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Whitewashing Beijing's Repression in Xinjiang Won't Do the Tricks Whitewashing Beijing's Repression in Xinjiang Won't Do the Tricks
by Dr. Habib Siddiqui
2014-04-27 13:32:07
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The Government of the People’s Republic of China (PRC) is very mindful of its image in the world. One cannot fault her for such an attitude, after all, it is the second largest economy and much of its success owes it to the perception it has been able to create.

So, as I expected, after publication of my article (written with Dr. Imtiyaz of Temple University) about Xinjiang on March 10, 2014 an article from Mr. Meng Hua has appeared in a English daily in Bangladesh on Sunday, April 20, 2014. It was a stark attempt to whitewash Beijing’s repression of the Uyghurs in the occupied territories.

There is no better way to justifying the grabbing of anything than to claim that it ‘historically’ belonged to the grabber. Mr. Meng Hua’s response once again underscored that all-too-familiar tactic. It seemed like a leaf taken from standard Chinese Government propaganda 101 that not only tries to skirt off its accountability for the current unrest in the Xinjiang region plus its monumental failure in integrating the Uyghur Muslims in China through a plethora of criminal policies but also tries to deny, let alone distort, the native Uyghur people's national history, culture and heritage by falsely claiming that it was part of the Han Empire. Thanks to revisionist history fed in classrooms, most Chinese Han have grown up ignorant of Uyghur history. They probably never heard about Uyghur historians like Muhammad Imin Bughra who wrote the book - A history of East Turkestan, and Turgun Almas who incorporated discoveries of Tarim mummies to conclude that Uyghurs have over 6400 years of history.

Even if one were to accept for the sake of argument the Chinese government propaganda that the region was once a part of the Han dynasty some 2000 years ago, there are overwhelming evidences to show that Hans were not the first settlers to the region. But more importantly, how could one deny the people's history of the region since then? Before the communist takeover, Xinjiang, known previously as East Turkistan, had an unmistakable Islamic identity where amongst the various Turkic people the Uyghurs formed the vast majority. Its people never accepted Chinese occupation and have fought back. They declared their independence in the 1930s and 1940s before the Communist regime was able to subdue them through a series of brutal measures.

As Dr. Imtiyaz and I have shown elsewhere in an academic paper, since the 1950s, successive Chinese political leaderships have systematically formulated policies and carefully implemented action plans to ensure the total de-empowerment of the Uyghurs in Xinjiang: politically, socially and economically. We have called such policies and actions as Hanification.    The Hanification is primarily carried out in two folds: settlements and language.

The Chinese policy to settle the Han-Chinese in the Xinjiang region to alter the regional demography thrived well. The Han population “increased from nearly 300,000 in 1953 to nearly 6 million in 1990, in addition to more than one-half million demobilized soldiers in the Production and Construction Corps.” This increase was made possible “as a result of state-sponsored population transfers from other parts of China.” (Arienne M. Dwyer, The Xinjiang Conflict: Uyghur Identity, Language Policy, and Political Discourse)

A second massive Hanification in the form of systematic colonization took place in the 1990s soon after the collapse of the Soviet Empire. Mindful of the emergence of the Central Asian republics, the CCP (Chinese Communist Party) offered an attractive economic incentive program called the “Big Development of the Northwest” to the poor Han-Chinese to transfer them from the underdeveloped areas of the country.  The CCP’s calculated attempts brought success. It brought between one and two million new Han-Chinese settlers to Xinjiang. Today, the Han–Chinese population makes up more than 40 percent of Xinjiang’s total population of 22 million, from what was only 6 percent in the early 1950s.

The CCP’s westward movement and economic development came together with a combination of massive subsidies, oil exploitation and rapid urbanization. But the Uyghurs were systematically denied opportunities to be a part of the rising program. The state’s policies worsened the economic condition of the native Uyghurs vis-a-vis the Han-Chinese settlers. 

The language policy adopted since the 1950’s by the CCP denied the basic rights for Uyghurs to continue their education in their own language. Uyghurs were forced to continue education (from primary to university level) in what they consider a foreign language. During the Cultural Revolution period (1966-1977), the CCP shut the door for the Uyghurs to practice and develop their language, and vigorously institutionalized the standard Chinese, known as Putonghua among the Uyghurs. Since 1978 the CCP has been systematically promoting Putonghua (Mandarin Chinese) in the Xinjiang region. The instruction in Uyghur has been eliminated except in a handful of primary schools. For advance to college and university level, however, the students must take the tests in Mandarin.

The current trend in the Xinjiang region is the overwhelming dominance of the Chinese language at all levels of instruction.  The policies of the CCP compel Uyghur parents to send their children to Chinese-language-only schools in the region. Some direct witnesses suggest that even when a Uyghur learns Mandarin and passes exams they are heavily discriminated in the job sector simply because of their distinctive Uyghur identity. Based on his trip to the region, James Palmer similarly noted in the Atlantic Magazine that local “dialects” are discouraged in the media and in education, and heavy accents turn many employers off. (September, 2013)

Mosques in Xinjiang are under constant surveillance and anyone frequenting the mosques, especially for religious teachings, is deemed an ‘extremist’, and thus, a ‘separatist.’ Contrary to government propaganda, many mosques remain locked and only a few are functional. The CCP also makes it mandatory for Muslim Imams to attend political education camps that are run by state authorities.

During the communist era, Muslim farmers were forced to raise pigs (which are considered filthy in Islam) in their farms. Even to this very day school children in many Chinese schools are taught that the reason that Muslims don’t eat pig is because their ancestors were pigs! Muslim children routinely face taunting from fellow Han students in such schools. University staffs routinely force Muslim students to break their fast and eat during the daytime of the month of Ramadan.

Uyghurs have viewed government measures as assaults on their religious practices and as part of a wider political agenda by the CCP, which is aimed at weakening the Uyghur control over the region.

Xinjiang has all the signs of a police state. Even the foreign journalists and human rights observers trying to operate in Xinjiang are not immune from constantly being followed by the security services, making it difficult to assess the situation on the ground. They are reminded that "the walls have ears" and that "no-one was allowed to talk out about what was going on" inside Xinjiang. (BBC News, March 3, 2014)

Furthermore, to strengthen the Hanification, the institutions controlled by the CCP strictly implemented China’s one-Child policy in the region. However, such one-child, family planning policy does not apply to any ethnic Han couple relocating to Xinjiang. (See, e.g., Sean Roberts, Understanding Ethnic Clashes in China, Washington Post, July, 2009) According to Dr. Paul George, an independent analyst specializing in issues of international security and development policy, “China's strict one-child policy has been waived for Han Chinese willing to move to Xinjiang; they are allowed to have two children - a fringe benefit which encourages further immigration.” (Islamic Unrest in the Xinjiang Uighur Autonomous Region, Commentary No. 73, CSIS, Spring, 1998)

Not surprisingly, such incentives have altered the demographic mix significantly diluting Uyghur population. In recent decades the Han-Uyghur ratio in the capital of Urumqi has shifted to 80:20 from what was 10:90 in 1953. With the growth of the bingtuan (Chinese for a military corps) towns, mushrooming all across Xinjiang, there is little doubt that the dilution policy started by Mao Tse Tung appears to be continuing unabated. According to Census figures the Han (Chinese) population grew by 32% in the 1990's, compared to a growth of only 16% for the indigenous Muslims.

The bingtuan operates its own schools, hospitals and newspapers in Xinjiang. It has its own courts, police and prisons as well as a 120,000-strong militia force which is the reason for its military-sounding names. Many Uyghurs are resentful of such a large, economically powerful and politically autonomous entity in Xinjiang that employs so few of their own ethnic group. To make matters worse, the bingtuan partly justifies its existence by saying it is needed to maintain stability in Xinjiang, or more properly, for keeping Uyghurs quiet.

In recent decades while the GDP of Xinjiang has increased substantially, the vast majority of Uyghurs have no share in this economic prosperity further alienating them. Unemployment runs highest among them. They feel robbed and betrayed in their mineral-rich native land. Even their legitimate grievances continue to be met by deaf ears of the Han authorities further alienating them. Hanification naturally is creating an environment of distrust between the Uyghurs and the Han-Chinese settlers, while eroding Uyghur faith in the system. 

The Uyghurs face routine discrimination in China, at a level that even State media has acknowledged and deplored. It is rare for hotels in central or east China to accept Uyghur guests; if their names or ID cards don’t give it away during the booking, they’re turned away without explanation or apology when they try to check in.

Beijing's rigorous attempts to assimilate, and not integrate, the Uyghurs through a series of measures, which include suppression of religious freedom, hurting religious sensitivity, daily persecution and harassment, denying rights to assembly and practice of language and Islamic culture, widespread discrimination in education and job sectors, plus the systematic introduction of Han Chinese immigrants into the region to alter the demography have fomented deep-rooted anti-regime sentiment.

Taking advantage of President Bush’s so-called War on Terror after 9/11, the Chinese government is also guilty of practicing unprecedented repression and committing unfathomed violence against the unarmed Uyghurs further fueling resentment. The communal riots of 1997 and 2009 – in which many Uyghurs were killed, maimed, robbed and rendered homeless – were brutal, and set the stage for Uyghur-retaliation or reaction.

Even a minor protest against the Han authorities in occupied Xinjiang and Tibet is looked through the lens of ‘three evil forces’ of terrorism, separatism and extremism, so well-parroted by Mr. Hua. The Chinese official media are notorious for use of such seductive words to bemuse their already brainwashed Han citizens. However, such words, no matter how and bewitching, cannot evade government culpability and only plant more distrust and anger amongst the already demonized natives.

It is of little surprise that there have been sporadic uprisings against Chinese domination. Sadly, if history is any barometer to predict the future, the sad incident of Kunming Railway Station on March 1 won’t be the last one unless the Chinese government embarks on a fresh policy that brings a sense of belonging to the Uyghur people. They simply cannot be pushed to a corner and treated as an alien race in their own ancestral land. If Beijing fails to correct her failed policies, it won’t be too long when the Uyghur people play the Crimean card to decide their fate with much support from the international community that has refused to be duped by silly Chinese propaganda.

The Chinese attitude towards the occupied Xinjiang has been no different than those of the French in Algeria, the Russians in Chechnya and the Indians in Kashmir, and yet it refuses to concede the obvious. As Chinese economy grows so has her imperial ambition not just over already occupied territories of Xinjiang and Tibet but also over parts of India, Vietnam, and Japan, just to name few. Pointing out such parallels is not only taboo in China but is almost unthinkable. To a Han, “imperialism” and “colonialism” are things that happened to China, not things that China does. In so doing, it suffers from cognitive dissonance that the very name Xinjiang in Chinese means “New Frontiers.”


    
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