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04-04-08, 03:28
Uyghur Muslim Ethnic Separatism in Xinjiang, China

Overview
The April 1990 armed uprising in Baren marked an increase in Uyghur Muslim violence in Xinjiang, China. Two justifications—ethnic separatism and religious rhetoric—are given. The Uyghurs, who reside throughout the immediate region, are the largest Turkic ethnic group living in Xinjiang as well as being overwhelmingly Muslim. This combination of ethnicity and religion also involves the movement of religious and political ideologies, weapons, and people.
The desired outcome by groups that use violence is, broadly speaking, a separate Uyghur state, called either Uyghuristan or Eastern Turkistan, which lays claim to a large part of China. While some Uyghurs want a separate state, others want to maintain cultural distinction within an autonomous relationship with China, and others are integrating into the Chinese system. There is no single Uyghur agenda.
The violent outbreaks in Xinjiang occur sporadically, and the groups that claim responsibility are frequently splintering, merging, and collapsing. Some of the Uyghur groups make claims that are difficult to substantiate. Nonetheless, the Uyghur grievances against the Chinese government have old roots. Some of the newer elements include Turkey’s unofficial support and Muslim funding and training from abroad.
The heavy-handedness of the multiple "strike hard" campaigns by the central Chinese government in Xinjiang simultaneously tamps down violence in the short-run but fuels a sense of injustice and mistrust among the Uyghurs in the long-run. Beginning in 1996, regular "strike hard" campaigns were used to fight crime and threats to order by mobilizing police, but are used in this decade to deal increasingly with "separatism, extremism and terrorism." A heavy police presence is a constant in Xinjiang.
U.S. policy on this issue is constrained. Not only does the US need to work with China on issues of geostrategic importance, but also the Uyghurs who use violence have formed limited associations with groups that are categorized as terrorist organizations. The best option for the United States is to continue to encourage China to use the rule of law and to respect human rights.
The Roots of the Problem
A January 2007 Chinese raid on a training camp in Xinjiang killed 18 terrorist suspects and one policeman. Seventeen more suspects were reported captured and explosives were seized. The raid was said to have provided new evidence of ties to "international terrorist forces." The raid marks the latest clash between Uyghur Muslim separatists and Chinese security services, reflecting a limited challenge to China’s mainland stability. In Beijing’s view, however, instability in Xinjiang could also bring instability to Tibet, Inner Mongolia, and Taiwan. As with many of these disputes throughout Asia, the root causes of the problem are a complex mix of history, ethnicity, and religion, fueled by poverty, unemployment, social disparities, and political grievances.
The central government has gone through several waves regarding the treatment of religion and ethnicity within the territory of the People’s Republic of China. Historically, ethnic minorities that are adherents to religions other than Chinese Buddhism raised fears of social unrest in China. For instance in the nineteenth century, the Taiping Rebellion—including the Hakka subgroup and Zhuang minorities—and the Hui Minorities War both had their roots in religious movements. The Hui, ethnically Chinese but religiously Muslim, are a unique minority in China. The ethnic minorities and Muslim majority in Xinjiang, which means the "New Territories" in Chinese, were largely conquered and integrated into the Chinese state in the 1750s. Xinjiang became a province in 1884, fixing a firm western border with Russia. According to the noted historian Jonathan D. Spence, the Xinjiang region was not initially colonized or settled, but was maintained as a strategic frontier zone, with up to 20,000 Manchu and Chinese banner garrisons, at a huge annual cost. The largely Muslim inhabitants kept their own religious leaders, who were bound by salaries and titles to the Qing state (China). After the dissolution of the Qing Dynasty, the last Chinese dynasty, the Republic of China’s Nationalists gradually saw the country fall into Japanese occupied territories and warlord fiefdoms, including Xinjiang, which was ruled by an autonomous military governor who nervously sought aid and sponsorship first from Soviet Russia and then from the Nationalists, before ultimately surrendering to the Communists in Xinjiang in September 1949.

Although initially declaring the People’s Republic of China as a multinational state in 1949, the Communist Party’s Anti Rightist Policy of 1957 opposed "local nationalism" among ethnic minorities and clamped down on religions. A decade later, the harsh Cultural Revolution (1966-76) saw many even greater injustices against ethnic minorities. Religion was especially suppressed, but so was ethnic language, cultural cuisines and garb. The Uyghur in Xinjiang, like other Muslim minorities throughout China, saw their religious texts and mosques destroyed, their religious leaders persecuted, and individual adherents punished. With the more open policies of the late 1970s through the early 1990s, restrictions on minorities and religions began to loosen. This opening resulted in more minorities speaking out against what were seen as discriminatory economic, religious, and political practices. The Chinese government began to crack down in Xinjiang in 1996, shortly after the first meeting of the Shanghai Five, soon to be the Shanghai Cooperation Organization, whose members include Russia, China, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Uzbekistan, and Tajikistan.

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