Ethnic Conflict in Xinjiang: An Term Paper

Total Length: 3057 words ( 10 double-spaced pages)

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In this sense, "During the 1950s and 1960s, especially after the falling-out between China and the former Soviet Union, the Chinese government actively relocated Han Chinese to frontier provinces such as Xinjiang, Inner Mongolia, and Heilongjiang, in order to consolidate the border in light of possible military threat from the Soviets"

. Therefore, the decision to intervene in the ethnic composition of the region was not only a choice related to the national identity of the country but also to geostrategic aspects.

After the end of the Cold War, the region remained of importance for China form the perspective of the national identity as well as crucial natural resources, which include oil reserves. From this perspective, massive investments have been conducted in the region, stating the official reason to be the reduction of the disparities between the regions of China. In this sense, "Rich in natural gas, oil, and warm weather for agriculture, Xinjiang is, for some, the perfect example of a region primed for the booming development that much of the rest of the country has experienced"

. Therefore, the Western Development Program promoted by Deng Xiaoping focused on several regions of the country that needed increased assistance for development. One such region was Xinjiang. In this sense, "In 1982, the Twelfth Congress of the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) set the goal of quadrupling the gross industrial and agricultural output and raising the living standard of the country to a "comparatively well-off level"

The improvement in economic terms was achieved through different means that included migration of Han Chinese and the Xinjiang Production and Construction Corporation

. These two aspects combined however determined rising tensions between the Han Chinese and the ethnic group. This is largely due to the fact that the investment projects and the projects for the development of infrastructure and industries in the region determined an increase need for additional natural resources including water, which is rather scarce in the region. Moreover, with the new flux of migrants the pressures on natural resources became even greater and determined an even more important tension between the two groups.

Despite the fact that the White Paper of Xinjiang stated the full autonomy of the region and the equal rights of all ethnic groups, these considerations have not been applied in practice. In this sense, the migration of the Han Chinese during the Cold War period is considered to have been state orchestrated

. More precisely, "While early Han migration -- from the 1950s to the 1970s -- was primarily state-orchestrated, recent Han migrants tend to be self-initiated, and they must compete with Uyghurs in the labor market."

This competition not only provides a hostile environment for the labor market but at the same time it ensures the eventuality of ethnic clashes between the two groups. Further, despite the considerations of the White Paper on Xinjiang, the state orchestrated migration included discriminatory measures to encourage Han Chinese to relocate in the area

The control exercised by the Chinese government is also reflected in the area of the cultural heritage of the ethnic population as well as its religious background. In this sense, despite the fact that China is a mix of ethnic groups, the tendency in the past decades has been to reduce the influence and use of ethnic languages in favor of mandarin. Moreover, "Language policy has been at the heart of Chinese nation building. Shortly after the inception of the People's Republic of China (PRC), language policy in China's border regions was responsive to local conditions (…). In the last 15 years, however, although China's official language policy has remained constant, its covert language policy has become increasingly reactive (…). This trend has been particularly salient in the Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region (XUAR), where multilingualism and cultural pluralism have been progressively curtailed in favor of a monolingual, mono cultural model"

From the point-of-view of the religious identity of the ethnic group, given that the minority is of Islamic creed, a proper acceptance of all religions in China, especially in the perspective of the fight against terrorism, is rather difficult. Also, taking into account the fact that the autonomous region makes the connection with the Stan countries, its role in the fight against terrorism is essential. At the same time though, according to recent reports from the Human Rights Watch, "Under the guise of counterterrorism and anti-separatism efforts, the government also maintains a pervasive system of ethnic discrimination against Uighurs and other ethnic minorities, along with sharp curbs on religious and cultural expression and politically motivated arrests.
(…) by the end of 2011, 80% of traditional neighborhoods in the ancient Uighur city of Kashgar will have been razed. Many Uighur inhabitants have been forcibly evicted and relocated to make way for a new city likely to be dominated by the Han population"

The role China plays in the region is, according to most experts, one that would only fuel the discrepancies between the Han Chinese and the Uighurs. This is largely due to the fact that the measures undergone at the level of the region are not in accordance with its autonomous status

. Moreover, the actual economic five-year plan for the region that was aimed at improving the development of the region in order to reduce the disparities and at the same time to improve the national identity in the region would most probably fuel additional tensions between the groups. On the other hand however, China cannot afford to allow an autonomous region with essential potential for the country as a whole to become even more detached from China. In this sense, the general trend in the region is that of non-considering themselves as part of China but rather as having religious, cultural, and national affinities for the neighboring states.

At the same time the fact that there are discrepancies between the treatment of the Han Chinese as opposed to ethnic group members, is obvious also in statistics that point out that Han Chinese have a better standard of living than the ethnic group members. More precisely, "A number of observers have also noted a rural -- urban economic disparity, with the annual urban GDP per capita in 2003 at 14.3 per cent (7,300 yuan) compared to 8.8 per cent (1,861 yuan) in rural areas. Significantly, urban populations in Xinjiang are predominantly Han while the rural population remains predominantly ethnic minority, most particularly Uighur"

Part three: Position and strategies that the Uyghur have used to address their societal insecurity and Chinese response

The reactions of the Uyghur have been numerous. There have been cases of terrorist acts in the region and one of the most important groups is considered to be ETIM that has been responsible for numerous attacks and are now labeled as terrorist organizations by the United States, China, and the United Nations. The Chinese government as well as the governor of the autonomous region argues that terrorist groups from the region are targeting the creation of a new state East Turkestan with the support of terrorist groups from Pakistan

The issue of terrorist threat is a constant security aspect for all countries especially in the aftermath of the 9/11 terrorist attacks. It concerns the basic need for security of countries and China is one of the most important players in the fight against terrorism particularly because of the issues raised by the autonomous region of Xinjiang. At the same time however, given the fact that China has often been accused of breaching human rights legislation in connection with the Tibetan issue as well as the autonomous region of Xinjiang, China is exporting a similar conduct in terms of non-interference in internal affairs of states

. This is largely due to the fact that it cannot support interference in internal affairs of other sovereign states as long as it does not desire to have foreign intervention in its own internal affairs.

China has responded rather aggressively on the issue of terrorist threats and the potential threats of separatist movements. It has increased the control in the region and at the same time reduced the flexibility of the territory, despite the fact that officially there is no change in its status. This type of attitude only increases the security threat and points out the internal security dilemma. More precisely, the ethnic group in the region considers that its societal security is at risk while China believes that separatist movements as well as an autonomous status of the region would encourage further separation form the state. China takes considerable action to try to counter and avoid such an outcome and thus increases the tensions on the ground and the ethnic group reacts accordingly. At this moment, despite the fact that the international community and the United Nations has often accused China of human rights breach and international conventions….....

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