View Full Version : China's Great Western Development and Xinjiang I

22-10-05, 22:37
Denver Journal of International Law and Policy
Summer 2003


Matthew D. Moneyhon [FNa1]


Copyright (c) 2004 Denver Journal of International Law and Policy, University

of Denver (Colorado Seminary) College of Law; Matthew D. Moneyhon

The Han nationality has the population, the minority nationalities have
the land . . . It is thus imperative that the Han assist the minorities in
raising their standard of living and socialist ideological consciousness,
while the minorities provide the natural resources necessary for the
industrialization and development of the motherland. [FN1]
- Mao Zedong

I. Introduction
In the early 1980s, when Deng Xiaoping declared that some people and some
regions in China should be allowed to get rich before others, [FN2] he
initiated a dramatic departure from traditional socialist economic policies
and ushered in an era of economic reforms. [FN3] Indeed, throughout the 1980s
and 1990s, Deng's economic reforms made some people and some regions
incredibly rich. [FN4] Others, however, have been left dramatically behind.
[FN5] While coastal Special Economic Zones (SEZs) and "open cities" have
flourished in the east, western regions, comprising more than half of China's
total land area and approximately twenty-*492 three percent of its population,
[FN6] still languish in dusty poverty. Many of China's fifty-five minority
groups live in the west and, especially in Xinjiang, economic disparities fuel
ethnic tensions, conjuring frightening parallels to the break up of Yugoslavia
and the Soviet Union. [FN7] The Chinese central government, wary of
separatist rumblings in both Tibet and Xinjiang, has endeavored to exorcise
the specter of political disintegration with an ambitious development
campaign: the "Great Western Development Drive" (alternatively, Go West).

The Go West development plan, in conjunction with recent revisions of the
Law on Regional National Autonomy (LRNA), [FN8] and accompanying economic
incentives, represents China's current strategy for dealing with its restive
ethnic minorities. The program, its policies, and accompanying legal reforms
may rightly be viewed as the latest incarnation of China's evolving minority
policy. Analysis of Go West's implications for Xinjiang demonstrates that the
program is intended as a significant step towards greater integration of
ethnic minorities and, ultimately, assimilation into the greater Han
framework--a process incongruous with the central government's proclaimed
commitment to ethnic regional autonomy. Although construed as an effort to
alleviate poverty and bridge the growing gap of economic disparity between the
eastern and western regions, [FN9] Go West is actually an attempt to quell
ethnic unrest, solidify the nation, and legitimize the current regime by
taming the "wild west."

This article addresses the Go West development campaign's impact on
Xinjiang, specifically as the plan fits into Beijing's greater strategy for
integration and assimilation of Xinjiang's restive Uighur population. Section
II begins with a brief introduction to Go West's economic impetus--the
asymmetric development spawned by economic reforms of the 1980s. Section III
explores the volatile political and economic climates in Xinjiang, their role
in feeding separatist sentiment, and Go West's attempt to quell unrest.
Section IV examines some of Go West's policies and projects, emphasizing how
they fit into the political agenda of solidifying the nation through the
pacification and integration of Xinjiang. Section V briefly considers Go West
as an effort to legitimize the current Chinese Communist Party (CCP) regime.
Section VI provides a historical framework for conceptualizing Go West as part
of China's evolving minority policy. Section VII examines the legal wake of
Go West--particularly the contraction of the autonomy regime. Finally, the
article concludes that even if the central government's economic promises bear
fruit, prosperity in Xinjiang may not yield Beijing's desired results.

*493 II. Go West: Antidote for Asymmetric Development?
Go West, Young Han: China's Manifest Destiny

Horace Greeley's cry to "Go west young man," epitomizes the dream of
American expansion and development of the west in the nineteenth century.
[FN10] America's conquest of the west both helped craft the American ethos and
ushered in what has widely been called the "American century." [FN11] Today,
China stands at the beginning of what many scholars predict will be the
"Chinese century," [FN12] and it is believed that sometime within the next
twenty years, China will emerge as the world's largest economy. [FN13] The
CCP, maintaining a tenuous hold on power and faced with serious legitimacy
concerns, [FN14] would like, more than anything, to make such predictions

In June 1999, President Jiang Zemin emphasized the need to "seize the
historic opportunity at the turn of the century to accelerate the development
of western China." [FN15] An integral part of Beijing's strategy for ushering
in the "Chinese century" is the "Great Western Development Campaign," an
ambitious effort designed to direct state investment, outside expertise,
foreign loans, and private capital into vast, and comparatively backward,
western China. [FN16] When launching the project in early 2000, Chinese
authorities drew comparisons to the development of the American west in the
early 1900s. [FN17] Premier Zhu Rongji and *494 Vice-Premier Wen Jiabao,
leaders of the campaign, even commissioned a detailed study of the "take off
of the American West in the early decades of the last century." [FN18]
Indeed, the central government has high hopes that the Go West project will
tame China's Wild West. The growing economic disparity between east and west
has fueled ethnic unrest in the region, thereby threatening China's stability
and security. [FN19] Jiang Zemin declared that the development of the west is
crucial to China's stability, the Communist Party's hold on power, and the
"revitalization of the Chinese people." [FN20]

Although it makes for good rhetoric domestically, comparisons between
China's Go West drive and the development of the American west are somewhat
suspect. In fact, there are more differences than similarities between the
two "projects." First, there is a dramatic difference in prevailing economic
systems. The pursuit of property drove the development of the American west.
[FN21] In China, however, land still belongs to the state and the central
government has no plans to cheaply sell, or freely distribute, land to
"pioneers." [FN22] Second, although China's west abounds with natural
resources, it suffers from a severe scarcity of fertile land--one of the great
incentives to westward development and migration in the United States. [FN23]
Finally, in the twenty-first century, the international community generally
does not tolerate conquest and subjugation of minority rights. Thus when
China goes west, it must do so with sensitivity to local populations. Although
there are significant differences between the two endeavors, similarities
between China's Go West drive and the conquest of the American west do not go
unnoticed. Critics of the Go West plan have pointed out that just as
America's thrust westward translated into sweeping, and often negative,
changes to the lives of Native Americans, [FN24] China's Go West campaign also
has serious implications for the indigenous populations of China's west.
[FN25] For the CCP, however, these implications are actually a major impetus
for Go West, and the overt economic goals belie the underlying political

*495 "Two overall situations"

The very notion of the Go West drive provokes a preliminary question: Why is
developing China's west suddenly such an imperative? The answer lies in the
past two decades of asymmetric economic development. In the late 1980s Deng
Xiaoping put forth the strategy of "two overall situations." [FN26]
Essentially, this meant that the coastal regions in eastern China would be
encouraged to develop first, and only after they achieved a measure of
prosperity would the central government give the west special help. [FN27]
Since its implementation, the strategy of asymmetric development has created a
vast wealth gap between east and west. In line with Deng Xiaoping's strategy,
central policies overwhelmingly emphasized development of Special Economic
Zones (SEZs) and "open cities" located in coastal provinces. [FN28] The
coastal regions capitalized on natural advantages and favorable economic
policies by developing town and village enterprises (TVEs), cultivating
export-oriented ventures, and by successfully attracting foreign direct
investment. [FN29] In contrast, the interior remained comparatively backward
and impoverished. [FN30]

While coastal provinces continue to reap the benefits of greater integration
into the international economy, the west scrambles to climb out of poverty and
debt. In 1978, the beginning of Deng's economic reforms, the difference in
per capita income between eastern and western China was two hundred yuan.
[FN31] Today, more than half of the eighty million people living under the
poverty line are in the west [FN32] and the income differential between
coastal and interior provinces stands at greater than 1:15. [FN33] Other
economic indicators also tell the interior's rather dreary tale. The western
region accounts for only fourteen percent of the national GDP [FN34] and in
the past two decades the west has attracted less than five percent of foreign
investment in China. [FN35] The western "poverty belt" sweeps across almost
two-thirds of China's landmass--from Yunnan in the south to Xinjiang in the
north--and includes 285 million people, twenty-three percent of China's 1.3
billion. [FN36] The Go West initiative, covering six provinces (Yunnan, *496
Gansu, Sichuan, Guizhou, Qinghai, Shaanxi), three autonomous regions (Ningxia,
Xizang (Tibet), Xinjiang), and one provincial level municipality (Chongqing),
[FN37] strikes at the heart of the western "poverty belt" and hopes to redress
the effects and implications of asymmetric economic development. Go West's
economic goals, however, are window dressing for the underlying political
agenda of quelling unrest, solidifying the nation, and legitimizing the
current regime.

III. Quelling Unrest: Taming the "New Frontier"
Nowhere are the implications and dangerous possibilities of asymmetric
development more apparent than in the Xinjiang Uighur Autonomous Region
(XUAR). Positioned at the crossroads of Central Asia, Xinjiang (literally
"New Frontier") is the nexus of six cultural and geographic regions: Russia,
Central Asia (bordering Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan), Mongolia, the
Indian sub-continent, (Afghanistan, Pakistan, and Kashmir provide Xinjiang's
western border), Tibet, and China proper. [FN38] Xinjiang, occupying a sixth
of China's landmass, [FN39] also holds vast natural resources, critical to
China's energy-hungry economy. [FN40] In 1993, domestic oil consumption
finally outpaced production, and China became a net importer of oil. [FN41]
Recent geological explorations indicate Xinjiang's Tarim basin contains large
oil deposits, which some believe to be more than three times those of the
United States. [FN42] In addition to its strategic position and vast natural
resources, Xinjiang hosts Lop Nor, China's premier nuclear test site. [FN43]

One of five autonomous regions in China, [FN44] the XUAR is also home to the
*497 Uighur nationality--a predominantly Muslim ethnic group encompassing the
oasis Turks of Xinjiang. [FN45] With a population of approximately eight
million, the Uighurs are Xinjiang's largest ethnic group, comprising almost
half of the region's population. [FN46] The state recognized majority Han
Chinese are still a minority in Xinjiang, accounting for approximately
thirty-seven percent of the region's seventeen million people. [FN47]
Xinjiang, home to thirteen officially recognized nationalities, is actually
one of China's most diverse regions. [FN48] But despite Xinjiang's diversity,
the region is sharply segregated: Han Chinese live in larger industrialized
urban areas in the north, while ethnic minorities populate the predominantly
rural south. [FN49]

Economics and Unrest

The geographic segregation in Xinjiang also alludes to the economic
disparities in the region. While Xinjiang has experienced rapid economic
growth, [FN50] prosperity has remained elusive for the Uighurs. [FN51]
Moreover, the growing economic chasm between east and west (and Han/non-Han)
fuels ethnic tensions and widens popular political fissures with Beijing.
Arslan Alptekin, a Uighur leader living in Turkey, predicts, "the Chinese
empire will collapse from within. The workers and farmers who brought Mao
Zedong to power are unhappy with the enormous wealth gap." [FN52] Alptekin's
words apply generally to China, but they carry special import for Xinjiang.
Of the twenty counties (in Xinjiang) where Uighurs make up ninety percent or
more of the population, the central government has designated thirteen as key
poverty alleviation counties. [FN53]

*498 For much of the 1980s, Xinjiang suffered both from the consequences of
opening the economy to outside forces and the central government's
preferential policies for coastal areas. [FN54] In spite of the region's vast
natural resources, the central government did little throughout the 1980s to
develop Xinjiang's potential--leading to the view that Beijing was failing to
give the region adequate attention. [FN55] The Seventh Five-Year Plan
(1986-1990) relegated most of western China to the function of resource and
raw material provider--Xinjiang would have to wait for large-scale
modernization projects. [FN56] In 1991, however, the sudden collapse of the
Soviet Union, the subsequent emergence of independent Central Asian states,
and a growing separatist movement forced Beijing to reevaluate its strategy
for dealing with the western frontier. [FN57] Even before the breakup of the
Soviet Union, separatist agitations in Xinjiang forced Beijing to confront
growing Uighur unrest. [FN58] In 1990, Han police and soldiers clashed with
Uighurs, whom authorities called "counterrevolutionary plotters" belonging to
the Islamic Party of East Turkestan. [FN59] Although the death toll is
uncertain, most estimates suggest the altercation left dozens dead. [FN60]
The incident in 1990 would serve as a prelude of things to come.

In the wake of the Soviet Union's disintegration, economic and security
issues have become increasingly intertwined as the CCP pursues its goals of
stability and continued integration and assimilation. [FN61] In 1991, the
Soviet collapse and Uighur separatist rumblings provoked a political scramble
in Beijing, and just after the aborted Moscow coup, Vice-President Wang Zhen
rushed out to the XUAR. [FN62] Wang seized the opportunity to advocate
greater national unity, exhorting the entire nation to "form a steel wall to
safeguard socialism and the unification of the motherland." [FN63] By tying
socialism to the notion of a united motherland, Wang demonstrates how the
Party line links the support for the state economic system to the concept of a
united China.

Paralleling Party rhetoric, economic policies shifted to encourage greater
*499 integration of outlying areas. The Eighth Five-Year Plan (1991-1995)
continued the emphasis on coastal regions, but also included initiatives to
facilitate development of China's west. [FN64] The new focus on the west
brought dramatic changes to Xinjiang--between 1991 and 1994, infrastructure
investment in the XUAR soared from 7.3 billion yuan to 16.5 billion, and the
region's GDP doubled from 7.5 billion yuan to 15.5 billion. [FN65] In 1992,
the central government announced that tax-sharing arrangements like those
enjoyed by coastal provinces would apply to nine additional provinces,
including Xinjiang. [FN66] Moreover, rather than the usual fifty percent,
ethnic minority regions would be allowed to retain eighty percent of local
taxes. [FN67] Notwithstanding the economic changes of the early 1990s, by
1995 Xinjiang's per capita gross domestic product remained a dismal U.S.$598,
one of the lowest in China. [FN68] Although there were a number of economic
triumphs in Xinjiang, the region remained dogged by economic difficulties.
[FN69] Thus, rather than rallying restive Uighurs around central government
policies, the unfulfilled promises of prosperity have helped channel the
rising tide of Uighur disaffection into separatist sentiment.

Rising Tide of Separatism

In the 1990s, periodic outbursts of separatist violence shook Xinjiang.
[FN70] The disintegration of the Soviet Union stimulated both a swell of
Uighur pride and new hope that the independence of the former Soviet Republics
in Central Asia would spill over into China, "establishing if not an
independent 'Uighurstan,' at least perhaps a unified 'Eastern Turkestan,' that
would stand alongside Kazakhstan, Uzbekistan, and Kyrgzstan as independent
Turkic republics." [FN71] Beijing blames Uighur separatists for riots,
assassinations, and hundreds of bombings since 1990. [FN72] Abulahat
Abdurixit, chairman of the XUAR government, admitted in 1999 that "since the .
. 1990s, if you count explosions, assassinations and other terrorist
activities, it comes to a few thousand incidents." [FN73] The central
government now *500 recognizes separatists in Xinjiang as China's most serious
internal security threat. [FN74]

In 1996, the central government responded to the escalation of violence in
the hinterlands with the "Strike Hard" anticrime campaign, designed to
eradicate crime and crack down on Uighur separatists. [FN75] The Xinjiang
Public Security Bureau [FN76] announced that after launching the campaign, it
captured more than 2,700 terrorists, murderers, and other criminals in the
span of two months. [FN77] Rather than stemming the growing tide of Uighur
separatism, the "Strike Hard" campaign actually incited separatists,
increasing Uighur anti-government protests and violence to levels
unprecedented since the Communists took control of the region. [FN78] In
February 1997, hundreds of Uighurs took to the streets in Yining waving blue
East Turkestan flags and shouting "God is Great" and "Independence for
Xinjiang." [FN79] The "Yining incident," the largest publicly known
"separatist" protest, left at least ten dead and hundreds injured. [FN80]
Shortly after the Yining incident, Uighur separatists demonstrated their
contempt and disrespect for Chinese rule by coordinating several Urumchi bus
bombings to coincide with the state funeral for Deng Xiaoping. [FN81] As an
encore, separatists exploded a pipe bomb on a bus in Beijing's busiest
shopping district. [FN82]

Although there are some indications of diminishing Uighur activism, [FN83]
in April 2001, Abulahat Abdurixit stated: "[T]he sabotage activities carried
out by ethnic separatist elements are the greatest threat to stability and
public order in Xinjiang." [FN84] In the wake of the September 11 attacks
against the United States, China has used the international campaign against
terrorism to rally support for its actions against Uighur separatists, even
linking separatists in Xinjiang to Osama bin Laden. [FN85] Fearing that
instability in Central Asia could ignite an uprising in the *501 region, China
has intensified surveillance and control of Uighurs in Xinjiang. [FN86]
Recent reports also indicate that China has moved up to 40,000 troops into
Xinjiang to quell separatist activities and maintain security in the region.

While most Uighurs are not involved in separatist activities, economic and
cultural resentment toward Han Chinese is widespread. [FN88] Some experts
warn that growing numbers of dispossessed Uighur males constitute fertile
ground for extremist ideologies or separatist uprisings. [FN89] While
increased ties with Central Asia have had the desired effect of facilitating
the flow of goods into the region, increased cross-border trade means
potentially dangerous ideologies will also flow into Xinjiang from Central
Asia. The centrifugal forces of ethno-nationalism (pan-Turkism) and
pan-Islamism pose new challenges to stability and security in Xinjiang. [FN90]
In an attempt to counter the dangerous political undercurrents in the region,
Beijing has joined Tajikistan, Kazakhstan, Russia, Uzbekistan, and Kyrgyzstan
in the "Shanghai Six," which, among other functions, serves as a unified front
against separatists and extremists. [FN91] In spite of Beijing's best
efforts, future unrest is likely. Dru Gladney points out that the "Strike
Hard" campaign has done little but alienate Xinjiang's local population, and
if the central government truly wants to poultice the growing fissures between
Xinjiang and Beijing, the war against separatism must be combined with a
policy that gives Uighurs hope for the future. [FN92]

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