Saturday, December 31, 2011

Death on the Silk Road: Uyghurs slaughtered

Pishan Uyghur Pomegranate sellers
Further to my post December 29, some further and shocking information has come to light regarding an incident where at least eight persons, seven Uyghurs and a senior police officer were killed in Xinjiang late on the night of December 28, 2011, in Hotan Prefecture's Pishan ( Uyghur- Guma) county. 

Pishan County and the main town Pishan lies on the southern edge of the Taklamakan desert near the border with Pakistan. It is approximately 200 Ks from Hotan and 250 Ks south west of Kashgar. Pishan County has a population of 220,000 with an overwhelming Uyghur presence believed to be 98%. The area is predominately rural and the main produce is cotton and is renowned for pomegranates. It is an extremely impoverished area.

 Initial reports by the Chinese government claimed a group of Uyghurs had kidnapped two unidentified individuals and were subsequently confronted by Police. The Government further claimed the Uyghurs were armed, though the nature of their armaments was not divulged, and that they resisted arrest resulting in a shoot-out with the deaths of the seven and the wounding of four others by police gunfire. The manner of the death of the policeman was not described. The two kidnapped victims reportedly were rescued.

The Uyghurs involved were said by the government to be part of a “terror gang” and there was speculation by Chinese media that the incident arose out of “Islamic Extremeism” In support of this they cited an alleged recent murder of an Uyghur for consuming alcohol and the fear of Pishan shopkeepers over retribution for selling alcohol.

In a second round of reporting the “kidnapped” individuals were identified as Uyghur shepherds who were waylaid to act as guides by the “terror gang”, who had lost their way whilst attempting to cross over the border into Pakistan

Radio Free Asia has now reported that the “Terror Gang” was in fact a group of people, men, women and children, from Mukula village in Pishan county. The group, it is reported, had been attempting to flee to a foreign country where they could practice their Muslim religion unhindered. One of the dead had been previously imprisoned for three months for “illegal” religious activities.

RFA claims that two of the dead were women and that “Five of the captives are children aged seven to 17 years of age. One child is an elementary school student in second grade. They are being interrogated by the county.”

When asked about the condition of the seven year old child, the chief of the village, from which the group originated, stated he was “still alive,” implying, according to RFA, that he may have been severely injured in the shooting.

RFA state a police officer from the Pishan county Public Security Bureau confirmed to them in a phone interview that the group had been trying to leave China.

“The police reached them at the mountain near Qoshtagh village. At first, they were treated very nicely—the officers simply asked that they give up their plan and return to the village—but the traitors refused and got into an argument with them,” he said. 
“Then they stabbed [police officer] Adil Abduweli, just because of he caught one of the women. After that, our armed forces took over and conducted the operation. One traitor escaped and we are in the midst of an operation to capture him." 
According to the RFA report the village chief said authorities had been keeping details of the incident under wraps in order to “maintain stability” in the community. He said the village was under a security clampdown.

It would seem obvious then that a group of Uyghurs, more than likely containing a family group, had attempted to leave China illegally. Their reason for leaving would overwhelmingly appear to be as a result of religious persecution. 

Having been stopped by police they have reacted contrary to directions, or the police acted inappropriately towards the women of the group, as alluded to in the RFA report, resulting in what can only be described as a massacre. The fact that the dead policeman died as a result of knife injury would attest to the fact that the Uyghurs were not carrying weapons such as guns.

The initial story that they had “kidnapped” two shepherds is possibly correct to the extent that they required guides to get them to the border. Whether the shepherds helped voluntarily will not be known, but it is more than likely, and their status as “kidnapped” has been used by the Chinese authorities to justify the intervention and consequent, and what would appear, excessive use of lethal force against a group armed with little more than traditional Uyghur daggers.

Uyghur Muslims generally practice a moderate form of Islam though in southern Xinjiang, given it's history and proximity to more Islamic practising states such as Pakistan, it is practised more strictly. Nonetheless, even the likes of alcohol consumption is not unknown among the Uyghurs of Kashgar and the wearing of full female head attire appears very flexible.  

This is a case, I would suggest, of a complete over reaction by Chinese security forces that has become way to prevalent of late, vis: Hotan and Kashgar incidents in July of this year.

It is as if the security forces and the government operate with total disregard to basic human rights as concerns the Uyghurs and with impunity of foreign oversight. If it were not for the reporting by RFA, details, as they have been supplied, may never have seen the light of day.

Friday, December 30, 2011

Pishan Incident: Hotan Re-visited?

It has been reported that as a result of a "kidnapping" by an Uyghur "terror gang" Chinese police in Pishan, Xinjiang have been involved in a rescue operation that resulted in the death of seven Uyghurs, one policeman and injuries to four others.

The incident in Pishan, which is a rural cotton farming town in the Hotan Prefecture and near the major city of Hotan, occurred on Wednesday night.

Initial, scanty reports are that two Uyghur shepherds were kidnapped, for an as yet unspecified reason, by a group of Uyghurs variously described as "terrorists" or as members of a "terror gang"

The official government website for Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region reports that
"The assailants resisted arrest and launched assaults, killing one police officer and injuring another,"

Other Chinese media, Xinhua in particular, have speculated that the incident occurred as a result of "Islamic extremism" suggesting that the event may be linked to an alleged recent kidnapping and murder of another Uyghur in Pishan for consuming alcohol. For further emphasis they even have gone as far as to say that local stores are scared of selling alcohol for fear of retribution.

The Uyghur World Congress, an exile group claiming to represent Uyghur people worldwide, has a different spin on the events leading up to the incident. Their spokesman, Dilxat Raxit, has been reported by several news agencies as claiming the incident was triggered by simmering tension between the Uyghurs and Chinese officials over religious matters, with the latter conducting forced searches of Uyghur homes for banned religious material and being responsible for the "disappearance" of several young Uyghur men.

In a striking resemblance to a July incident in Hotan, where 18 Uyghurs were reported killed, Raxit claims several Uyghurs marched on the Pishan police station in protest and it was there that the incident unfolded with the Uyghur casualties coming as a result of being "publicly" shot. Also, in what could be an attempt to reduce dissemination of information of the incident, Raxit claims authorities had started confiscating mobile phones.

In the Hotan incident Chinese officials also claimed a group of Uyghur "terrorists" had stormed the local police station taking several people hostage. One Han woman was killed along with a policeman before a rescue operation was commenced resulting in the official Uyghur death toll of eighteen.

As in the Hotan incident, even though it is early times here, there are several worrying things about the Chinese version of events.

Why are the alleged perpetrators called a "terror gang" as distinct from the more popular "terrorist" group? Are they "terrorists" within the accepted meaning of the word, or, are they a group of people terrorising their neighbours? Semantics, translation or bet hedging?

Why, as in Hotan, do we have one police fatality? Is this "fact" somehow meant to ameliorate the use of seemingly excessive lethal force by the police? Similarly, the use of "hostage" taking and "kidnapping". Again, is this part of an accepted formula for handling incidents that result in such high casualty figures? 

Then, as in Hotan, we have, what seems to be, the obligatory "Islamic Extremism" tie in combined with an Alcohol factor. The Uyghurs practice, generally, a fairly relaxed form of Islam and alcohol consumption, whilst frowned upon, is not unknown even in Kashgar that more closely shares the Hotan areas religious bent.

It would seem that, as in Hotan, all the t's are crossed and i's dotted. It seems so formulaic.

This story bears closer attention, not only for the high casualty rate, but, also for the fact that  in the last several months we have witnessed three episodes involving considerable numbers of Uyghur deaths and, leaving aside Urumqi in 2009, there has not been so many, so deadly and so closely timed  incidents for many decades.

Friday, December 9, 2011

China Organ Harvesting: Some Perspective

A recent article The Xinjiang Procedure revisits a perennial topic of organ harvesting from executed prisoners in China.

 In this lengthy look at organ harvesting the author Ethan Gutmann in The Weekly Standard  focuses on organs being harvested from executed  prisoners in China particularly Uyghur prisoners in Xinjiang. 

It undoubtedly is written to paint an invocative and horrendous picture of the issue, even citing the harvesting of organs from still living prisoners.

This type of article, perennially trotted out, makes for scary reading for those not familiar with the subject. "The Xinjiang Procedure” went 'viral” on Twitter when posted drawing, understandably, much  condemnation of the Chinese regime. A U.S.Congressman, one Mr Pitts, even entered "The Xinjiang Procedure" into the Congressional Record 

By it's nature the article is highly emotive and inflammatory and, given the secrecy that exists in China concerning this issue, totally unable to be independently substantiated or corroborated apart from the word of “eye witnesses” and the prior admission by the Chinese government that legal organ harvesting does, in fact, exist.

This is not to say that there is not a basis for the allegations. In my worldview where there is smoke there is usually fire. Having said that we have to look at such offerings in some perspective.

The issue of organ “harvesting” is not new and it is definitely no state secret. It first came to the west's notice in the 1990's and was publicly admitted to in 2006, by China’s then Vice Minister of Health, Huang Jiefu, who acknowledged that the majority of organs transplanted in China came from executed prisoners. 

 "The Xinjiang Procedure", as stated, is just one of may reports going back to the 1990's. Earlier this century it was widely reported in the Washington Post and other publications. As well it was attested to by a Han Chinese asylum seeking doctor in front of a U.S. Congressional HearingFalun Gong supporters have long attempted to draw attention to similar alleged "illegal harvesting" among their adherents in China. The highly respected Harry Wu and his Laogai Research Foundation, as well, has come out in supporting the assertions that "illegal" organ harvesting from prisoners on death row exists. 

Organ donation rates in China are among the lowest in the world. This is as a direct result of a powerful cultural concept represented by the Chinese idiom "rutu weian," literally meaning "return to earth and find peace," Part of this concept is that a body is to be buried with all body parts where possible, thus, to donate body parts would run in direct opposition to this deeply ingrained cultural concept.

This rate is further impacted upon, given the tight time frames involved in organ  transplantation, by the belief that few, if any, Chinese hospitals would be equipped to handle such procedures, or, that there is the sophisticated computer software, databases and networks in place to co-ordinate these transplants as there exists in more developed health care countries.

Given the foregoing, removing organs from consenting prisoners where teams of doctors can make all arrangements with the donor and recipient, down to the last minute and well ahead of time, unlike in the case of accidental or natural deaths, would seem to be an ideal situation. The donor has an avenue to “atone” for his life “sins” and the recipient can be identified, prepared and ready to go at a predetermined time.

Whilst there are no government provided figures available it is widely thought by various human rights groups that executions in China run at 5,000 plus per annum. 

 The Dui Hua Foundation, for example, estimated that China executed between 5,000 and 6,000 people in 2007, down from 10,000 in 2005. In 2009. Amnesty International estimated 1718 executions took place during 2008, but, with the rider that the figure was likely to be much higher. The rate will further decrease as China has, this year, reduced the number of offences that demand mandatory capital punishment.

We therefore, at 5,000 say, have a potential donor base of only .0036% of the population and then only if all prisoners consented. It would hardly seem a voluminous harvest when viewed in those terms, albeit, still potentially lucrative.

Obviously organ removal occurs. The questions that leap to mind, if all is handled above board and
 legally, are: 

  • Given the low volume to be sourced from executed prisoners who decides who the recipients are? Obviously some dirt poor farmer would not be on the top of the list. 
  • What is the criteria for selection? High ranking Party members, the rich, foreigners? 

But even then, whilst these questions obviously pose moral considerations, in the final analysis they are irrelevant if there exists consent on the part of the donor and a real need on the part of the recipient, and, that the organ removal is done post mortem.

The real questions from my point of view is  the question of “consent

China maintains, and has laws to back it up,  that involuntary organ harvesting is illegal under Chinese law though, under a 1984 regulation, it is legal to remove organs from executed criminals with the prior consent of the criminal or permission of next of kin. This is in line with organ donation protocols worldwide and undoubtedly the Chinese authorities have "signed" consent documents from all prisoners who had organs harvested.

But the problem we face not only with this issue but others such such as alleged forced abortions and sterilisations as a consequence of China's Population policy (a.k.a “One Child Policy”) is that there is no government transparency nor independent oversight.

This is a two edged sword. The lack of transparency and oversight allows anyone to make any allegations against the government, as in this case, with the “evidence” being totally hearsay. On the other hand this could very well allow the Chinese government and /or corrupt officials to perpetrate the atrocities attributed to them in this article.

It goes without saying that where there is unquenchable demand and little supply there will be large money on offer to attempt to satisfy some of that demand. "Class 101 corruption and criminality". In the case of China and organ donation there is virtually no supply other than from executed prisoners. And, in the case of China, in certain quarters, little morality or ethics when it comes to money, especially when it concerns political prisoners and, more especially, when those prisoners are Uyghurs.

There is little co-incidence that the article is entitled  “The Xinjiang Procedure” for if the incidents of coerced consent, as alleged, occur then the Uyghur are prime targets. Firstly, most will be political prisoners the lowest of the low in the eyes of the 
Han Chinese . The Uyghurs are Turkic and generally considered by the Han to be lesser beings and, thirdly, because, as Uyghurs, and given China's history of subjugation and deadly repression of them, the Uyghur people generally are less likely to complain for fear of retribution and, even if they did, very unlikely to be heard. 

And, lastly, we should look at the previously mentioned cultural concept of "rutu weian," which would seemingly make Han Chinese prisoners less likely to consent to organ donation even under duress, their families more likely to be heard in complaint and a greater deference afforded to them, as a result of "rutu weian," by those kindred Han involved in any possible coercion, as compared to that consideration being afforded to the Uyghurs.

As readers and observers we must expose ourselves to reports such as “The Xinjiang Procedure”  We must critically examine them and not take them out of hand as being correct. On the other hand, we must weigh up all the possibilities, the evidence available and, on the balance of probabilities, lean to one side or the other. 

We know that in China organ harvesting occurs but it is not illegal unless there is no "consent" and that the procedure occurs post-mortem. As in many countries in the world, prisoners may consent to organ donation. Therefore there should be no shock/ horror reaction where that is concerned.

The allegation that organ removal happens, more than occasionally, pre-mortem by design obviously would be a major concern but the question that begs to be answered is why would this need to be done? Given the lack of transparency and independent oversight if there was a medical reason to take organs pre-mortem what is stopping those concerned just heavily sedating the prisoner? Why run the risk of shooting the prisoner and hoping it is not fatal.

As to the use of coercion to obtain prisoner consent once again the question is: why? To obtain an indecipherable signature on a document that will never see light of day? Perhaps Han Chinese could  pressure for proof regarding their kin's consent, though highly unlikely, but most assuredly the Uyghur would not for reasons aforementioned.

If the illegal harvesting of organs exists, that is, with no consent and pre-mortem, does the Chinese Government know about it? Or, is it limited to local corrupt officials involved in trafficking for monetary gain or political favours? 

As to the end use of the organs does the government condone it as a reward to loyal cadres suffering liver, kidney failures or the like? Even if this is the case, it is not  illegal per se.   

Write about it till you are blue in the face. The Chinese government does not need to coerce consent, but, may well fabricate consent, this will never be proven. The Chinese government does not need to go through a play of half killing a prisoner to ensure he is alive for the transplantation procedure, those that would be involved  are a little more sophisticated for that and the veil of secrecy too great to require such theatrics.

"The Xinjiang Procedure" falls very much in the category of "if it bleeds it leads", sensationalist journalism. It offers nothing new and is based totally on uncorroborated hearsay.

My concern with this whole issue, and one I have had for quite a while, is to what level are the vulnerable Uyghur and the likes of the Falun Gong susceptible to "steal to order" type sentencing arranged by corrupt officials with a view to obtaining saleable supplies?

Thursday, November 24, 2011

"Good Cop, Bad Cop": China's Global Times

The Global Times newspaper of China has been much in the news of late being heavily criticised for it's bellicose, belligerent and highly nationalistic editorials.

 As a subsidiary of the People's Daily, the official news organ of the Chinese Communist Party, the Global Times has taken over, what Asia Sentinel  has described, the "Bad Cop" role from the People's Daily and is undoubtedly used by the Chinese Communist Party to pass, de facto, messages that diplomatic niceties prevent the government from saying out loud.

Asia Sentinel recently posted an excellent article entitled China's Foreign Policy Bulldozer where it looks at the role of the Global Times in China's Foreign Policy.

Asia Sentinel argues that whilst not directly under the control of the CCP, coming under the direction of the People's Daily, it has a position of "denyability" being arguably at more than arms length from official Government/Party lines. It's highly nationalistic pronouncements and sabre rattling editorials speak very plainly to the target market whilst allowing the Government to play "good cop" in dampening any negative response. Nonetheless, the points have already been made.

Some examples are provided in the article of editorials recently

For instance, demands made within the last two months alone include strikes against US weapon systems if Taiwan purchases them as well as against the Vietnamese and Filipinos for defending their littoral interests in the South China Sea and even the South Koreans for having detained Chinese fishing boats.

Asia Sentinel opines

Allowing the Global Times to articulate hard-line nationalistic views enables the government to remind its foreign policy interlocutors the pressure it – as the moderate voice of China in comparison – is under domestically and thus permits it to ask for more concessions from foreign governments without appearing too aggressive.”

Another alluding to the Global Times role in China's Foreign Policy is Elizabeth C Economy in her Council on Foreign Relations article Beijings message to Asia: if you can't join 'em, beat 'em 

Finally, an excellent look at Global Times is by Christina Larson in her recent Foreign Policy article China's Fox News  where she takes a very in depth look at the workings of Global Times particularly focusing on the  editor-in-chief Hu Xijin.

But despite western negativity concerning the Global Times I believe it is not without it's good points, one example, as Larson points out, is it's stance against corruption

Given how much of what Global Times prints is obvious anathema to liberal Western readers, it's worth noting that another recurring topic is criticism of China's own culture of official corruption (so long as no Western government is allowed to look good by comparison).

I also find that, in some areas, reporting is quite balanced, even to the point of being almost 'open hearted'. A recent article that had resonance for me was  Democracy doesn't have to start from revolt which seems to implore the reader (read the west as target market) to understand China's road to democracy. It makes a reasoned case for understanding "Democracy with Chinese characteristics"

Many questions can be asked about the Global Times. Is it just a tool of the CCP or is it's editorial stance purely a result of market positioning, with profit it's major concern? Is it's editorial stance simply a product of the guiding influence of it's Editor-in-Chief?

There are no obvious answers other than "all of the above" and perhaps many more to boot. 

Whatever may be the case, the Global Times provides a further insight into the mindset of China, be it the government, the  party, or, the people. It deserves to be read, albeit with a critical eye. So many western commentators look to western media in their attempt to understand China. The likes of the New York Times, Telegraph and Guardian UK, FP et al. are read and quoted as being the final words on understanding China. These are all valuable resources, don't get me wrong, but the old saying  "straight from the horses mouth" is where the real story can be best heard and best understood and that is the Chinese media for all it's constraints and peccadilloes.

Sunday, October 16, 2011

The Last Uyghur Town

As Xinjiang irreversibly changes one town ultimately will become the last 'Uyghur town'.

Kashgar, without doubt, is the most well known 'Uyghur town' in Xinjiang. By Uyghur town I refer to towns/cities that have a majority Uyghur population. Urumqi, the capital of Xinjiang, for example, surrendered this classification over a hundred years ago as has many other towns throughout Xinjiang. According to the 2000 census, of the 16 major urban areas in Xinjiang, 12 had non majority Uyghur populations. 

Kashgar, though, is rapidly changing. Going is the 'Old Town', of adobe brick houses with pigeon roosts on roofs and small alleys, of no running water and sewerage. The Chinese government is tearing it down to make way for more modern, sanitary and earthquake proof tenement housing and in the process relocating almost one quarter of a million Uyghurs.

Still operating, but for how long, is the iconic 'Kashgar Sunday Markets' where local Uyghurs and those from outside Kashgar have met weekly, for hundreds of years, to trade and socialise. Images of dust, donkey carts and small scale agriculture and animal husbandry.

Going too, though more slowly, is the Uyghur as the ethnic majority. Whilst, at the moment remaining overwhelmingly Uyghur, as the Special Economic Zone takes off, and it will, and with train lines and highways providing transport, the Han will continue to come in their hundreds of thousands as they have done so, in increasing numbers, since the train line came to Kashgar in 1999.

Some in the west decry the passing of the 'old Kashgar' but perhaps for selfish reasons. It epitomised the image of the far flung oasis town, of camel trains and 19th century Colonial British Raj, shadowy Russian figures and queue tailed mandarins, The 'Great Game' of intrigue and espionage at the very farthest outposts of Empire, be it British or Czarist. Mysterious turbaned Muslim men, daggers at their waists, milling, seemingly in deep intrigue and more than likely ready to cut your throat. Beautiful Central Asian women, dark and alluring, dancing, swirling as if like a desert eddy, all stepping straight out of the pages of a Rudyard Kipling novel

This is what the west was raised on and that is what, by and large, it wants to see. But time advances and with China having, after two millennia, finally consolidated it's presence in Xinjiang, things have, and will continue to change at a breakneck rate in Xinjiang. As Urumqi has not been an Uyghur majority town for over a hundred years, so, in the future, Kashgar, and every town close to a train line or natural resource, will follow suite.

Every town perhaps one. The last 'Uyghur town' in Xinjiang will ultimately be Hotan.


Hotan (a.k.a. Khotan, Hetian) is an oasis town/city 1,509kms from Urumqi, and some 519 k ms south-east of Kashgar. It lays in the shadows of the Kunlan mountains, neighbours Tibet, India and Pakistan and abuts the unforgiving Taklamaken desert.

The 'Uyghurs' found their way to Hotan around 1006 CE displacing the local Khotanese, a famous Buddhist Indo-European speaking people, By the time of Marco Polo's visit to Hotan between 1271and 1275 the Uyghurs had assimilated the original Khotanese and converted to Islam. Marco Polo remarked on this in his journals when he noted the people in Hotan were "all followers of Mahommet."

Hotan Prefecture has a population of 1.8 million with the city home to 120 thousand people. The Uyghur comprise some 97% of the total. This is a higher Uyghur population ratio than Kashgar Prefecture (89 percent and falling) or in any other prefecture in Xinjiang.

The reasons that it remains a majority Uyghur area and should remain so for some time is twofold. Firstly, it has very little to offer economically. The ever expanding Taklamakan Desert, the aridity of the land and the lack of sustainable water supply makes it a less than appealing area. It is also bereft of any sizeable industry having for many years survived on small scale agriculture, cottage-like textile industries and the Jade trade. Secondly, it's remoteness. It has only, as recently as of June 2011, been linked via a train with Kashgar, the preferred mode of transport for China's Migrant workers.

The Hotan Uyghurs are Muslim and, like most Uyghurs, the Khotanliks follow the Sunni traditions of Islam, a moderate and more secular form of the faith. They do, however, like the Uyghur in Kashgar, practice it slightly more strictly than in the north as evidenced by the women's wearing of head scarves, hajibs and the occasional full face niqab.

This can be put down to historical reasons as the south of Xinjiang has been long influenced by it's proximity to Central Asian and Arabic Islamic sources and Islamic Pakistan where some Uyghurs have for long gone, when permitted, to Islamic schools for religious tuition. As well the relative isolation and the lack of external and 'moderating' influences experienced by the more worldly north.

Despite this proclivity for stricter feminine Islamic attire the people of Hotan exhibit no more religious devotion than any other Muslims in Xinjiang.

Economy and Outlook

Employment wise, 70 percent of Hotan's population is in agriculture, 20 percent in government, 8 percent in wholesale or other trades, and 2 percent in private retail such as hotels, shops, and restaurants.

The main industry in Hotan is agriculture; cotton, fruit and silk farming, followed by textile manufacture and to a lesser degree the Jade industry. The wholesale and retail Jade trade is conducted almost exclusively by Han Chinese and despite the high quality of Hotan Jade and the high prices being commanded in domestic and international markets, little of the rewards seems to stick in Hotan.

Tourism has not played a large part in Hotan's economy to date due to distances, transport logistics and tourist time constraints given the more attractive destinations elsewhere, but, with the recent coming of the railway and upgrades to the airport, this should see an increase in the future, especially, as tourists seek out the more 'Uyghur/Silk Road experience' disappearing in Kashgar and other areas. As well, Hotan is home to some historic Buddhist archaeological sites, and this, marketed right, would attract tourists.

The Hotan area, therefore, is one of the poorest in Xinjiang. Government plans to boost the region's economy have so far failed to reap any real dividends. As an article in the Financial Times reported as recently as July 2011 a large industrial park built some time ago by the government to attract businesses remains mainly unlet. Given poor employment opportunities many young Uyghurs leave the area and join China's migrant worker population seeking employment elsewhere in Xinjiang and China.

Problems for economic development are further exacerbated by a severe and worsening water crisis combined with advancing desertification. Due to severe water problems the government has put in place restrictions on jade extraction from Hotan's river systems impacting adversely on that industry. Any expansion of existing agriculture e.g. cotton farming or extractive fuel and mineral industries, not to mention any significant increases in population, will have hugely negative consequences for the local ecology, economy and people.

All in all, the potential for growth in Hotan, as compared to Kashgar and other areas of Xinjiang appears to be very limited and this may go some way to preserving the existing way of life of the local Uyghur people. It is unlikely, given the foregoing, that Han in-migration will be a significant factor in the near future, despite the advent of the railway, as incentives and economic opportunities do not seem to exist at a level to be attractive. The Han Chinese follow the money trail and given the low percentage of Han Chinese in Hotan, the money trail stops at Kashgar.

Hotan: The Last Uyghur Town

In terms of the larger sized Xinjiang cities/towns it would appear that only Hotan will survive as a unique Uyghur town into the future. Unique in terms of the majority of the population and, therefore, the general culture of the town remaining predominantly Uyghur. 

Whether this is a good thing or not is highly debatable. On one hand development of the likes of Urumqi and Kashgar have brought many improvements to the life of the average Uyghur, on the other hand it has weakened, though certainly not destroyed, their culture and brought with it social unease between Han and Uyghur.

Development, as has been seen throughout Xinjiang with the attendant increase in Han in-migration has, it must be said, marginalised some Uyghur, especially the young, who rail against Han rising eminence in areas they see as being historically theirs.

 China's 'Develop the west' policy of the last ten years is undoubtedly succeeding but it is, by and large, missing the Uyghurs. Due to it's focus on capital intensive industry the Uyghur have not the language or education skills to gain employment in these types of industry leading to increased in-migration to fill the breach. As well, advances in agricultural output, the traditional Uyghur area of employment, has come not with increased labour demand, but through greater mechanisation, further compounding problems.

But some Uyghur's response through passive resistance, evidenced by attitudes towards learning Mandarin, participating in education generally and small acts of civil disobedience, are precluding them from fully partaking of the benefits on offer, admittedly ones inherently prejudiced against them in terms of share, but, benefits nonetheless.

Instead some turn towards alcohol, drugs and crime, major problems among the Uyghur, and in doing so do more harm to themselves, their culture and identity as a people than many Han policies do. One only has to look at the Kazakhs, and Kirghiz whose achievements, measured against all criteria, are far greater than the Uyghur, These peoples are most certainly minorities with as much right to call Xinjiang home as does the Uyghur. They, too, are Turkic and mainly Muslim, but present with few of the problems that afflict the Uyghur, especially Uyghur youth.

Progress, development and change is a given fact of life. One may pine for the 'good old days' that is natural, but, were they truly the good old days? In 25 years time if you offered an Uyghur to return to his adobe home without running water and sewerage would anyone think he would accept?

The Uyghur Paradox.

It may seem paradoxical but Hotan becoming the last 'Uyghur town', and likely to hold that distinction for some time, does not give reason for celebration. It is symptomatic of a town left behind.

 It means that the people of Hotan are not participating to any degree in the benefits afforded other areas of Xinjiang and China where income, living standards and quality of life have increased dramatically these last 30 years. If it were then it would not hold the distinction of being an “Uyghur town' for the Han would have followed the money trail and the train line as they always have.

Like in Kashgar, and elsewhere, run down adobe houses without basic utilities, mule carts for transportation and barefooted Uyghur children may appeal to western tourists but it is evidence that for many Uyghur the economic boom in their historical land has not attached it's benefits to them.

Has that time come in Xinjiang when we should not wish for 'Uyghur towns' of yore but just prosperous and harmonious towns? Towns where everyone partakes of the fruits of industry and growth? Each retaining their culture, albeit, within a different set of circumstances? Not yearn for the old but embrace the new?

I think, for a majority of Uyghur, that day is dawning. That the time has come for change and, generally, I believe, it is being accepted and should be encouraged.

I do not think the Uyghur culture will be destroyed or subsumed in accepting this proposition, quite the opposite, that by attaining their rightful place economically, the culture of the Uyghur will not only be strengthened but greatly enhanced.

Sunday, October 9, 2011

Xinjiang violence reflects broader global context

Global Times, a Chinese state run newspaper, has published an interview with Dr Elizabeth Van Wie Davis relating to Xinjiang and Uyghur unrest in the region.

Dr Davis is described as a US based scholar previously at the Asia-Pacific Centre for Security Studies and now a director of Liberal Arts and International Studies at the Colorado School of Mines.

Whilst I have heard of her as the author of the book
Islam, Oil, and Geopolitics: Central Asia after September 11 and of a paper Uyghur Muslim Ethnic Separatism in Xinjiang, China   (PDF) I am not totally familiar with her work. One would believe, however, that with her credentials and published body of work that she would have a fair understanding of the issues relating to the Uyghur people in Xinjiang and as such offer a balanced and reasoned perspective. This, however, does not seem to be the case in the linked to article.

Now the Global Times is the 'bad cop' in China's stable of CCP controlled media having taken over, to a great degree, that role previously played by the People's Daily. It is the 'knock em down, take no prisoners' type and is used to deliver the hard line on the Chinese governments thoughts on international relations.

This fact is pretty much universally known. To be interviewed by Global Times invites being used as part of the Chinese government propaganda machine. You just don't get covered if you take anything more than a mild  critical tone, which will be lost, of course, in greater verbiage in support of CCP contentions. They do it reasonably often especially concerning Tibet and the Uyghur.

Dr Davis was posed a series of questions which I list below.

GT: How should we view the violent incidents in Xinjiang?

Her response essentially is that it is either terrorism or separatism. Simple as that.

GT: The Turkistan Islamic Party recently claimed that it was responsible for the terrorist attacks in July in Hotan and Kashgar. But the World Uyghur Congress stated the offenders are not terrorists at all. Why the contradiction?

With little ado Dr Davis replies that this is a stock standard response from the WUC. No ifs or buts, no call for case by case analysis, just that a stock standard knee jerk response by the WUC.

GT: Are the roots of conflict in Xinjiang ethnic, religious, or economic? Is the “rule of law” rather than an ethnic approach a better solution? 

Whilst conceding that 'rule of law" is a better approach than ethnic based solutions she blames international forces as the root of Xinjiang's troubles, " a new religious and ethnic revivalism that is spanning the world" Well, for the life of me, I can not see some semi literate, poverty stricken farmer in an arid field miles from Hotan or Kashgar just itching to get on the bandwagon of this new 'revivalism'.

Then again for no reason relating to the context of the question she launches another criticism of the WUC.

Finally a doozie of a question from GT and, for a change, a reasonable response.

GT: How much can economic prosperity help heal Xinjiang’s wounds? 

Well, if I was from  the Government propaganda and media departments I would be having the reporter and editor posting their next pieces from the newly opened GT office in the middle of the Taklamakan Desert!

Look at the question and it's inclusion of  "heal Xinjiang's wounds" ? Does Xinjiang have wounds? Who inflicted these so called "wounds"? Unlike a malaise a wound is not caught it is inflicted, does the reporter unknowingly allow his true beliefs to subconsciously emerge through the stock standard Party line?

As I said, Dr Davis' response is reasonable. She calls for greater participation of the ethnic groups in government and a greater role for women. She also advises that economic benefits need to be shared more equally. On both points I have no argument.

Now, Dr Davis may well be sitting somewhere with head in hands if this interview has been misreported or skewed by GT editors, if not, she can still keep that pose for other reasons.

Xinjiang violence reflects broader global context

Book Review: Xinjiang: China's Muslim Borderland

Xinjiang: China's Muslim Borderland / edited by S. Frederick Starr. New York: M.E Sharpe Inc, 2004. ISBN 0-7656-1318-2. P.484. US$23.00 Amazon.

Xinjiang: China's Muslim Borderland  when it was published in 2004, brought together some of the leading names in the fields of history, culture, economics, politics and anthropology to provide as comprehensive an insight into Xinjiang, as had previously existed.

This book was borne of a period when, for the first time, Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region (XUAR) in China's far northwest came to international attention as a result of several factors such as the dissolution of the Soviet Socialist Republic, the consequent setting up of several independent Central Asian states, '9/11' and deadly ethnic unrest in Xinjiang itself.

Prior to the 1980's English language scholarship was sparse concerning Xinjiang. Most scholarship till then had been carried out by mainly Russian, Japanese, Swedish, Chinese and Turkic academics and, for a variety of reasons, not easily accessible. Apart from the 'Silk Road' and 'The Great Game' little was widely known in the English speaking world about the region or it's inhabitants. It was quite literally in the middle of no-where and that, combined with the then isolationist policies of the Communist regime, precluded a great deal of interest and research.

The 1980's and China's 'Opening up' brought about change and several scholars took the opportunity to travel to Xinjiang and see, hear and explore, first hand, the history and culture of the region. Some of those early 'pioneers' are contributors to this book and are, for 'Xinjiang/China watchers', well known. Professors Dru Gladney and James Millward come top of mind but they are joined in this book by a group of contributors who bring a wealth of experience and scholarship to this collaborative offering.

Xinjiang is big. Not only is it big in size - as we are told in the book it covers 1/6 of China's land mass and is three times the size of France- but very big in it's history.

It is a little cliché'd, but nonetheless true, that Xinjiang has stood at the very crossroads of eastern and western culture for two millennium. Through the trade routes that transversed the region for hundreds of years came and went incredible historic figures, peoples, ideologies, religions, trade goods, science and culture. 

It was also, despite what the Chinese may claim, a Central Asian region where for centuries a great number of tribes and Khanates jockeyed with each other for supremacy, most times, with the seemingly breakneck speed of a Chinese checkers game.

We have the more later history of the Ming, and Qing dynasties, the involvement of the likes of Great Britain and Imperial and Soviet Russia in the 'Great Game' and the first Chinese Republic. 

Then, the great influence and momentous changes concomitant with the coming of Mao, the Chinese Communist Party and the People's Republic of China.

There is much ground to cover and also, studying and attempting to understand Xinjiang is fraught with difficulties especially for the beginner. Not only is scholarship reasonably limited as a result of some of the factors I have allude to, but, the very first thing a newcomer to Xinjiang will quickly come to understand, and then to almost fear, is the multiplicity of names and spelling relating to the nomenclature of every aspect of Xinjiang. The Chinese terms, the Uyghur terms, the Russian terms, the list goes on and on making transliteration and conformity problematic to say the least.

I will turn now to a closer look at this offering. 

Firstly, the subject matter is too huge to be covered in one book and that is by no way a criticism. So much history, so much disinformation, so many gaps in our knowledge. As Starr states so very succinctly in his introduction:

“Bluntly, there is hardly any 'fact' concerning Xinjiang that is so solid, no source of information that is so independent and no analysis based on such overwhelming evidence that someone does not hotly contest it's validity or meaning” (p.6)

That having been said, the contributors do a very good job in introducing and exploring a multitude of topics in terms that a non academic can readily understand. History, Chinese policies, demography, economics and of course the effects of all the above on the 'indiginous' peoples and the issues thus arising, none the less, those of 'separatism', 'terrorism', health, education, basic human rights of freedom of religion and  association and 'Rule of law'.

Being someone who believes that he is, whilst not an expert or a scholar, one with a reasonable understanding of the subject matter, I will quickly look at just a couple of things that the book has forced me to reconsider about my knowledge and perspective. 

Space prohibits me from exploring all the interesting tidbits suffice to say I was forced to ponder and reconsider many more things in the reading of this book than the two I will quickly look at.

Before that, to say that I am biased toward the Uyghur people would be a fair assessment, I have followed their plight very closely over the last 15 years and have witnessed, from afar, much suffering and much maligning of a people that, by all the evidence that has been put in front of me and through personal friendships with Uyghur people, are, by and large, peaceful and fascinating. But, that having been said, I am not blinded by that bias. They are, like the Han Chinese, human beings with both good and bad among them.

The two areas I will quickly look at relates to the military in Xinjiang and Xinjiang's economic development.

The chapter on China's military and strategy was an area where I feel I have been disabused of certain convictions. My belief that militarily Xinjiang is of extreme importance to China strategically and this would therefore be evident in troop concentrations and military strategy does not seem to be the case. Yitzhak Shicor a professor of Political Science specializing in military matters and the East argues convincingly, with the limited source material available, that Xinjiang was (is?) not as highly militarised as I had thought and that strategically China is willing to adopt a Stalinist “Burnt earth policy” in the defence of Beijing. Logical in retrospect.

Another area is China's “Develop the West” policy that has been in place the last ten odd years and one that I had to re-think. 

My belief, long held, that such development, whilst causing some dislocation for the Uyghur, would ultimately be beneficial may not be the case, especially in the short to medium term. The capital intensive nature of developments perforce are excluding proportional Uyghur representation in the benefits because the Uyghur's intransigence re learning Mandarin is working against them in gaining employment in these new developments. This is compounded with the run off of more Han being required to in-migrate to man the breach. A double edged sword for the Uyghur adding to their feeling of alienation and one, I believe, that was not unforeseen, or at least, could not have gone unnoticed by Chinese government planners!

The question of Uyghur 'separatism', 'terrorism' and 'Political Islamism' is covered quite well given the constraints but would not hold anything new for other than a casual observer but rather re-enforces the serious doubts about their representation by the Chinese government.  Well worth reading nonetheless.

All in all this book does have much to offer the newcomer and some more seasoned observers. Unfortunately, it is dated being published in 2004 and yet to be revised, however, even that does not detract from it's utility as the issues current then remain pretty much so today.

Is there western bias in the writings? Overall it would be understandable if there were but, no, I feel given the information that was available at the time it is fairly even handed in both it's analysis and representation of all issues.

The book is not overly burdened with graphs or pretty pictures but there is some statistical data relating to demographics and economics albeit, as I stated, dated.

All in all as we stand here today, even almost a decade after publication, if you only read one book in an attempt to have a general but insightful exposure to Xinjiang then this would have to be the one. It covers all the salient areas and it covers them more than adequately

Let us hope it will be revised sometime in the not too distant future, my order is ready to be placed!

Sunday, October 2, 2011

China And Me: On Her 62nd birthday

China and me: The beginning

The People's Republic of China was "born" October 1, 1949 and I was born July 1957.

I have been interested in China for some 15 years, coming to her by sheer destiny through  a person that I met on the Internet.

She was a 16 year old girl from Urumqi, Xinjiang and how and why she contacted me through the old Yahoo chat rooms remains a mystery to me, maybe she was attracted to my nom de plume Windwhisper. She had passable written English skills and she contacted me after school and weekends from an Internet chat room. Mainly, I am sure,  for the thrill of speaking to a westerner and to improve her English.

 I asked her to bring her mother the next time to talk to me so I could be assured she knew and approved of her daughter chatting with an older man, albeit one many thousands of miles away. This she did and we went on to develop a friendship that lasts to this day. I followed her travails in boarding school in Beijing, her complaints about Chinese cooking, the SARS and her move back home, her university days, again in Beijing and now her new life in the United States. I have had the pleasure of speaking on the phone to her but unfortunately not of meeting her

Her name is Xierinay and had a screen name “Sweetmoon” and I, knowing nothing really about China, had naturally assumed that she was Han until one day for some reason she said “I am not Chinese you know, I am Uyghur”, before she could elaborate she ran out of Internet time and closed out.

What the hell is an Uyghur? I thought to myself, and how can you live in China and not be Chinese?

Well, to cut a long story short, meeting her and her statement set me on an incredible odyssey of new friendships and seeking knowledge, not only about the Uyghur people, but China generally.

China and me: The Nineties

The '90's were an incredible time for anyone interested in the Uyghurs and China. The breakup of the U.S.S.R. and the setting up of Central Asian Republics, China's response and the Yinning  (Ghulja) massacre of 1997 and general unrest caused international interest in Xinjiang and the Uyghurs.

Human rights issues in China were huge at the time. Tibet, "One Child Policy", the economy and ongoing mine disasters where all big news

Tibet had long been a cause celebre but, like me, the world really knew nothing about China's Xinjiang or the Uyghurs. Unlike today where there are countless numbers of books on the topic, in those days, English language scholarship was incredibly limited with Professor Colin Mackerras of Australia and the then rising Dru Gladney of the U.S. being the important sources. Scholarship was mainly coming out of Russia, Japan and Sweden and English translations were few and far between.

The Internet too was extremely barren. Toledo University, Idaho U.S. ran a website that was the number one independent site for the Uyghur and information about Xinjiang but mostly concerned with history and culture. There were, however, many Uyghur ex pat websites fuelled by rightful indignation over the Yinning and other  incidents and buoyed by the possibility that independence of Xinjiang may have been possible given the events in the former Soviet states. Such names as  Uighur_L, Uyghur American Association,, Uyghur Human Rights Coalition, UNPO and the East Turkistan National Congress (now World Uyghur Congress)

Radio Free Asia (which this week celebrated it's 15th birthday) Epoch Times, NYT and Asia Times Online were the mainstream go to sources for not only Uyghur news but also, obviously, Chinese news generally.

China on the other hand was well serviced on the net. The coming of blogging brought with it hundreds of sites on China. I remember when I started my first blog “UygurWorld” (later to become China Letter {Mk1}) I aspired to be a “Peking Duck” or one of the other great Blogs of the time. With the rise of Facebook, Twitter etc. combined with the loss of the “exotic” aura surrounding China, the art of blogging about China is dying out with few worthy blogs still around.

China and me: The Present

I would like now to make some observations and conclusions on China that I have come to know over these last 15 odd years.

So imperfect was China in those early days of our "relationship" that I could easily write two 1,500 word blog posts daily criticising her over the Uyghurs, Tibet, mine deaths, countless executions, total lack of any adherence to a “Rule of Law”, poverty and any number of human rights breaches. If there had been a Twitter back then I think I would have worn out two keypads a week.

But that is not the case any longer. Whether I have mellowed with age or China has improved remarkably or, a combination of both, I find myself viewing China differently and I find that I approach every issue with a view to looking at it in an as unbiased way as I possibly can, to attempt to see both sides of the story and to put it into a much greater context.

China has fundamentally changed and it has changed not only for the better but at an astonishing rate.

Of course, we are all aware of China's economy and the rapid and ongoing transformation. Some have commented that we are witnessing a change so historically important and so mammoth in proportion that, in future, the Industrial Revolution will pale against  it in it's relative place in history. Of that I have no doubt.

We have also seen incredible strides in all aspects of the average Chinese person's life. Education, poverty reduction, health and medical, work safety, life spans and many more.

As an example, when I first started out I was amazed, saddened and genuinely angered by the state of China's mine safety. Tens of thousands dying yearly. Every day a new report, ten dead here 25 there. I railed against it in my blog posts. No-one seemed to care, the Chinese Government, the international community, no-one. 

Today things have changed remarkably. China has confronted the problem and has achieved incredible results in decreasing the number of deaths and injuries, not only in absolute terms, but, even more importantly, realtively, China's coal output has increased significantly but so has death rate reduction. An amazing result given the greater “context” I alluded to earlier, a context, in this instance, of greed, self interest and corruption, not to mention China's insatiable need for more and more coal. 

But, China, to a great degree and to her credit, has put safety more to the fore despite it's actions impacting on much needed output. In “context” commendable to say the least

We have seen positive, if not perfect, moves forward in human rights, “rule of law”, government transparency and even democracy, albeit with Chinese characteristics. Yes, we have issues ongoing, of that there is no doubt. Religious freedom, censorship, land grabs, persecution of intellectuals and artists, treatment of migrant workers all jump immediately to mind. As does corruption which is rampant and unlikely to be beaten and, of course, extremely serious environmental degradation and the ever present prospects of civil unrest.

The “new tough kid” on the block attitude with regards to international diplomacy and the South China Sea issue does not do China any favours but it is no more than that; a “new kid” flexing some new muscle whilst harbouring deep national insecurities. In the short to medium term China poses no appreciable threat to anyone but herself.

China and the impact of her policies on Tibetan and Uyghur cultural/religious identity and self determination remains a major bug bear. There is no doubt that Chinese policy vis a vis the Uyghurs and Tibetans has positively impacted on their health, life span, infant mortality rates, and education. No one possibly could argue against these markers.

But, on the other hand, for whatever reason, even after two millennia of interaction at many levels China can not, or chooses not (which is probably more to the point) to see that a new bridge, a satellite TV dish or a new toaster does not satisfy the Uyghurs and Tibetans spiritual needs. And I don't mean spiritual only in terms of religion. I mean the spirit at the very core of an individual's or collective's total existence. It is certainly a nebulous consideration but of no little import.

So, China and I have both aged together since she was seven and I was born. We have learnt lessons, we have made right decisions and wrong, we have faltered, sometimes failed, but more times, I believe, have had a modicum of success. At least succeeded within the context of  our raison d'etre. In China's case a context so immense in terms of her history and demographics that few of us can really even pretend to understand. 

She has a long and tortuous path ahead, one that will be beset with immense difficulty and challenges, but, one that I think she just may just be able to handle.