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"On my part, I remain committed to the process of dialogue. It is my firm belief that dialogue and a willingness to look with honesty and clarity at the reality of Tibet can lead us to a viable solution."

Between Xinjiang and Tibet

July 15, 2009

Tuesday, 14 July 2009, 12:25 pm
Opinion: Tarek Cherkaoui
Between Xinjiang and Tibet

by Tarek Cherkaoui

The regrettable events in the Xinjiang province in China, following 
severe riots between the native Muslim Uyghurs and the migrant Chinese 
Hans, is another proof that minorities continue to suffer under the 
yoke of the Beijing regime. As matter of fact, the Uyghurs have 
endured for decades Beijing╒s discriminatory policies, which have not 
only infringed their basic political, economic and human rights, but 
have also transformed them into refugees in their own land as the 
result of internal migration programs that aim to perpetuate a 
demographic ethnic cleansing.

Since the mid-1990s, a series of human rights reports have emphasized 
the gravity of the situation in the province. They described a long 
list of human rights violations against the Uyghurs, which include 
prolonged arbitrary and incommunicado detention, severe torture of 
detainees, unfair political trials, and summary executions of 
political prisoners. The situation has worsened since 2001, when the 
Chinese government used the pretext of the ╥war on terror╙ to 
impose additional restrictions, some of which consider performing 
religious duties outside governmental control as ╥terrorism.╙ [1]

The Chinese state-sponsored narratives on terrorism succeeded in 
galvanizing the spirits of the majority inside China against the 
Uyghur minority. More importantly, the Chinese authorities obtained 
the tacit support of the Bush administration and its allies, and so 
Chinese exactions against the Uyghurs were often ignored by 
international mainstream media. By comparison, the Tibetan issue has 
been transformed onto cause cÄlÅbre, thanks to the Dalai Lama 
receiving the Nobel Prize in 1989. Since then, the Tibetan cause 
continues to receive the acclaims of world leaders and international 
media. Such difference in media coverage between Tibet and Xinjiang is 
perplexing because at the end of the day both regions suffer from the 
same root problem, namely their illegal annexation by China. But while 
media interest in Tibetan affairs triggered a huge mobilization of 
human rights organizations, the events in Xinjiang received only 
minimal coverage, and even then the tone was far less critical.

Media framing is the magic word here, for it is all about selecting 
certain facts at the expense of others with the purpose of 
constructing a certain worldview. This process involves problem 
definition, diagnosis, moral judgment, and suggesting the remedy. In 
the case of Tibet, the media script was faultless: the annexation of 
Tibet by China has brought sufferance and misery to Tibetans, who face 
numerous grievances. The moral judgment was that China is illegally 
annexing Tibet, and therefore the prescribed solution is independence 
for Tibet.

But for Xinjiang, things are very different. International mainstream 
media prefers to deploy an episodic frame which offers╨ in the words 
of Professor Shanto Iyengar - only a passing parade of events, a 
╥context of no context.╙ Subsequently, it is very difficult to find 
out the source of the Uyghur problem because of this framing, and so 
instead of allocating responsibility ╨ as in the case of Tibet ╨ to 
the Chinese illegal annexation of Xinjiang, mainstream media deploy 
the ╥violence frame╙, which simplifies the situation into mere 
problems between Ethnic groups. The blame is put on the ╥mob╙, 
whatever that means, and the solution prescribed is that violence 
should stop and the situation brought back to normal, without any 
reference to the root causes. Evidently, such framing undermines the 
aspirations of the Uyghur people for equal rights and freedom, and 
transforms its cause into a mere security and social predicament.

It is a matter of fact that the media set news agendas and establish 
the salience of any given conflict. But to wait for international 
mainstream media to avoid informational biases and to offer consistent 
coverage on important issues, such as Xinjiang, may be just wishful 
thinking. Instead, the tremendous opportunities offered by new media 
ought to be used by the informed and concerned citizenry of the world 
to spread and share information about the deteriorating situation in 
Xinjiang. The plight of people there should not escape the radar 
anymore. The Uyghurs have suffered enough and for a long time╔they 
deserve not only to be heard, but also and especially supported.

[1] See Amnesty International Report: AI Index ASA 17/032/2001.


Tarek Cherkaoui is a doctoral candidate in communication studies at 
the Auckland University of Technology, New Zealand.
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