China Faces a Fresh Bout of Ethnic Hatred
By Lee Jay Walker
Tokyo Correspondent – THE SEOUL TIMES
|Angry demonstrators throw rocks at police in Urumqi, capital of China’s Xinjiang Uygur Autonomous Region on July 5, 2009.|
The People’s Republic of China (PRC) faces a new wave of ethnic tensions and just like the crisis in Tibet, much is based on the growing size of the Han Chinese community and the feeling of alienation amongst the mainly Muslim Uighur people. However, for the leaders of the PRC it is like a re-run of ethnic clashes in Tibet because just like now, the government of China is blaming outside agitation. Therefore, what are the real reasons behind the current unrest?
Firstly, the current death total states that 153 people have been killed during the current riots and street battles in Xinjiang, western China. This figure is likely to increase and more that one thousand people have been injured. In the “fog of hatred” it is hard to pin the blame on any one side.
After all, you have clear evidence of Tibetan Buddhists killing both Han Chinese people and Muslims during riots in 2008. Therefore, a similar pattern may have taken place and it would appear that more Han Chinese people have been killed in the current ethnic violence.
What is clear is that you have had major economic growth in Xinjiang, like Tibet, and central rulers in Beijing will point out that the government of China is merely focused on modernization. Therefore, from a Chinese Communist Party (CCP) perspective the central government does not discriminate against any ethnic group because all citizens belong to the PRC.
Also, China is not regulating the movement of people; on the contrary, the political leadership merely wants to eradicate poverty and to bring economic development to poorer regions. Therefore, internal migration is natural and clearly many Han Chinese, and other ethnic groups, have migrated to Shanghai and other parts of China in order to find work.
However, in both Xinjiang and Tibet you have two powerful ethnic and religions groups and within both communities you have people who feel marginalized or fear the erosion of their traditional way of life. This especially applies to the rapid growth of the Han Chinese ethnic community in both Xinjiang and Tibet. Yet what is the PRC meant to do?
After all, if the PRC neglected both regions in the field of economics then you would have a further outcry of neglect and abandonment. Also, both regions were economically weak prior to the creation of the PRC and poverty was rampant. Therefore, China, just like multi-ethnic America or the United Kingdom, and other nations, will see major changes in migration patterns.
For example the Hispanic community is now thriving in many parts of America and ethnic changes have been rapid in many parts of this nation, notably in southern areas of America. The same applies to many cities in the United Kingdom. For example the Muslim community 60 years ago in places like Bradford, Oldham, and other cities, was very small yet today the Muslim community is thriving. Yet just like China, much of this ethnic change took place because of economic reasons and migration was a natural phenomena and not state regulated.
In the streets of Iran today, people are dying in the name of democracy and it is the centralized state which is clamping down on open demonstrations. Yet these demonstrations are a million miles away from what happened in Tibet last year, and what may have taken place in Xinjiang. For in Tibet you had Tibetan Buddhists surrounding Han Chinese people and other ethnic groups, and killing innocent people in terrible acts of violence. However, demonstrators in Iran are demanding their democratic rights by peaceful ways.
Turning back to Xinjiang, then it is clear that tensions in the provincial capital, Urumqi, and other smaller outbreaks in Kashgar is causing alarm in Beijing. Ethnic tensions are nothing new and many nations and societies face similar problems. Yet for the PRC recent events in Tibet last year and now in Xinjiang, is problematic because it will hinder both economic development in the short-term but more worryingly, it means that ethnic hatreds will linger on.
Yes, the indigenous people of both Tibet and Xinjiang will have genuine complaints and many fear the loss of their identity or being marginalized. Yet it is also true to state that Buddhism and Islam are thriving in both Tibet and Xinjiang respectively, and in other parts of China. Also, unlike the Okinawan people in Japan who mainly speak Japanese, the people of Tibet and Xinjiang still speak their mother-tongue.
Therefore, you have a lot of anti-Chinese propaganda about cultural destruction, however, modern day China is very different from the China of 40 years ago which was based on ideology. Given this, the centralized government of China must foster stronger links with important regional institutions in Tibet and Xinjiang respectively. At the same times, negative elements within all communities must be “rooted out” because unlike the genuine demonstrations in Iran, both demonstrations in Tibet and Xinjiang turned into ethnic riots and the killing of innocent people happened on the grounds of ethnicity.
Lee Jay Walker