compare it to the Tiananmen Square massacre”, Kadeer told the commission, referring to China’s bloody crackdown on pro-democracy protesters in the nerve center of Beijing 20 years ago.
Kadeer contrasted the international response to the global uproar last year over violence in Tibet, a predominantly Buddhist region that has also long been discontented under China’s rule.
“Last year in Tibet, we saw tremendous international support and concern. In our case the international response is a bit hesitant”, she told the commission.
She called on Obama and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton to “raise this issue at the highest level with Chinese officials”.
“My hope is that Americans can see that we are just like the Tibetans, suffering the same persecution and yearning for the same religious freedom”, she said.
The White House has said it is “deeply concerned” by the violence in Xinjiang and called for restraint.
Kadeer firmly distanced herself from Al-Qaeda, condemning the group’s threats to attack Chinese interests in retaliation for the Muslims’ deaths.
Kadeer said she opposed the use of violence in her campaign to bring greater rights for Uighurs in China. “I do not believe violence is a solution to any problem”, Kadeer said in a statement.
“Global terrorists should not take advantage of the Uighur people’s legitimate aspirations and the current tragedy in East Turkestan to commit acts of terrorism targeting Chinese diplomatic missions or civilians”, she said.
Al-Qaeda’s Algerian-based offshoot, Al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb, has threatened to target Chinese interests, according to international consultancy Stirling Assynt.
Hundreds of thousands of Chinese work in the Middle East and North Africa, including 50,000 in Algeria, estimated the group, which has offices in London and Hong Kong providing risk advice to corporate and official clients.
China has accused Kadeer of masterminding recent violence in Xinjiang and said she is backed by “terrorists”.
Kadeer denies the charges and US lawmakers have introduced a resolution demanding that China stop its “slander” of the 62-year-old former businesswoman and mother of 11, who spent six years in a Chinese prison.
Uighurs generally practice a moderate form of Islam influenced by Sufi mysticism and earlier shamanistic traditions.

Uighurs protest in London
Around 100 pro-Uighur demonstrators protested outside the Chinese embassy in London last week over the bloodshed in the Xinjiang region, before marching on to Downing Street.
Chanting “Stop the killing” and waving flags of East Turkestan, as independence-mined, Uighurs call Xinjiang, vented their anger at the unrest.
They then marched to British Prime Minister Gordon Brown’s office to hand in a petition demanding a United Nations inquiry into the violence and access to the region for international human rights organizations. “China lies, people die”, demonstrators chanted, along with “Shame on China” and “Stop the killing”.
Some wore East Turkestan T-shirts and brought their children. A single policeman stood outside the embassy, while the protesters were held behind barricades on the other side of the road.
Others waved placards reading: “SOS — help us”, “Stop China’s terror against Uighurs”, “China stole my land, my voice, my freedom” and “60 years too long — time to free Uighurs”. “Chinese state media are misleading Chinese citizens”, Enver Tohti, the chairman of the Uighur United Kingdom Association, told media.
“We want to demonstrate for the truth because otherwise there is going to be genocide.
“The Uighurs are outnumbered and one day they might be extinct. It’s a very dangerous situation.
“My son, who is 16 and a student, is still there, and my family. It has been a week already, I have no news about them”, he added.
Rahima Mahmut, a Uighur interpreter who has been in Britain since 2000, also attended the rally.
“We are all worried, especially for the students, because there are a lot of universities in the capital Urumqi”, she said.
“In 1989 I was in Tiananmen Square. Twenty years later the Chinese government still hasn’t told us how many people were killed in that square.
“On their own people they cracked down and did such terrible things; imagine [how it is] for people like us. We are in a very remote part. News is coming out from Urumqi but we don’t know about other cities”.

‘Striking similarities in Tibetan, Xinjiang unrest’
The deadly unrest in China’s remote Xinjiang region is strikingly similar to that seen in neighboring Tibet last year, and so are many of the reasons behind it, experts say.
Those at the center of recent violence in Urumqi, the capital of Xinjiang, and the unrest in the Tibetan capital Lhasa 16 months earlier are ethnic minorities -- Muslim Uighurs and Buddhist Tibetans.
Both lashed out at members of the majority Han Chinese population, who in their eyes represented a much-hated government policy of sinicization in China’s two most western regions.
“These events have brought to light a context of hate and fear [in the two regions], said Claude Levenson, an author and specialist on Tibetan issues.
Analysts say that in Xinjiang, as in Tibet, rioters felt deep resentment at the government’s efforts to transfer millions of Han Chinese to these far-flung areas.
This policy has changed the regional demographics -- Han Chinese now make up 75 percent of Urumqi’s population and 17 percent of Lhasa’s.
And while China has pumped billions of dollars into the two autonomous regions to lift their people out of poverty, some Uighurs and Tibetans complain they have been relegated to second-class status in their own lands.
“The government in China has used the same ethnic policy for 60 years”, said Dru Gladney, an expert on China’s ethnic minorities, particularly the Turkic-speaking Uighurs, at Pomona College in California.
“This one development model does not work in places like Xinjiang and Tibet where there are strong identities”.
In another similarity between both cases of unrest, exiled groups say the government has underestimated the number of people killed.
In Urumqi, the government said 184 people died in the initial rioting on July 5, while authorities confirmed police killed two Uighurs on Monday.
In Tibet and other Tibetan-populated areas, authorities say “rioters” killed 21 people last year.
But exile groups say “thousands” could have died in Xinjiang, and over 200 in the Tibetan unrest, with many victims on both cases allegedly due to security crackdowns.
The riots in Xinjiang, like those in Tibet, had a huge international impact, and Uighur and Tibetan exiles in the West also fed the flow of information -- but that news was often unverifiable and not always reliable.
In both cases, Beijing blamed the unrest on exiled personalities, emblems of their minority’s struggle to keep their culture -- Rebiya Kadeer and the Dalai Lama, who lives in India.
China has also once again pointed to foreign influence in the violence, yet has told countries criticizing its handling of the situation not to interfere in its “internal affairs”.
And China’s massive security apparatus has been used to quell unrest, and authorities arrested hundreds of people in both regions -- over 1,600 in Xinjiang and 953 in Tibet.
Levenson pointed to “the same [initial] relative passivity of security forces... and the [subsequent] same scenario of arrests and searches”, she said.
Both regions also have strategic importance to China.
Bordering eight countries in Central Asia, Xinjiang is an immense strategic buffer zone that houses the nuclear test site of Lop-Nor, while Tibet borders India and thus links the two world’s most populous nations.
Xinjiang is rich in natural resources -- it is the second oil-producing region in China, and also has a lot of natural gas, as well as vast reserves of uranium and coal.
Tibet has copper, zinc, gold and other resources, while both regions have glaciers vital to providing the rest of the country with water.
Adding to Xinjiang’s importance is the fact that it borders unstable areas of the Muslim world including Pakistan and Afghanistan.
“This obviously worries the Chinese authorities, who fear an eventual contagion”, said Thierry Kellner, a researcher at the Brussels Institute of Contemporary China Studies.
One crucial difference, however, has been the access given to foreign reporters in Urumqi compared with a near blanket ban in Lhasa.


23-07-09, 18:35
Hypocrisy on China and the Muslim World
Joshua Kucera | 21 Jul 2009
WPR Blog


Since the events earlier this month in Xinjiang, there has been a spate of news stories asking, "Why isn't the Muslim world protesting against China for cracking down on Uighurs?" Why indeed? There is something a little patronizing about the question, with its implicit judgment that there are worthy and unworthy things to be protesting, and that Muslims ought to justify their apathy towards the Uighurs. (I'm still waiting for the stories about why the Americans aren't protesting the situation in Honduras, or global warming, or any number of other things outsiders might think we ought to be protesting.)

And there is probably a little reverse schadenfreude, too, if there is a word for that: we agonize all the time about why Muslims hate America, so why don't they hate China, too?

The answer, these news stories tell us, is business and geopolitics. The AP's lede:

The riots in China's Xinjiang region and subsequent crackdown on the Muslim Uighur minority have drawn a muted response from many Muslim countries that may be wary of damaging lucrative trade ties with Beijing or attracting attention to their own attitudes toward political dissent.

An essay called "Mute Muslims" by Foreign Policy's editor, Moises Naim, concludes:

In politics, blindness and deafness are often induced by an acute awareness of where one's main interests really lie. China will clearly make efforts to clarify to the governments that express too much concern for the Uighurs what their real interests are. And the continuous silence about the situation of the Uighurs that may ensue in coming months and years will offer an eloquent demonstration of Beijing's ability to persuade.

This reminds me a little of the leadup to the Iraq war, when Russian and French opposition was explained as being a result of those countries' involvement in the Iraqi oil industry; meanwhile any discussion of what sort of commercial or geopolitical gains the U.S. would get out of Iraq was just conspiracy theory.

Now, it is slightly facetious to say that this question doesn't deserve to be asked. I do think it's interesting to examine worldwide reaction, including that of Muslims, to the events in Xinjiang. And when you do so, the first thing you notice is that it's not as if Muslims' reaction have been entirely "muted," to use the favorite word of the news stories that are popping up: Turkey's president has called what China is doing "genocide," and Iran has officially protested, as well. There have been anti-China riots in Indonesia, and al-Qaida's north African wing has called for "vengeance" against Chinese targets.

But, all things considered, I do think it's fair to ask why some issues, like Palestine and the Danish Mohammed cartoons, incite so much passion across the Muslim world, while others, like Xinjiang, Darfur and Chechnya get relatively little. In particular, the Palestinian issue is pretty analogous to Xinjiang, Chechnya and Darfur.

Of course, there is something obvious that China, Russia and Sudan all have in common, that sets them apart from Israel: they are not Western.

And while at first blush it seems hypocritical for Muslims to get angry when a Western power oppresses Muslims and not when Russia, China or Sudan do it, you can actually see it the other way around, too. People expect China and Russia to behave badly; that's what they do, and they don't pretend otherwise and they don't impose their value systems on anyone else. The West, meanwhile, likes to lecture developing countries, including Muslim ones, on how they should act. And so when Western countries don't act according to their own principles, that seems hypocritical, and it rankles.

In addition, there is a time difference: The occupations of Xinjiang, Darfur and Chechnya have been going on for centuries, while Israel was created only in the 1940s. So it's a rawer, fresher issue. And the fact that Israel was created while the West was decolonizing the Middle East by breaking up the Ottoman Empire into newly independent states - with the exception of Palestine - again makes the West look hypocritical.

All that is not to justify apathy toward Xinjiang or any other ongoing oppression. What's going is appalling; read my series from there on Slate last year, or a more recent, thoughtful essay by Sean Roberts, an American Xinjiang expert, here. But a little context should make us a little less judgmental about how Muslims should or shouldn't react to it.

Plus, there's one more story I'm waiting for: an analysis on why the U.S. reaction to Xinjiang is so "muted." Here is the White House's official statement, from July 6:

We are deeply concerned over reports of many deaths and injuries from violence in Urumqi in western China. Reports, so far, are unclear about the circumstances surrounding the deaths and injuries, so it would be premature to comment or speculate further. We call on all in Xinjiang to exercise restraint.

And, with more than a week for the U.S. to gather information, here is the most recent State Department press conference where Xinjiang was discussed, on July 13. Spokesman Ian Kelly:

There are - the situation did not emerge out of a vacuum. I mean, there are issues that we think - relating to the Uighurs that we think that the Chinese Government has to address. But in terms of how they have specifically dealt with a very difficult situation on the ground there, I just - we don't have sufficient information for us to be able to pronounce how they've handled it.

Sounds pretty muted to me. Must be the "lucrative trade ties."

Joshua Kucera blogs regularly at True/Slant, where this post originally appeared.