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"We Tibetans are looking for a legitimate and meaningful autonomy, an arrangement that would enable Tibetans to live within the framework of the People’s Republic of China."

Sinister echoes of Beijing's handling of Tibet

July 7, 2009

By Richard McGregor and Kathrin Hille in Beijing

ft.com - July 6 2009

Only hours after the weekend's bloody clashes in Urumqi and well before the
authorities announced the horrendous death toll, Beijing had unequivocally
named the perpetrators of the unrest in the capital of its northwestern
region of Xinjiang.

Xinhua, the official Chinese news agency, blamed what it called the
"pre-meditated and organised violence" on exiled leaders of the Uighurs, the
predominant Muslim people in the region.

Xinhua, quoting an anonymous government official, singled out as the
mastermind Rebiya Kadeer, a Uighur businesswoman who was jailed for alleged
separatist activities in 1999 before being banished into exile in the US six
years later.

The branding of the violence as foreign-instigated, with the aim of
splitting the region off from China to form an independent state, has
sinister echoes of Beijing's handling of rioting in Tibet early last year.

"If it follows the Tibet pattern, at this stage the Chinese media will only
release figures of those allegedly killed by protesters," said Robert
Barnett, a lecturer on Tibet at Columbia University in New York. "We're
seeing again the same news management method, which is to try and pre-empt
foreign press reports by rapidly releasing news that is damaging to
government critics, especially any images of violence by protesters and any
evidence of foreign links."

In a display of its technical prowess, Beijing on Monday took down the
internet in Urumqi and also restricted outgoing mobile phone calls to limit
information flowing out of the region to the wider world.

Long battle for recognition

840AD Ousted from Mongolia by the Kyrgyz, the Uighurs move to what later
became known as Xinjiang, where they found an empire that lasted until the
13th century Mongol onslaught.

1759 Manchu armies sent by Emperor Qian Long attack the region, finally
establishing control in 1877.

1944-49 The Uighurs enjoy a short period of independence, forming the
Republic of East Turkestan. Movement suppressed following the establishment
of the People's Republic of China in 1949.

1950s and 1960s The Uighurs are targeted for their ethnicity and religion
during Mao Zedong's Cultural Revolution.

1997 Uighurs in the cities of Ghulja, Yining and Urumqi riot following a
security crackdown.

2007 Chinese security forces raid what they say is a terrorist training
camp, with 18 killed, according to state media.

2008 Xinjiang hit by attacks before and during the Beijing Olympics. In
August, police are killed in a bomb and knife attack in the city of Kashgar.
Six days later, suspected Muslim separatists and suicide bombers launch a
dozen attacks in Kuqa, killing 11.

Xinjiang, like Tibet, has a population that is ethnically distinct from the
country's Han Chinese majority. In both regions, indigenous residents rail
against strict controls over religious expression and growing Han Chinese
dominance of the economy.

The charge from Beijing that the violence was caused by outsiders seeking
independence has the short-term effect of killing any discussion within
China about possible grievances underlying the riots.

"Everything is framed through the sovereignty issue," said Nicholas Bequelin
of Human Rights Watch in Hong Kong. "No expression of dissent is legitimate.
It is all seen as part of a plot."

The protesters marching in Urumqi on Sunday were demonstrating against the
deaths of two Uighurs in clashes with Han Chinese at a factory in Guangdong
province near Hong Kong late last month.

But the Uighurs have long been hostile to the ruling Communist party, which
they say restricts families worshipping together at mosques, stifles their
culture and ensures most of the benefits of economic development go to Han
Chinese.

Xinjiang is a strategically and economically important region for China,
rich in resources, with large and productive farmlands. It is also the
transit point for a growing number of gas and oil pipelines from central
Asia.

Xinjiang saw an inflow of 1.2m workers from other parts of China last year
alone, according to state media reports, mainly to work in the region's
booming oil and resources industry. The region's population of 20m includes
some 8.3m Uighurs.

The redevelopment of old towns and the influx of richer Han Chinese
radically changed local economic structures, costing many Uighurs their
traditional jobs and forcing them to move to Urumqi or to other provinces to
search for work.

This has happened while Xinjiang's economy has been growing at more than 11
per cent a year for the past six years, above the national average. The
wealth created by this rapid growth has concentrated in the pockets of new
immigrants, increasing the gap between rich and poor, Han and Uighur, some
locals complain.

Adi, a Uighur working in the tourism industry in Kashgar, China's last
outpost in Xinjiang before the border with Pakistan, has seen three siblings
leave for eastern China for work over the past five years.

"The family used to depend on my father's small trading business, but he had
to close it down because there are increasingly larger, newer shops now,"
Adi, who asked that his full name not be used, said on Monday.

Behind the scenes, the Chinese authorities will be deeply concerned at how
the street marches in Urumqi degenerated into bloody and murderous clashes.

China has large and diverse security forces stationed in Urumqi and around
Xinjiang, including units of the People's Liberation Army and the
para-military People's Armed Police as well as ordinary police and anti-riot
units.

In spite of their brutal image, China has attempted to professionalise
police and paramilitary forces and train them to limit the use of violence
in controlling protests.

Barry Sautman, an associate professor at Hong Kong University of Science and
Technology, cautioned against seeing the riots solely as a reaction against
China's ethnic policies.

"In China, there are lots of protests every day, some of them on a large
scale, although they don't generally take the form of beating people to
death in the streets," he said.

In a statement Monday, the World Uyghur Congress, of which Ms Kadeer is the
president, condemned the crackdown on protesters and poured scorn on Chinese
claims that it had been instigated from outside the country.

"The Chinese authorities should acknowledge that the peaceful protests were
sparked by the unlawful mob beating and killing of Uighur workers at a
Guangdong toy factory more than a week ago," the group said.

"The authorities should also acknowledge that their failure to take any
meaningful action to punish the Chinese mob for the brutal murder of Uighurs
is the real cause of this protest."
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