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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."

EDITORIAL: China's ability to ignore the obvious

July 20, 2009

Monday, Jul 20, 2009, Page 8
Taipei Times

The clashes between the Uighurs and Han Chinese in Xinjiang this month
left at least 197 people dead and more than 1,600 wounded. The rioting
was Xinjiang?s worst ethnic unrest in decades. It not only shook China,
but also brought international attention to the problems faced by
China?s ethnic minority groups, including Uighurs and Tibetans.
Chinese officialdom cannot see anything wrong with the government?s
minority policies and its treatment of minority groups. The official
view is that development among the minorities living in Xinjiang is
harmonious and calm, therefore it cannot be the cause of the unrest in
the region. Chinese officials blame the unrest on exiled separatists and
say that it was well planned and co-ordinated to take place at more than
50 locations across the regional capital, Urumqi. They claim that the
problems have been incited by foreign forces, whether last year?s riots
in Tibetan areas or this year?s unrest in Xinjiang.

These ?forces? have not been identified, but any foreign country,
organization, media outlet or individual seen as being prejudiced
against China in some way is a possible accomplice. International
respect for the Dalai Lama is seen by Beijing as an attempt to
strengthen the Tibetan spiritual leader?s prestige and as support for a
plot to bring about Tibetan independence. When Forbes magazine listed
Rebiya Kadeer, who was Xinjiang?s richest person but was forced into
exile in 2005, as one of China?s 10 richest people, Beijing saw this as
an attempt to increase her prestige among Uighurs and as a way to oppose
Chinese rule and encourage an East Turkestan independence movement.

By externalizing an internal problem, China has not only played down the
inappropriate nature of its ethnic minority policies, but has also
absolved itself of any responsibility for mishandling the riots by
directing the focus of blame away from Beijing. More important, the
Chinese authorities have expanded the ethnic minority problem and turned
it into an issue of international prejudice. By using nationalism to
manipulate the issue and create feelings of insecurity and rising
international pressure among the Chinese, the government gains public
sympathy and strengthens national unity.

This is China?s standard approach and it usually works. However,
redirecting ethnic sentiment also changes the essence of the problem and
diminishes domestic criticism of failed policies, political corruption,
social injustice and human rights violations. This in turn means that
the real, underlying problems are not resolved. This way of handling
things will only suppress the current unrest. The result is that the
next spark may well set off yet another wave of ethnic unrest.

The unrest in Xinjiang will not be enough to cause China to feel
insecure or make the Chinese leadership nervous. Chinese President Hu
Jintao (???) once served as Chinese Communist Party secretary in Tibet
and thus has firsthand experience in dealing with minority issues. The
riots will instead boost the government?s authority as it suppresses

Another result will be that dissatisfaction with the current economic
situation will be redirected toward a new target for nationalist
sentiment. Thus the regional problems in Xinjiang will provide an
unexpected advantage for the Chinese leadership.
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