x Abu Dhabi, UAEThursday 27 July 2017

Ethnic violence escalates in Xinjiang

After rioting by Uigurs left 156 dead on Sunday, thousands of Han Chinese took to the streets of the north-western city of Urumqi chanting 'blood for blood', demanding revenge while a local official threatened rioters with execution. In spite of a massive show of force, Han Chinese and the Turkic minority Uighurs continued to fight it out in the city streets, showing the difficulties security forces will have in restoring order.

After rioting by Uigurs in China's Xinjiang province left 156 dead on Sunday, thousands of Han Chinese took to the streets of Urumqi on Tuesday demanding revenge while a local Communist party official threatened rioters with execution. "Thousands of Chinese, many wielding sticks, clubs and knives, marched today through Uighur neighborhoods of the northwestern city of Urumqi chanting "blood for blood'' and singing the Chinese national anthem," the Los Angeles Times reported. "Chinese police and paramilitaries deployed by the thousands struggled to contain escalating tensions in the worst outbreak of ethnic violence the country has seen in years. The marchers, who appeared to be ethnic Han, the majority in China, were demanding revenge for rioting by the Turkic-speaking Uighurs on Sunday in which 156 died." The Times later reported: "In an escalating campaign to stamp out ethnic violence, Chinese forces Wednesday saturated the northwestern city of Urumqi, helicopters dropped leaflets urging calm, and the local Communist Party boss warned of the death penalty for rioters convicted of killings. " 'We're determined to maintain social stability,' said Urumqi's party chief, Li Zhi, at a news conference. 'To those who committed crimes with cruel means, we will execute them.' "In spite of the massive show of force, Han Chinese and the Turkic minority Uighurs continued to duke it out in the city streets, showing how difficult it will be to restore order. "Since Sunday, violence has virtually paralysed Urumqi, a city of 2 million, and authorities fear it could easily spread to other parts of the Xinjiang region, particularly the southern cities of Hotan and Kashgar, which have Uighur majorities. " 'Many people think it has calmed down, but we worry it is just the beginning,' said a public security official, who spoke Wednesday on the condition of anonymity. 'This is a huge threat to national harmony. It is the most serious violence we have seen since the 1980s.' " Bloomberg said: "China's drive to develop Xinjiang's resources has spurred an influx of migrants and bred resentment among Uighurs, who complain of discrimination and political and cultural repression. Han Chinese now account for half the province's 21 million population, from 7 percent in the 1953 census. " 'We never had any political rights,' said Kurban Haiyur, a Uighur exile who left the province in 2006 to study in Germany. 'In my whole life, I never had the same status in society as a Han Chinese.' "Han mobs fought Uighurs with machetes, sticks and makeshift weapons in Urumqi yesterday, defying hundreds of military police as the violence entered a fourth day. The clashes prompted President Hu Jintao to cut short a visit to the Group of Eight summit in Italy." The Times of India said: "Even as additional security personnel and machinery poured into Urumqi, the Chinese foreign ministry has got into action asking several countries including Pakistan to prove their friendship by taking a stand on the issue. "Beijing wants several countries to unearth the links between their citizens and the World Uyghur Congress." Al Jazeera reported: "A leading Uighur rights activist has criticised Muslim-majority countries for not speaking out against decades of alleged repression and persecution from the Chinese government. "Speaking in Washington on Monday, Rebiya Kadeer, a businesswoman who was jailed for years in China before being released into exile in the US, hit out at what she said was decades of 'brutal suppression' of Muslims in China's western Xinjiang region. "Speaking after a day of unrest in Xinjiang left at least 150 people dead, Kadeer pointed to the lack of response from Muslim countries to the violence and the situation faced by the Uighurs. " 'Muslim countries such as Pakistan, Afghanistan, Saudi Arabia, Egypt, Syria and a number of other Muslim countries as well as the central Asian states like Kazakhstan Kurdistan and Uzbekistan - they all deported Uighurs who had fled Chinese persecution for peacefully opposing Chinese rule, for writing something, for speaking something,' she said." In a commentary for Forbes, Gordon G Chang said: "people in oppressive societies can act in unison because, at some moments, enough of them think the same way. For the Uighurs, brutal oppression is the force binding one to the other. For others in China, the process of coming together is more subtle. 'Ideas sometimes seep into people's minds almost imperceptibly and, over time, become embedded in a population's collective psyche,' writes Jean Nicol, a psychologist and former South China Morning Post columnist. "As a result, people are more united - and stronger - than they appear. 'I recall that my friends and I for decades were asked by people visiting from democratic Western countries, "How can you, a mere handful of powerless individuals, change the regime, when the regime has at hand all the tools of power: the army, the police and the media, when it can convene gigantic rallies to reflect its people's 'support' to the world, when pictures of the leaders are everywhere and any effort to resist seems hopeless and quixotic?"' wrote Vaclav Havel, who knows something about how people under communist governments think. 'My answer was that it was impossible to see the inside clearly, to witness the true spirit of the society and its potential - impossible because everything was forged. In such circumstances, no one can perceive the internal, underground movements and processes that are occurring.' "The Chinese regime can fail because, as we are seeing in Xinjiang, the Party is losing hearts and minds, and, as Havel suggests, a ruling organisation is vulnerable when that happens. In most other parts of China, ethnic tensions are not a factor, but the Communist Party has other problems. Almost nobody believes in its ideology, and everyone can see its failings as a ruling organisation. Outside of minority-inhabited areas, few actively oppose it, but few anywhere enthusiastically support it. The Party stays in place largely due to apathy, fear and a failure to imagine that China can be better." The Guardian noted: "Until 60 years ago Beijing ruled the country's fringes with a distant hand, largely because access was difficult and the economic benefits questionable. That has changed dramatically with the rise of Chinese power and globalising technology. Roads, railways and airports put Lhasa and Urumqi within easy reach of Beijing. The country needs Tibet's water and Xinjiang's oil and gas. "Beijing has strengthened its grip with a programme of rapid economic development, tight controls on religious belief, a big military presence and an influx of Han and Hui migrants." Meanwhile, Reuters reported: "Turkey's Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan said on Wednesday his country will ask the UN Security Council to discuss ways of ending ethnic violence in China's northwestern region of Xinjiang. "Predominantly Muslim Turkey has a non-permanent seat at the Security Council... Uighurs are a Turkic people who share linguistic and cultural bonds with central Asia. " 'We will put the events happening in the Xinjiang Uighur autonomous region onto the agenda of the United Nations' Security Council,' Erdogan told a meeting of the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) in Istanbul."

pwoodward@thenational.ae