Chinese language paranoia and oppression in Xinjiang has an extended historical past


Together with restrictions on halal meals, Islamic costume, and normal religiosity, the continuing crackdown has primarily affected the Uyghurs, a predominantly Muslim ethnic group who traditionally have been the bulk within the area.

Chinese language International Ministry spokesman Lu Kang defended current measures at a press briefing Thursday, saying “taking measures to forestall and crack down on terrorism and extremism have helped protect stability, in addition to the life and livelihood of individuals of all ethnicities in Xinjiang.”

Whereas the methods Beijing is taking are new — and embrace a state-of-the-art surveillance regime — they echo a longtime paranoia about Xinjiang and a deep suspicion of its non-Han inhabitants amongst China’s rulers which have traditionally resulted in oppression and riot.

New territory

Xinjiang is huge. Stretching 1.6 million sq. kilometers (640,000 sq miles) from the Tibetan plateau within the southeast to Kazakhstan on its north-western border, it’s by far China’s largest administrative area, however considered one of its least densely populated. Round 22 million folks reside within the area, most of whom reside across the main cities of Urumqi, Kashgar and Yining.
Whereas Chinese language armies rampaged by what’s now Xinjiang and managed elements of it for hundreds of years, the fashionable administrative unit solely dates to the mid-nineteenth century, a truth hinted at by its identify, which interprets as “new frontier” in Chinese language.
Regardless of the Communist Celebration’s claims that “Xinjiang has since historical instances been an inseparable a part of the motherland,” the comparatively current imperial conquest of Xinjiang has at all times been accompanied by an ever current paranoia that it might break free from Chinese language rule, turning into one other “Outer Mongolia.”
During the Sino-Soviet split, there was a deep worry in Beijing that Moscow would search to annex Xinjiang, which bordered the then Soviet Union, or encourage ethnic minority teams to insurgent.
This was a really actual risk: through the 1930s and 40s, because the short-lived Nationalist authorities fought a civil battle with the Communists and confronted a rising risk of Japanese invasion, two breakaway East Turkestan Republics have been declared and swiftly put down in Xinjiang.

Whereas the East Turkestan independence actions (and their successors in the present day) have been largely based mostly on ethnonationalist arguments a couple of homeland for Turkic-speaking Uyghurs, because the flip of the millennium Beijing’s chief concern has been the potential unfold of radical Islam within the area, and the alleged affect of worldwide terrorist organizations.

Notably within the wake of September 11, 2001, as Washington sought Beijing’s help in its “battle on terror,” the Chinese language authorities linked unrest in Xinjiang with Islamist teams abroad, succeeding in getting the East Turkestan Islamic Movement (ETIM) listed as a terrorist group by the US.

This was regardless of there being such little data obtainable on ETIM on the time or proof supporting Beijing’s claims that some overtly questioned whether or not it existed as a coherent group in any respect.

A woman stands in front of police and riot vehicles on July 7, 2009 in Urumqi, the capital of Xinjiang.

Ethnic unrest

Even because the authorities have been targeted on Islamic terrorism, the most important unrest in Xinjiang in recent times appeared to don’t have anything to do with faith.

A mass protest which broke out after a police crackdown on a smaller demonstration spiraled uncontrolled in July 2009, and noticed rioters rampage through Urumqi armed with golf equipment, knives and stones.
They randomly attacked and in lots of instances beat to loss of life any Han Chinese language they discovered within the streets, together with ladies and aged folks, and set automobiles, houses and shops on fire.
It took round 20,000 paramilitary police and Individuals’s Liberation Military troopers to quell the unrest, which left no less than 197 Han and Uygur folks useless, in line with Chinese state media.

Web entry to all of Xinjiang, together with worldwide cellphone and textual content messaging providers, was lower off for nearly a yr within the wake of the violence.

Because the 2009 violence — which got here shortly after unrest in Tibet — restrictions on the lives of odd Uyghurs in Xinjiang have elevated, even because the area to criticize and push for different insurance policies has narrowed.

The area has a mess of issues deserving of dialogue past safety and ethnic unrest. Xinjiang is considered one of China’s poorest areas, and growth has lagged different elements of the nation. Uyghurs and different minorities complain of discrimination in employment and training, and corruption is rife inside state-controlled industries that proceed to dominate the native financial system.

More and more nonetheless, any criticism of those points — notably something which touches on ethnic or spiritual issues — is solid as advocating for independence or looking for to undermine the federal government.

In 2014, Ilham Tohti, a Beijing-based economics professor who was thought of one of many main average Chinese language voices on Xinjiang, was jailed for life for “separatism” and spreading “ethnic hatred.”
His arrest and the severity of his sentence shocked many supporters, who warned that by stamping out voices such as Ilham’s, “the Chinese language Authorities is in reality laying the groundwork for the very extremism it says it desires to forestall.”
This prediction has largely been borne out, particularly as Chinese language authorities have ramped up restrictions on Islam in the name of fighting terrorism, together with banning veils and bears, cracking down on Quran research teams, and stopping Muslim officers from fasting for Ramadan.
Each Al Qaeda and the so-called Islamic State have featured Xinjiang of their propaganda in recent times, and Uyghur fighters have been noticed in Syria and Iraq.
Uyghurs have additionally been linked to numerous terrorist attacks in Xinjiang and other parts of China, although it’s disputed what number of of those incidents are linked to or directed by abroad militant teams.
A person wearing a white mask with tears of blood takes part in a protest march of ethnic Uyghurs asking for the European Union to call upon China to respect human rights Xinjiang in April 2018.

No manner out

Beijing’s paranoia about terrorism and separatism in Xinjiang is actual and comprehensible.

However regardless of quite a few warnings about this leading to a self-fulfilling prophecy, the authorities’ response has solely been to crack down more durable and limit Muslim life additional.

Chinese language officers argue that with out a agency hand, the nation’s far west risks turning into another Syria, the place insurgent teams and Islamist militants backed by overseas powers, together with the US, have plunged the nation right into a years-long civil battle.

This narrative has been used to justify not solely restrictions on Islam, however the large securitization of Xinjiang, with armed police manning checkpoints throughout cities, surveillance cameras all over the place, and residents unable to go away the area.

That method reached its zenith prior to now yr with the increasing community of “re-education camps,” the place predominantly Uyghur internees are pressured to attend “anti-extremist ideological” courses and their conduct — notably spiritual conduct — is tightly managed.

“Detentions are extra-legal, with no authorized illustration allowed all through the method of arrest and incarceration,” in line with the World Uyghur Congress, a Germany-based umbrella group for the Uyghur diaspora, which not too long ago submitted proof to the United Nations concerning the camps.

Whereas the Chinese language authorities initially pushed again towards these claims — saying “Xinjiang residents together with the Uyghurs get pleasure from equal freedoms and rights” — the obvious acknowledgment and legalization of the camps this week, in addition to rising dialogue of the difficulty in state media, signifies Beijing could also be doubling down on its insurance policies in Xinjiang within the face of rising worldwide condemnation.

Washington has not too long ago discovered its voice on Xinjiang, the place it lengthy missed abuses by Beijing. But as with US criticisms of Chinese media actions overseas, there’s a threat the White Home’s issues get linked to the continuing commerce battle between China and the US, and are thus simply discounted in Beijing’s eyes as self-motivated and made in unhealthy religion.
This week, US lawmakers introduced their intention to nominate Ilham Tohti for the Nobel Peace Prize, the award of which in 2010 to Chinese language dissident Liu Xiaobo infuriated Beijing. Liu died of most cancers final yr whereas nonetheless in Chinese language authorities custody.

Chinese language International Ministry spokesman Lu rejected US criticism at an everyday press briefing Thursday, saying folks had “been creating lies and launching baseless accusations on the acceptable counter-terrorism measures taken by the Xinjiang authorities.”

Neither is it apparent how Beijing would reverse its insurance policies at this level. Few average Chinese language voices are left who can communicate authoritatively on Xinjiang, and people officers working the province — like Chen Quanguo, former Tibet get together secretary and a key ally of President Xi Jinping — are hardliners with a reputation for ruthless crackdowns and zero tolerance.

Simply as in Hong Kong, the place China’s heavy-handed method arguably impressed help for independence, Beijing is left with an issue that it created, however one which perversely justifies its earlier method.

Charting another path of reconciliation and respect for human rights would require a subtlety in coping with dissent that Xi’s administration has up to now not proven proof of.

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