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31-07-09, 01:48
The empire is shaking

The brutal killing of innocent people in the Xinjiang region is neither warranted nor justified, and it gives China’s image of a powerful super power a severe jolt, says Quaisar Alam

The Xinjiang province in China has long been a hotbed of ethnic tension. This was fostered by a yawing economic gap between Han Chinese and Uighurs. But the way China, aspiring to be the most powerful nation of the world, handled the crisis is a matter of grave concern and smacks of an imperial hallmark.

In an e-mail interview with washingtonpost.com, Cultural Anthropologist, Sean Roberts said, “The current unrest in Xinjiang is another chapter in a long history of tension between Han Chinese and Uighurs, but it is mostly the result of the frustrations experienced by Uighurs over the last decades as the rapid pace of Chinese development in the region has brought scores of Han Chinese migrants to Xinjiang and has displaced Uighurs from their traditional livelihoods. While the violence that has emerged on both sides of the conflict is shocking, the surprising aspect of the events may be that the tension had not boiled over into direct confrontations until now.”

The unexpected violence in the Chinese strategic region is a matter of serious apprehension. China, which has just attended the BRIC summit in Yekaterinburg, Russia for reshaping the world discourse, cannot be so negligent towards its domestic affairs, particularly when it hit the international headlines and when the Chinese side had to cut short its G8 trip and return to Beijing. Top observers feel that the violence between Uighurs and Han Chinese underscores two crucial issues for China.

Firstly, despite the fast economic growth rate and the strong presence around the globe, China has earned more brickbats than bouquets. China is a superpower in the making. With modern trains in Shanghai and a post-modern Olympic Village in Beijing, China is still an empire in the making. Secondly, if this empire wants to “rule the world” someday, as a recent book predicts, its treatment of the people of Xinjiang, may be an indication of how it plans to deal with the world. It is also debatable as to how given a chance, China will replace the existing powers of the world and lead from the front. The rest of the world is wondering as to why a small and peaceful gathering was made the zone of massacre.

Analysts elaborate that China’s Xinjiang policies look somewhat odd with the current norms of civilization. Continuing with the policies of the Oing Dynasty, Chinese Communist leaders have always treated Xinjiang nothing more than a repressive colony or like an imperial outpost. In 1949, the then Chairman of the Communist Party of China, Mao Zedong sent one of his most trusted generals to tame it. Wang Zhen became its first governor, and its economy remains dominated by a state farm system established by the People’s Liberation Army. Millions of Han Chinese were first forced and then encouraged to populate Xinjiang in a scheme to dilute its Uighur majority.

In 1949, the Hans were 6% of Xinjiang’s population and in 2000, the year of the last census, they were 40 %. A recent survey indicates that the number of ethnic Han settlers in Xinjiang has gone up from well under half-a-million in 1953 to 7.5 million by 2000, and it is increasing against the very wishes of the area. Going by the latest figures, it becomes pretty clear that Han settlers constitute approximately 42% of Xinjiang’s population of 18 million, making life pathetic for the native population, which is also culturally alien to the native Uighurs.

“More and more Hans are arriving here all the time,” says Tursuntay, a 45-year old Uighur man from the Xinjiang border city of Ily and he adds, “When I was young this place belonged to us.” Hislat, a 22-year old Uighur woman from Urumqi, the Han-dominated capital city of Xinjiang, is also feeling the squeeze. “Looking for work was easy before, but now they all want Hans, not us,” she says. “It is really difficult, but there is nothing we can do about it,” she elaborates.

Arienne Dwyer, Assistant professor of Linguistic Anthropology at the University of Kansas believes the situation in Xinjiang has worsened over the last decade. “In the eighties and early nineties, most Uighurs, particularly intellectuals and those in the northern area were happy with the developments in Xinjiang,” she says. “One thing that people of any ethnic group in Xinjiang would agree with the central government is that economic development is a must. This is one change that has continued and has been a positive force all around,” she adds. “Of late, the government,” says Dwyer, “has deliberately increased Han –focused policies where cultural activities are more tightly constrained and there is a stronger effort to bring ethnic minorities such as Xinjiang, into the Chinese fold.”

The violent repressive measures and brutal killing of innocent people as the media is projecting the world over, is neither warranted nor justified. The issue, which could have been solved peacefully, was turned into a full-blown international violation of Human Rights issue. The cultural tightening accelerated rapidly in the post 1990s and was followed by brute repressive policies to finish the native demography at bay. An increasing use of Mandarin in schools at the expense of the Uighur language and changes in the language policy and a host of other measures, go against the very ethos of the Chinese civilised essence.

http://www.dayafterindia.com/aug109/international.html