Violence in Xinjiang presents Beijing with an opportunity to break away from policy failures of the past.
The recent ethnic riots in Urumqi, the capital of China’s northwestern province Xinjiang, has claimed nearly 200 lives and wounded over 1000, marking the worst violence the region has seen in decades. However, as violent as the riots have been, they should not come as a surprise since the region has been a hotbed of ethnic tensions, fomented by government policies.
Han Chinese immigrants have been flooding into Xinjiang for decades, seizing upon incentives offered by the central government to seek out better economic opportunities and diverting jobs away from local Muslim Uighurs. Over the years, this process has created a vast socio-economic divide between the two ethnic groups.
Political factors have also contributed heavily to Uighur alienation. Haunted by the ever-present fear of ethnic separatism, Beijing initiated a “Strike Hard” campaign in 1996. The campaign blurred the line between normal displays of Uighur culture and terrorist subversion, effectively criminalizing the former. The education system in Xinjiang underwent a hard shift towards Mandarin, and the government tightened regulation of various religious rites. All this occurred against the backdrop of substantially increased detentions of Uighur ‘terrorists’, justified in the name of the Global War on Terror.
It should be stressed that, barring a sudden wave of internal chaos sweeping China, Xinjiang will not declare independence. Not only would the Chinese government never accept such a move out of fear that it would lead to a chain reaction involving Taiwan and Tibet, but also the current demographics of Xinjiang make such a move difficult and doomed to fail. With a population consisting of roughly 41% Han and 45% Uighur, persistent street violence is the far more likely prognosis, especially given the targeted nature of the recent riots.
Western government responses to the violence will be tempered by this reality. The Chinese government’s ‘One China’ policy extends not just to Taiwan, but to Xinjiang as well. As such, any Western criticisms are likely to be tepid at best. Western governments are keenly aware of China’s tendency to punish those who interfere in its ‘internal affairs’, a lesson France learned after a meeting in 2008 between President Sarkozy and the Dalai Lama imperiled a multi-billion Sino-French Airbus deal.
As for the future of the Chinese Communist Party’s (CCP) policy towards Xinjiang, there are causes for both hope and concern.
CCP policy towards minority groups has historically been guided by the Socialist mantra of modernization- a mantra that allows for the destruction of local culture in the name of progress. But, with the CCP increasingly unable to replace local culture with any coherent Socialist ideology, it is possible that the government may re-think Xinjiang policy and adopt a more practical strategy.
Xinjiang has a great deal of economic importance due to its oil, gas, and mineral deposits. Beijing has a vested interest in avoiding any prolonged instability that potentially disrupts Xinjiang’s ability to feed the material-hungry east coast. Thus, recent riots may mark the official failure of “Strike Hard” campaigns. Instead, the CCP may be inclined to focus on de-criminalizing Uighur culture and ensure that the benefits of economic development are more evenly distributed among ethnic groups in Xinjiang. Economic performance is, after all, the mainstay that legitimizes CCP one-party rule.
On the other hand, the CCP’s fear of ethnic separatism should not be underestimated. The riots may have the unintended purpose of re-enforcing the CCP policies that fueled them. After all, if the annual influx of around 250,000 Han Chinese into Xinjiang continues, it is only a matter of time until the demographic balance decisively tips in favor of the Han.
SUMMARY OF EVENTS: July 6 – 13, 2009
A widespread and unusually resilient computer attack that began July 4 knocked out the Web sites of several government agencies, including some that are responsible for fighting cyber crime, the Associated Press reported Tuesday.
The Mexican army has carried out forced disappearances, acts of torture and illegal raids in pursuit of drug traffickers, according to documents and interviews with victims, their families, political leaders and human rights monitors.
The Obama administration said Tuesday it could continue to imprison non-U.S. citizens indefinitely even if they have been acquitted of terrorism charges by a U.S. military commission.
CIA Director Leon Panetta told the House Intelligence Committee that the agency had misled and “concealed significant actions from all members of Congress” dating back to 2001 and continuing until late June, according to a letter from seven Democrats on the panel.
The Bush administration repeatedly sought to block investigations into alleged killings of up to 2,000 Taliban prisoners by a US-backed Afghan warlord in 2001, The New York Times reported Friday.
CENTRAL AMERICA AND THE CARIBBEAN
Supporters of ousted President Manuel Zelaya vowed Monday to widen protests and block trade nationwide as the deposed leader headed to Washington for a meeting with Secretary of State Hillary Clinton.
British weapons inspector David Kelly was writing a book exposing highly damaging government secrets before his mysterious death, the media reported Monday.
The security service MI5 is being accused of attempting to pervert the course of justice by offering a man inducements to drop his allegation that its officers colluded in his torture.
A British opposition politician has accused the government and intelligence agents of colluding in the torture of a British terrorism suspect whose interrogation was “outsourced” to Pakistan.
Last week, German authorities discovered that groups of terrorists may have been dispatched from training bases in Pakistan to launch crippling attacks.
Switzerland has vowed to prevent UBS from handing over client information to U.S. authorities, in an attempt to defend bank secrecy, saying a tax case targeting its main bank is souring diplomatic ties.
Georgia dismissed on Wednesday reports that it had resumed reconnaissance flights over Abkhazia.
Russia could still deploy tactical missiles in its westernmost exclave if the U.S. goes ahead with its plans for a missile shield in Central Europe, the Russian president said on Friday.
Iranian opposition leaders called on Tuesday for the immediate release of hundreds of people arrested in a crackdown on post-election protests and denounced the “brutal attacks” by security forces.
Riot police fired in the air to disperse pro-reform demonstrators in central Tehran on Thursday, nearly four weeks after a disputed election triggered mass protests across Iran, a witness said.
Bombs in Baghdad and northern Iraq killed at least 50 people on Thursday, police said, underscoring doubts about local forces’ ability to keep Iraqis safe after U.S. troops pulled out of city centers.
Israel has ordered at least 25 U.S. F-35 stealth fighter aircraft to counter any potential threat from the delivery of Russian advanced air defense systems to Iran and Syria, an Israeli daily said on Friday.
Chinese authorities announced Monday that some 140 people had been killed and over 800 wounded in protests that roiled Urumqi, the capital of China’s far western Xinjiang province, on Sunday.
Han Chinese armed with iron bars and machetes roamed Urumqi city on Tuesday looking to wreak revenge on Uighurs for bloody ethnic clashes two days earlier which killed 156 and wounded more than 1,000.
Four employees of Anglo-Australian miner Rio Tinto Ltd. have been arrested on charges of stealing state secrets, China’s foreign ministry said Thursday, following their detention amid contentious iron ore price talks.
Paramilitary police fanned out in the far-flung Chinese city of Urumqi on Wednesday to try to stifle unrest days after 156 people were killed in the region’s worst ethnic violence in decades.
Chinese authorities hint that terrorists with links with al-Qaeda were involved in Xinjiang ethnic clashes that have killed over 150 people in the region.
North Korea’s military is behind a series of cyber attacks against South Korean and U.S. websites that slowed or disabled access by saturating them with traffic this week, a South Korean news report said on Saturday.
A senior Pakistani official revealed Monday that two major western and Islamic states are exerting pressure on Islamabad to scrap its multi-billion-dollar gas deal with Iran.
Five Sri Lankan doctors Thursday have recanted their allegations that thousands of civilians were killed in the final days of the government’s war with the Tamil Tiger separatists.