Thursday, September 22, 2011

"Catch-22 of Xinjiang as a gateway": I Don't Think So.

This linked to article from Asia Times Online attempts to look at the possible problems facing both China and the Uyghur people as the former moves forward in it's aim to make Kashgar a Special Economic Zone and Xinjiang a revitalised gateway, a new "Silk Road", to Central Asia and other adjoining regions.

The author focuses rightly on the possible effects 
of the Chinese Government's plans on the Uyghur people, especially those in Kashgar, but generally throughout Xinjiang. He lists their concerns as being twofold: the potential loss of cultural identity and the possibility that the Uyghurs will not benefit to the extent that the Han will.  

He also attempts to make a point that this plan is perhaps a two edged sword, that China could be exposing itself to a rise in religious extremism, escalation of "separatist" feelings and increased terrorism both domestic and international. In other words China is in a "Catch- 22" situation and could see itself in a position where

"..increasing focus on economic prosperity opens up a gateway to Uyghur militancy."

Both of these assertions regarding the possible impact of economic advancement show that the Author has only a limited understanding of Xinjiang, the Chinese Government and the Uyghur people.

Firstly, he seems to infer that the Uyghur concerns are something quite new when, in fact, they have been around for a considerable period of time, increasing since the Cultural Revolution when Han in-migration dramatically picked up.

He illustrates the concern to a loss of cultural heritage with the tearing down of certain sections of Kashgar's "Old Town". 

The loss of sections of the "Old Town"  is regrettable and will undoubtedly have some of the consequences the author refers to, however, this action is not directed against the Uyghur per se. The Chinese government has a belief that areas such as these, regardless of were they are situated, or their historical or cultural importance, must be torn down, we only need to look at what they are doing to the Hutongs in Beijing. They argue that these areas are unsafe, unsanitary and, in the case of Kashgar, pose a safety threat due to being earthquake prone.

The Chinese Government's position is very hard thing to argue against and one wonders if it is the traveller/tourist and people who do not reside there that are more interested in it's retention than the Uyghur. Perhaps the "Silk Road" experience is lessened by seeing the "natives" living in new buildings rather than hundred year old adobes.

The author identifies what he believes to be another concern of the Uyghur, that is, of not getting  a fair share of the "economic pie." Their "share of the pie" may well not be commensurate with the Han per capita but the "pie" is, and will be, a hell of a lot bigger. No minority ethnic group in China has not seen it's per capita average income rise and the Uyghur, like the Hui, are very adept at turning a yuan if the circumstances are right.

Then the author expands on his "Catch-22" hypothesis. He pushes the religious, 'separatist' and domestic/international "terrorist" angle with little real understanding.

Some points to consider.

On religion he states that the Uyghur will be exposed to external Islamic influences that will heighten their desire to rid themselves of "infidel occupations" as some other Islamic groups have tried to do. This will lead to increased "separatist" feelings that could lead to "Ugyhur Militancy" resulting in violence and terrorism aided and abetted by foreign provocateurs'

Pan-Islamism has never, and I would suggest will never, seriously play a role with the Uyghurs. 

He points to recent violent events in Hotan and Kashgar.  

He is correct concerning the Hotan incident being a local issue but then states

"...the resort to violence and hostage-taking could reflect the inspiration or influence of international terrorist groups".

He attempts to reinforce this rather grand statement by stating that Hotan was the first incident where Uyghurs have attacked a police station. A little more research please.

Sorry, my young friend, as it concerns the Hotan incident you can't have your "pie" and eat it too. 

I will not go into the Kashgar incident where the author believes external terrorist factors were in play, other to say, that I believe it to have been a local or criminal issue and not international terror group inspired. Thanks to the Chinese Government conducting a closed court case we will probably never know.

With regard to  video tape  referred to of the supposed Turkestan Islamic Party  taking credit, this video has not been authenticated by anyone, although, I would suggest, it could quite easily be done one way or the other.

Is it a "Catch-22" situation? No of course not. The Chinese Government has laid out it's plans for Xinjiang and nothing short of Armageddon will make them change it. The Uyghur will adapt and eventually flourish as a result. There will be violence from time to time but it will not be "Separatist" "Religious" or "Terrorist" inspired but a case of two proud peoples facing each other off  but with only one having all the aces.

I am not being overly critical of the author, according to his biographical note he is a young person recently graduated and has had some experience in Xinjiang. I am however disappointed with Asia Times that early on was a very demanding publisher in terms of content. 

Asia Times Online :: Catch-22 of Xinjiang as a gateway