Jan 03, 2007

East Turkestan: Uyghurs Peeved At Denial of Share in Tourism Revenues

Ethnic tensions bubbled over in a three-day showdown between the Muslim Uighur minority and the Chinese businessmen who are said to exploiting them. Their "ancient folk house scenic spot” has become a popular site but none ticket price was reaching the villagers.

Below is an article published by Gulfnews:

Tuyoq is a sleepy village of grape-growers strung along a stream trickling out of the arid mountains in China's remote northwestern Xinjiang region; its main attractions are a small Muslim shrine and a handful of defaced Buddhist grottoes.

But earlier this year, the ethnic tensions that are rife across the area bubbled over in a three-day showdown between the Muslim Uighur minority who live there and the Chinese businessmen they felt were exploiting them.

Their "ancient folk house scenic spot", as the tickets put it, has become a popular site on the tourist circuit. But none of the 30 yuan ($3.85) ticket price was reaching the villagers.

They blockaded roads in the village, keeping tourists out until the company running the tours agreed to hand over two yuan per ticket. "We wanted them to give us some of the money they were making from our traditions, our lives," said one young villager.

Domestic tourism is booming in China, generating a record 40 billion yuan over May's week-long Labour Day holiday alone.

Publicity drives have boosted visitor numbers fourfold since the tours began in 2004, said an official at the government-owned company that manages Tuyoq tourism.

But Han Chinese dominance means the middle classes flocking to Xinjiang to peer across the cultural divide, are doing little to bridge economic gaps.

A pattern seen across China, of well-connected outsiders cornering lucrative tourism opportunities, is exacerbated by this separation and mistrust between Han and Uighur.

"[But] Xinjiang is different that has to do with distrust and discrimination against Uighurs, a feeling they are not reliable," said Dru Gladney, professor of anthropology at Pomona College in the US and an expert on the region.

Nominally Xinjiang is an autonomous area governed by the Uighurs. But top government officials are usually ethnic Han Chinese, and the region's vast oil, gas and coal fields are exploited almost entirely by outsiders.

Few of the visitors seem worried about underlying tensions. "I think the reason Han [Chinese] are running these sights is that the Uighurs don't really have the skills or the interest," said a teacher from the former imperial capital of Xian.

Beijing's control is so firm and that it is hard to imagine the region spiralling into the type of violence that destroyed the lucrative tourist industry of India's northern Kashmir region.

But experts warn that Beijing is nurturing a seething cauldron of resentment that is waiting to erupt if its authority falters.