Sunday, March 11, 2012

Xinjiang: Korla Incident - An Analysis

Radio Free Asia reported that four Uyghurs have been killed in a pre-dawn raid on a farmhouse in Towurchi village near Korla City, Xinjiang, on Thursday March 8.

According to Radio Free Asia police became suspicious of the farmhouse after interrogating an Uyghur who reportedly had been injured in a home made bomb explosion. A subsequent raid by four police officers resulted in the initial death of a 21 year old Uyghur who police claim rushed the officers with an axe.

Upon calling for reinforcements, a 40 man police team raided the farm and was confronted by Uyghur men hurling bottles who then supposedly attacked the police team brandishing knives resulting in their fatal shooting.

RFA claim Korla City Police Bureau Detective Office Chief Wu San confirmed the events

The Uyghur in Korla

Korla is the capital of the Bayangol Mongolian Autonomous Prefecture and is some 200 kilometres south west of Xinjiang's capital Urumqi. Until the 1960's Korla was a small Uyghur town however this changed when oil was discovered in the Taklamakan Desert. It is now a modern city of some 430,000 residents of which the Uyghur number about 100,000. Korla's population is increasing by some 20,000 people per annum, the majority Han Chinese, who are offered considerable incentives by the Chinese government to relocate there to work in the burgeoning Petro-Chemical industry. 

Korla is the home of the PetroChina Tarim Basin Oil Control Center, which operates the Taklamakan oil fields. PetroChina is China's largest oil producer with revenues of $221 billion and overall employs some 600,000 and is the major employer in Korla. 

Prior to the discovery of oil in the Taklamakan in the '50s Korla was a predominantly Uyghur town of adobe brick dwellings, unpaved streets but having a well established agricultural industry growing wheat and rice as well as fruits, most famously, it's fragrant pears.

Today the Uyghur in Korla have become disenfranchised. Like Kashgar, the old Uyghur town has all but disappeared being replaced by modern multi-storey buildings. This is not, in itself, a bad thing, the Chinese government have done remarkably well with the urban renewal programmes and today Korla is cited as one of the cleanest and well laid out cities in China. However, again like Kashgar, the tearing down of the old is a poignant reminder to the Uyghurs of the new world that they are increasingly playing so little a role in.

The petrol industry has brought much wealth to the the majority Han population but, like in many areas of Xinjiang, this new economic prosperity has all but passed the Uyghurs by. 

In an article published in 2008 Dispatches From China's Wild West the author claims that there are very few Uyghurs employed in the industry and noted, even then, the disenchantment and discontent being felt by the Uyghur people of Korla.

The article quotes an American living in Korla at the time as saying

"More disturbing―and perhaps dangerous for Xinjiang―is the fact that Uighurs are almost completely excluded from the oil boom. I can't even think of a single Uighur I've met whose employment is related to the petrochemical industry in any way. Obviously, this breeds resentment in those people still living in mud-brick huts, which are frequently demolished to build another garish new apartment complex.

Also according to the article lack of employment opportunities had led many Uyghur youth to alcohol and drug abuse. This again is a common factor in similarly affected Uyghur towns and cities throughout Xinjiang.

The Korla Incident- An Analysis

Like several violent incidents that have racked Xinjiang since the Urumqi riots in 2009 one thing is becoming increasingly obvious and that is the readiness of security forces to use lethal force against the Uyghur in circumstances that would bring howls of protests if they occurred in the west.

In the Kashgar and Hotan incidents of July 2011 and in the Pishtan and Yecheng incidents more recently, heavily armed Security forces, far outnumbering the Uyghurs they confronted, used modern firearms to control and kill Uyghurs despite there being no reports of them being armed with anything other than knives, clubs and axes. 

In Kashgar it has even been claimed by Uyghur exile groups that security forces engaged in ex-judicial executions and the Pishtan Incident included the deaths of women and the arrest of children.

This is not to say that the Uyghur have been totally blameless. The Kashgar and Yecheng incidents obviously were violent attacks instigated by Uyghurs against Han civilians resulting in many fatalities among the Han.

This Korla incident follows the same pattern. We have, ultimately, a 40 strong, no doubt heavily armed tactical response Group, shooting dead four Uyghur men in the presence of woman and children for throwing bottles and brandishing knives.

And what did the police find in this so called bomb making factory, and, no doubt to be reported, the residence of a violent Islamic Terrorist cell that required the killing of four people?

"We found two bows, some bomb-making materials, and boxing gloves. It looks like they were preparing some sort of armed attack,”

There can be no doubt in my mind that there exists within the Xinjiang security forces, flowing directly from the governments in Urumqi and Beijing and the Chinese Communist Party a 'take no prisoners" approach to managing Uyghur ethnic relations in Xinjiang.

After over a decade of closely watching Uyghur affairs I have not seen nor been presented with any evidence of systemic terrorism or religious extremism on behalf of the Uyghur people. As such I can not, for the life of me, see the rationale behind such a stance other than it emanates from some blind belief by the Chinese of the superiority of the Han Chinese as a race. In other words sheer racism.  

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