In July 2009 violent riots between indigenous Uyghurs and immigrant Han Chinese immigrants in Urumqi, Xinjiang laid bare the truth of the Chinese Communist Party’s strategy of ethnic domination in the north-western Chinese province. The official death toll was close to 200 with thousands more injured.
Xinjiang is the homeland of the Uyghurs, a people ethnically, linguistically and religiously closely related to the Turks. Since the Communist Party took power in China in 1949 a massive influx of Han Chinese has seen the population swell to about 23 million about 9 million of which are Uyghurs.
Now a minority in their own home, which for a short time in the 1930s and 1940s was an independent state known as East Turkistan, the program of assimilation and suppression bears close similarities to Beijing’s approach in Tibet. Uyghur groups regularly complain of discrimination and the ever-present Han Chinese dominated security apparatus in Urumqi and other Uyghur dominated towns.
In Kashgar one of the great Silk Road entrepôt, a spiritual home of the Uyghurs with a history lost in antiquity, the Chinese government has torn down most of the old city. In response to complaints internally and from abroad, the Chinese rejoinder is to say they are “modernising” the province and lifting living standards.
Like Tibet, Xinjiang is resource rich and historically a strategic buffer between China’s heartland and its former Soviet neighbour, and more recently from the never-ending tribal and sectarian conflict in Afghanistan.
Last week, a car – apparently containing three Uyghurs -was driven into Beijing’s Tiananmen Square, the political heart of the country, and set alight killing its occupants and two others. The incident has allowed the Chinese propaganda machine to amp up its demonisation of the Uyghurs in its usual simplistic, inflammatory fashion.
As David Tobin says on his blog …The weakness lies with thinking that long-term security comes down the barrel of a gun….