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"As long as human rights are violated, there can be no foundation for peace. How can peace grow where speaking the truth is itself a crime?"

The 'Hanification' of Xinjiang

August 21, 2008

By Peter Navarro
Asia Times (Hong Kong)
August 19, 2008

While Tibet has played the role of China's "rock star" to
human-rights activists around the world, China's Xinjiang province
has been treated more like an unwanted stepchild. One reason is that
Tibet has a true rock star in the exiled Dalai Lama. Another reason
is that the strife in Xinjiang involves Muslim ethnic minorities with
alleged ties to the most hated man in the Western world - Osama bin
Laden. All of this, however, is simply unfair because what is
happening in Xinjiang in terms of human-rights violations may be even
worse than the Tibetan repression.

Xinjiang is China's largest province geographically but, with its
extremes of heat and cold and desert climate, it is also one of its
most sparsely populated. This province was formally annexed to the
Manchu Qing Empire as early as 1759 but, for all practical purposes,
it remained under the control of provincial warlords until the
ascendancy of the Communist Party in 1949. That was when one of the
most interesting, and possibly most ruthless historical events was
ever perpetrated - one that allowed China to bring Xinjiang under its
iron-fist control.

During the immediate post-World War II period, Xinjiang was
controlled by Stalin and the Soviet-backed East Turkistan Republic.
Reluctant to support a nationalist Muslim regime on the border of the
then-Soviet Central Asian republics, Stalin brokered what appeared to
be a peaceful accommodation between the Muslim leaders of East
Turkistan and Mao Zedong's government. However, the plane carrying
the East Turkistan leadership to Beijing to negotiate the peace
agreement mysteriously - and all too conveniently - crashed and
killed all aboard. In the ensuing leadership vacuum, Mao's forces
stepped in and assumed control of Xinjiang, an "autonomous province"
in name only.

 From an agricultural point of view, much of Xinjiang is a virtual
dustbowl in no small part because of overgrazing, deforestation,
overplowing, and the failed efforts of the central government to turn
grasslands into farmland. However, beneath Xinjiang's dusty soil and
mountainous steppes lies buried 40% of China's coal reserves. Equally
abundant and far more precious to the central government are oil and
natural gas deposits that total the equivalent of about 30 billion
tons of oil and represent one-fourth to one-third of China's total
petroleum reserves.

Xinjiang is not just one of China's best bets for energy resources.
Bordering eight countries in Central Asia and the Russian Federation,
Xinjiang also has important strategic value. Central Asia can serve
as a transshipment area for Middle East oil should war ever break out
over Taiwan or China's various claims for oil reserves in the South
China Seas. Central Asia republics such as Kazakhstan and Kyrgyzstan
also have large petroleum reserves of their own that can help lessen
China's Middle East oil dependence. For these reasons, China is
building a vast network of modern infrastructure that includes
railways, roads, and pipelines linking Xinjiang eastward to China's
petroleum-thirsty industrial heartland and west and north to Central
Asia and Russia.

In Xinjiang, the majority of the population consists of a Muslim
Turkic people called the Uyghurs. These Uyghurs face some of the
harshest and most repressive measures in the world under the
jackboots of Chinese communism - arguably even more oppressive than
what the Tibetans face. Any independent religious activity can be
equated to a "breach of state security", activists are regularly
arrested and tortured, and despite its sparse population, Xinjiang's
ethnic groups suffer more executions for state security crimes than
any other province.

Tragically, repression in Xinjiang has only intensified in the wake
of the 9/11 terrorist attacks on the United States. The Chinese
government seized on this attack on American soil as a golden
opportunity to cut a very clever deal with the US. China would
support the US's "war on terror" if the United States would agree
that the separatist activities of the Uyghurs represented not simply
an indigenous rebellion against autocratic rule but rather a
legitimate terrorist threat with ties to al-Qaeda and Osama Bin
Laden. As part of its deal with America, China now defines a
terrorist in Xinjiang as anyone who thinks "separatist thoughts", and
Xinjiang's jails are crowded with such pseudo-terrorists.

Although China's iron-fisted repression in Xinjiang borders on the
unbearable, what sticks most in the Uyghur craw is the ongoing
"Hanification" of Xinjiang. As a matter of policy, for decades the
Chinese government has sought to pacify Xinjiang by importing large
portions of its Han population from other, primarily poor areas - and
even by exporting young Uyghur women of child-bearing age out of the region.

Consider this chilling passage from Reuters:

"China's government is forcibly moving young women of the ethnic
Uyghur minority from their homes in Xinjiang to factories in eastern
China, a Uyghur activist told the US Congress on Wednesday. Rebiya
Kadeer, jailed for more than five years for championing the rights of
the Muslim Uyghurs before being sent into exile in the United States,
called for US help in stopping a program she said had already removed
more than 240,000 people, mostly women, from Xinjiang. The women face
harsh treatment with 12-hour work days and often see wages withheld
for months ... Many suspect that the Chinese government policy is to
get them to marry majority Han Chinese in China's cities while
resettling Han in traditional Uyghur lands ..."

Today, as a result of these policies, the Han population is rising at
a rate twice as fast as that of the Uyghur population. Rather than
being pacified or tamed by the growing Han population, the Uyghurs
are simply becoming more and more radicalized. There is a very bitter
and dangerous irony in this ethnic strife reported in the Economist:

"Whereas the Uyghurs historically have been "among the world's most
liberal and pro-Western Muslims, fundamentalist Islam is gaining sway
among young Uyghur men. Today, Uyghurs report that small-scale
clashes break out nearly every day between Chinese and Uyghurs in
Xinjiang's western cities."

It is unlikely that a full-blown guerrilla movement will emerge in
Xinjiang to engage Chinese forces in an Algerian- or Vietnamese-style
revolt. The populace is simply too small, and Chinese security forces
are too big and powerful. However, in an age of "suitcase" nuclear
bombs and biological terrorist weapons, China is increasingly exposed
to attacks from Uyghur separatists at soft target points such as the
Three Gorges Dam or any one of its teeming cities. Indeed, as we have
seen in a series of recent attacks, Uyghur separatists are showing an
increasing ability to strike at Chinese targets.

The question ultimately for this conflict - and the fate of the
Uyghur people - is how this conflict will be judged by world opinion.
Will the Uyghurs be seen as a ruthlessly oppressed people being
gradually exterminated through the policy of Hanification? Or will
the taint of a Bin Laden connection prevent the same kind of world
outrage that we now witness over Tibet? It is an open question - and
one that the Chinese government itself could deftly sidestep if it
simply began to treat its autonomous regions as truly autonomous.

Peter Navarro is a professor at the Merage School of Business at the
University of California-Irvine, a CNBC contributor, and author of
The Coming China Wars (FT Press).
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