Mar 12, 2010

East Turkestan: Chinese Media Warns of More Unrest in Xinjiang

Active ImageChina's state-owned Xinhua News Agency warned this week of a third summer of ethnic clashes in the Muslim Uyghur-dominated autonomous region of Xinjiang



Below is an article published by Huffington Post:

China's state-owned Xinhua News Agency warned this week of a third summer of ethnic clashes in the Muslim Uyghur-dominated autonomous region of Xinjiang. But scholars say that recent deployments of thousands of Chinese police could quell a potential uprising.

Information from the remote region, situated on China's western frontier, is hard to come by after the Chinese government's ongoing restriction of Internet and telecommunications after riots last year. Still, international experts say that poverty and tension with ethnic Chinese continue to fuel discontent among Uyghurs. While Zhaoxing Li, a high-ranking Chinese government spokesperson, recently labeled Xinjiang "stable," two March 7 Xinhua articles quoted Xinjiang local officials predicting unrest in the region this summer."[Separatist forces] would not accept their failure and were likely to make more troubles," said Nur Bekri, Chairman of the Uyghur Autonomous Region. Echoing his prediction of further trouble, Jume Tahir, vice president of the Xinjiang Islamic Association, warned the Chinese government to beware of "secessionist activities both inside and outside of China."

More than 2,000 of a planned 5,000 "special police" task force to Xinjiang will prevent another round of riots this summer, according to a March 5 Xinhua article. Some 20,000 police were deployed to halt unrest in the region in 2009. However, three top analysts on Xinjiang say they don't foresee another round of turmoil soon, due to the security presence. "I do not think that there will be more riots this year, because the 2009 incidents were suppressed," says Güljanat Kurmangaliyeva Ercilasun, director of the Center for Eurasian Studies at Turkey's Maltepe University, "Besides, a large number of security forces are located in the region at present."

Chinese sovereignty over Xinjiang's indigenous Uyghur population dates back to 13 AD, according the Chinese government, when Han Dynasty soldiers entered the region. Ending a short period of Uyghur autonomy, the Chinese army reclaimed the region, rich in natural resources, when Chairman Mao Zedong founded the People's Republic of China in 1949. Sporadic Uyghur uprisings reached a climax in and approaching the summers of 2008 and 2009. Gardner Bovingdon, who specializes in Uyghur issues as the Director of Eurasian Studies at Indiana University, attributes the summer 2008 protests in Hotan, Xinjiang to the mysterious arrest and death of Mutellip Hajim, a Uyghur community leader. He also says that the 2009 Urumuqi, Xinjiang protests were a direct response to a clash between Uyghur migrant laborers and ethnic Chinese workers at a factory in China's southeastern Guangdong province. The deathtoll from the 2009 riots ranges widely according to the sources. Official Chinese sources put the figure at 197, versus an estimate of approximately 600 from the Uyghur World Congress, a Washington D.C.-based political advocacy organization.

Ercisalun connects the 2008 and 2009 protests to more deep-rooted unrest in Uyghur society, saying that in both circumstances, Xinjiang Uyghurs were incensed by "not receiving their share from the Western Development Program." This was a move begun in 2000 by former Premier Rongji Zhu's to bring infrastructure and foreign development to Xinjiang, a program that some Uyghurs claim favored ethnic Chinese interests and brought more ethnic Chinese settlers to the region in order to dilute the Uyghur population. The 2008 conflict carried the added weight of the Beijing Olympics, when the world's eye was focused on China. Ercisalun believes that Xinjiang Uyghurs took advantage of the event to broadcast their discontent to a global audience.

Agreeing with both Bovingdon and Ercisalun, Professor Ilham Tohti, renowned Uyghur scholar at Beijing's Minzu University and founder of the oft-censored web site Uyghur Online, says that government controls on Xinjiang and Chinese society as a whole were particularly severe in the lead up to the Olympics, which he claims triggered the 2008 protests.
Tohti and Bovingdon agree that it is only a coincidence that both years' clashes occurred during and in the lead up to the summer, but Bovingdon suggests that students on summer break may have played an important role in organizing protestors.

Many observers are uncertain who organized the protests. Just after the 2009 uprisings, Xinhua published an article claiming that Rebiya Kadeer, president of the Uyghur Congress "instigated and masterminded" the attacks via Internet and other communications. That would explain the post-2009 riot restriction of Internet freedoms, but Ercilasun believes that the riots were a strictly domestic affair. "The riots did not originate from abroad, but were the product of internal discontent," he explained, saying that unlike the huge police presence in the region, "restriction of communicatory freedoms would not prevent new riots."

That is not to say that all will be quiet on China's western front. Police may face more conflagrations this summer, says Ilham Tohti, who has many relatives and connections in his native Xinjiang. "It's hard to say what's going to happen, because there are still many ongoing conflicts," Tohti said, referring to persisting ethnic clashes in the region. Restrictions on Internet and telecommunications, part of what Ercisalun calls "martial law," may actually aggravate tensions among the Uyghurs. "There is no question that there is widespread discontent," Bovingdon said. "Each time the government represses uprisings, this only exacerbates the protestors' purpose."