“Let them shoot hoops”

This is a long but good article from The Economist, which tries to look for the real reasons of discontent in Xinjiang. The entire thing is worth a read, but here are some highlights:

THE situation in Xinjiang, said a Chinese foreign-ministry official in early July, is “good and stable”. Less than two weeks later, on July 18th, the restive region in China’s far west was again rocked by violence. Officials say police opened fire on separatist rioters in the oasis town of Khotan, killing 14. Two security officers and two people described as civilian hostages were also killed in the clash, the bloodiest in Xinjiang in two years. Recent government efforts to buy calm with dollops of aid do not appear to be working.

Exactly what happened in Khotan is uncertain. An exile group campaigning for Xinjiang’s independence from China said the police fired on protesters who had been peacefully airing grievances about police repression of Uighurs, a Muslim ethnic group of Turkic origin who until recently dominated Xinjiang but now form less than half the population.

For every banner across Kashgar’s streets proclaiming its glorious future, a government poster or wall slogan in the back alleys paints a more troublesome story: injunctions against “illegal religious activities” and unauthorised pilgrimages to Mecca; posters calling on “ethnic separatist leaders, violent terrorist criminals, chiefs of religious extremist forces, serious criminals and suspects on the run” to turn themselves in; and urgings for citizens to report audio or video material containing “reactionary” content. In January Kashgar’s mayor, Maimaitiming Baikeli, said that the government should “gain the initiative by striking the first blow” against separatists.

Little evidence backs claims of terrorism linked to al-Qaeda. Violence in Xinjiang shows few hallmarks such as suicide bombings or attacks on civilian targets. Security measures in Kashgar hardly suggest a preoccupation with terrorism, but rather an attempt to keep the population cowed. On February 20th, during calls online for a “jasmine revolution” in Chinese cities, Kashgar police stationed water cannon near the city’s main mosque, while riot police lurked in a government compound. Plainclothes goons routinely follow and harass visiting correspondents.

The government hopes the new rail line between Kashgar and Khotan will promote tourism. But the experience of Lhasa in neighbouring Tibet suggests they should be careful what they wish for. In Lhasa efforts to attract visitors from the Chinese interior backfired badly when anti-Han rioting broke out in March 2008, triggering upheaval across the Tibetan plateau. The rioting was fuelled by resentment towards an influx of Han Chinese after a railway to Lhasa opened in 2006.

Luckily, perhaps, neither Kashgar nor Khotan have the same appeal to Chinese tourists as Lhasa does. A fear of terrorism puts many off. Still, Kashgar is already being transformed by migration, helped by its own first link to the railway network in 1999. It has taken on Lhasa’s appearance of a city divided. Great swathes are the spitting image of any provincial Chinese town, with hardly a Uighur to be seen. In older districts, Han faces are equally rare. In one Han area, a woman hands out leaflets advertising a big luxury-housing project. They are printed entirely in Chinese.

Tang Lijiu of Urumqi’s East-West Economic Research Institute says that creating the right kind of jobs for Uighurs is the key. “Because of their lifestyle, asking them to go into big industrial production, onto the production line: they’re probably not suited to that,” says Mr Tang, who is Han Chinese. Better, he suggests, to develop something like, well, basketball. That, Mr Tang says, might work in the same way that America’s National Basketball Association creates “more job opportunities for blacks”. This kind of musing perhaps helps explain why the vast region of Xinjiang remains perilously unstable.

Ahahahahha, with brilliant ideas like that coming from the relevant departments, Beijing will never pacify Xinjiang. Not in a thousand years. Until they can start honestly and realistically addressing the Xinjiang problem, they’ll always be ‘surprised’ or ‘shocked’ or ‘astonished’ by the latest outbreak of protests, riots, or violence.

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Filed under China, ethnic conflict, Xinjiang

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