Thursday, September 22, 2011

"Catch-22 of Xinjiang as a gateway": I Don't Think So.

This linked to article from Asia Times Online attempts to look at the possible problems facing both China and the Uyghur people as the former moves forward in it's aim to make Kashgar a Special Economic Zone and Xinjiang a revitalised gateway, a new "Silk Road", to Central Asia and other adjoining regions.

The author focuses rightly on the possible effects 
of the Chinese Government's plans on the Uyghur people, especially those in Kashgar, but generally throughout Xinjiang. He lists their concerns as being twofold: the potential loss of cultural identity and the possibility that the Uyghurs will not benefit to the extent that the Han will.  

He also attempts to make a point that this plan is perhaps a two edged sword, that China could be exposing itself to a rise in religious extremism, escalation of "separatist" feelings and increased terrorism both domestic and international. In other words China is in a "Catch- 22" situation and could see itself in a position where

"..increasing focus on economic prosperity opens up a gateway to Uyghur militancy."

Both of these assertions regarding the possible impact of economic advancement show that the Author has only a limited understanding of Xinjiang, the Chinese Government and the Uyghur people.

Firstly, he seems to infer that the Uyghur concerns are something quite new when, in fact, they have been around for a considerable period of time, increasing since the Cultural Revolution when Han in-migration dramatically picked up.

He illustrates the concern to a loss of cultural heritage with the tearing down of certain sections of Kashgar's "Old Town". 

The loss of sections of the "Old Town"  is regrettable and will undoubtedly have some of the consequences the author refers to, however, this action is not directed against the Uyghur per se. The Chinese government has a belief that areas such as these, regardless of were they are situated, or their historical or cultural importance, must be torn down, we only need to look at what they are doing to the Hutongs in Beijing. They argue that these areas are unsafe, unsanitary and, in the case of Kashgar, pose a safety threat due to being earthquake prone.

The Chinese Government's position is very hard thing to argue against and one wonders if it is the traveller/tourist and people who do not reside there that are more interested in it's retention than the Uyghur. Perhaps the "Silk Road" experience is lessened by seeing the "natives" living in new buildings rather than hundred year old adobes.

The author identifies what he believes to be another concern of the Uyghur, that is, of not getting  a fair share of the "economic pie." Their "share of the pie" may well not be commensurate with the Han per capita but the "pie" is, and will be, a hell of a lot bigger. No minority ethnic group in China has not seen it's per capita average income rise and the Uyghur, like the Hui, are very adept at turning a yuan if the circumstances are right.

Then the author expands on his "Catch-22" hypothesis. He pushes the religious, 'separatist' and domestic/international "terrorist" angle with little real understanding.

Some points to consider.

On religion he states that the Uyghur will be exposed to external Islamic influences that will heighten their desire to rid themselves of "infidel occupations" as some other Islamic groups have tried to do. This will lead to increased "separatist" feelings that could lead to "Ugyhur Militancy" resulting in violence and terrorism aided and abetted by foreign provocateurs'

Pan-Islamism has never, and I would suggest will never, seriously play a role with the Uyghurs. 

He points to recent violent events in Hotan and Kashgar.  

He is correct concerning the Hotan incident being a local issue but then states

"...the resort to violence and hostage-taking could reflect the inspiration or influence of international terrorist groups".

He attempts to reinforce this rather grand statement by stating that Hotan was the first incident where Uyghurs have attacked a police station. A little more research please.

Sorry, my young friend, as it concerns the Hotan incident you can't have your "pie" and eat it too. 

I will not go into the Kashgar incident where the author believes external terrorist factors were in play, other to say, that I believe it to have been a local or criminal issue and not international terror group inspired. Thanks to the Chinese Government conducting a closed court case we will probably never know.

With regard to  video tape  referred to of the supposed Turkestan Islamic Party  taking credit, this video has not been authenticated by anyone, although, I would suggest, it could quite easily be done one way or the other.

Is it a "Catch-22" situation? No of course not. The Chinese Government has laid out it's plans for Xinjiang and nothing short of Armageddon will make them change it. The Uyghur will adapt and eventually flourish as a result. There will be violence from time to time but it will not be "Separatist" "Religious" or "Terrorist" inspired but a case of two proud peoples facing each other off  but with only one having all the aces.

I am not being overly critical of the author, according to his biographical note he is a young person recently graduated and has had some experience in Xinjiang. I am however disappointed with Asia Times that early on was a very demanding publisher in terms of content. 

Asia Times Online :: Catch-22 of Xinjiang as a gateway

Sunday, September 18, 2011

Death Sentences in Xinjiang: A Perspective

The Chinese Government has reported that the courts have handed down death sentences to four men found guilty of murder, arson and running terrorist organisations following the deadly incidents in Hotan and Kashgar in July which resulted in the deaths of thirty two people of which thirteen were Uyghurs, the alleged perpetrators.

Uyghurs Abdugheni Yusup, Ablikim Hasan, Muhtar Hasan, and Memetniyaz Tursun were found guilty as charged and given the death sentence while two others, Abdulla Eli and Pulat Memet, were sentenced to 19 years in prison and a five-year suspension of their political rights for their part in the attacks.

The Incidents

The Hotan incident of July 18 in which two officials, two bystanders and eleven Uyghurs died remains a very murky affair. Chinese Officials claim that a group of Uyghur “terrorists”, in a premeditated attack, gained entry of a local police station killing a security guard and two Han women who happened to be there, before starting a fire and being confronted by armed police reinforcements. In the ensuing confrontation one policeman and eleven (1) Uyghurs supposedly died.

The Kashgar incident is a little more straight forward. On July 30, four Uyghurs attacked a group of people leaving seven dead. Three Uyghurs were ultimately killed and one was captured. Once again the Chinese announced that the attack was premeditated and carried out by a group of Uyghur “terrorists”.

The Response

Strangely the response was fairly muted. Of course international newsagencies carried the stories as did the Chinese press but a degree of confusion reigned particularly over the Hotan incident. The Chinese press seemingly not having a handle on what exactly transpired in Hotan though they were more confident in their reporting of the Kashgar incident due to it being very public.

The World Uyghur Conference issued the obligatory press releases condemning the Chinese government for labelling the incidents as being “terrorist” inspired claiming they were as a result of pent up emotion and anger over Chinese policy in the region as it concerns the Uyghur people.

Apart, from that, international Governments were deafening in their silence and Human Rights Organisations were, when they commented on the incidents at all, decidedly non demonstrative.

As an aside, one further event occurred when it was reported by several newsagencies recently that an “Uyghur Terrorist Organisation” the "Turkistan Islamic Party" had released a video claiming responsibility for both attacks. This report was, at best, very tenuous in terms of validation and verification.

An Analysis

We must in instances like these step back, put our preconceived ideas and emotions behind us and look closely at what facts are at hand. We do no one any favours by blindly taking sides, be it for, or against, the Uyghurs or the Chinese Government. 

Fact one is that in the Kashgar incident innocent people died and others were injured, beyond reasonable doubt, at the hands of a group of Uyghurs. Whether these Uyghurs were “terrorists”, criminals or disaffected members of a much maligned ethnic group is neither here nor there. The fact remains that innocent people died and innocent people should not die or be injured for any purpose, cause or ideal.

Fact two, the perpertrator/s should have been and were dealt with under the existing law of the country where the crime was convicted. China's law clearly calls for a mandatory death sentence for premeditated murder. The law and punishment in this instance is clear. It meets all “Rule of Law” criteria.

Can there be mitigating factors in such a case as this one in Kashgar? The answer is no. Can we excuse or mitigate the responsibility of the perpetrator/s because they are members of a group of people that are very badly treated by the Chinese Government and assuredly have much to be aggrieved about? The answer again is no.

This incident was very public, and it undoubtedly had many impartial witnesses. It was premeditated to the extent that the perpetrators went to considerable lengths to cause the extent of deaths and injuries which occurred.The World Uyghur Congress rightly states that there has been a lack of transparency in the trial of the accused. They are right, the Chinese judiciary, controlled by the state, must open up court proceedings for any offence to the scrutiny of the public and the press. Having said that no amount of transparency would have, or should have, altered the Guilty verdict handed down.

Unfortunately, as a result of the lack of transparency, we will never know what triggered the incident. Was it premeditated to the extent of it being planned well in advance? Or, was it the result of some altercation at the scene or some ongoing dispute that spiralled out of control?

As to the punishment we may not agree with capital punishment but that is the law of the land, it is legislated for, it is transparent and is widely known to be so.

The Hotan Incident is, as I have said, far less cut and dried. The facts are murky, there are more questions than there are answers. I am not even happy with the total number involved, the tally of dead and wounded and the constitution of the victims. I am not convinced one way or the other as to the degree of premeditation or the cause of whatever really occurred.

The Chinese government once again calls it a premeditated “terrorist” attack. Where is any proof as to this contention? Was it a local issue that got out of hand triggered by some unforeseen and unknown occurrence? Premeditated or spontaneous? Are there mitigating circumstances?

In this case we have a need to know all the facts and this need arises out of something other than a general need for greater transparency of criminal proceedings, and the only way to be made privy of the facts was for the Government/Judiciary to have conducted an open and transparent trial. (This in no way lessens the need for transparency in any case including Kashgar even though the facts were more openly available and less contentious.)

A Conclusion

I have been for many years a staunch supporter of the Uyghur people. I have studied the cruelty inflicted upon them - the highest per capita execution rate in the world of any ethnic group, the excessively high incarceration rates and out of proportion prison sentences and the daily deprivation of basic human rights such as freedom of religion, speech and association.

I have studied and watched as their culture and religion is attacked. As their ancestral lands are taken over by Han Chinese and as a policy of “Hanification", be it stated or otherwise, attempts to absorb then into the great “Han Oneness”.

I am a great admirer of the people, their wonderful culture and incredible history. I do not believe there exists “Uyghur Terrorism” I do not even believe there is a genuine desire by a majority of the approximate 12 million Uyghurs for an independent Uyghur state. They just want dignity, cultural autonomy, a degree of self determination and peace to live their lives.

But having said that and for all the wonderful attributes of the majority of the Uyghur people they are, when all is said and done, just people. They are as susceptible to criminality as Australians, Americans or anyone on this earth.

Therefore, I try to look at each incident, each event on the particular facts available before I automatically lay blame upon the Chinese government, it's systems and attitudes because, if I do not, than I am no different than those I wish to critique.

Let us, to use the Chinese Government vernacular, “Crackdown” heavily on the Chinese when it is warranted but not blindly take a position without due consideration of the facts.

(1) This is a very fluid number. Some put the Uyghur death toll at 18 to 20

China Sentences Uighurs to Death for Xinjiang Attacks -

Tuesday, September 6, 2011

China's Aircraft Carrier and Occam's Razor

If you hear hooves....

A very simplistic definition of Occam's Razor is: "If you hear hooves, think horses, not zebras".

In other words if it looks like "A", smells like "A", tastes like "A", then your first assumption should be that it is "A".

It is commonly taught to young medical students who have the habit, apparently, of searching for the most obscure and exotic disease to match a set of complaints that normally are symptomatic of a common ailment.Of course, sometimes, albeit rarely, the hooves that are heard really are Zebras.

China's Striped Horse..

China has a ship. It looks like an aircraft carrier, it was designed and built to be an aircraft carrier and there is no reason that, according to Occam's Razor, we should reasonably think that it is anything but an aircraft carrier.

If you follow China, and, unless you have been incommunicado in the middle of the Taklamakan Desert for the last several years, you will know that China purchased the shell of an aircraft carrier from the Ukraine. She arrived in Dalian naval base in Liaoning Province, North Eastern China in 2002, was “fitted out” and, during August of this year, underwent her first sea trials

The press and commentators obviously have analysed this event from each and every possible angle. The effect on regional security, China's long term plans re expansion and regional hegemony. Diplomatic and military relations. There is not one aspect that has not fallen under the most acute and, seemingly, thorough analysis.

General consensus is that the Varyag, as it is currently known, is more show than threat. Analysts have rightly pointed out that it would take upwards of a generation for the PLA Navy to train personnel and develop military strategy and protocol for it to be anything other than what the Chinese claim it to be, a training ship.Only today quite coincidently the Australian newspaper carried a piece  China carrier no cause for regional alarm  which pretty well sums up the current thinking.

But obviously subscribing to the Occam's Razor no analyst that I have come across even appears to have fleetingly thought "zebras" let alone explored the possibility.

I believe there is a very good chance that Occam's Razor has blinded us to the very real possibility that this ship was never intended to be an aircraft carrier. To mix metaphors, maybe we are not seeing the wood for the trees!

China's Naval Limitations

What does Chinese military projection lack? Quite simply, it lacks the ability and means to get soldiers from China to a hot spot. China is severely lacking in the capability of amphibious transport of it's soldiers and war machinery.

Taipei, Taiwan, for example, is 252 km from Fuzhou, Fujian Province, but, according to a recently released Defence White Paper from Taiwan, China would only be capable of taking offshore islands in the event of a military engagement and does not have the capacity to take Taipei and mainland Taiwan using land forces. Many analysts agree with the conclusions of Taiwan’s military. If that be the case and we look at  Manila (1,289 Ks), Tokyo (2,216 Ks), Seoul (1,469 Ks) and Hanoi (by sea 2,200 Ks roughly)  China poses no land based threat to any of these capitals. 

As Mao said "Political power grows out of the barrel of a gun" but you have got to get the gun there in the first place. China currently can not do that and this severely limits it's military power projection and therefore it's diplomatic clout.

So, one would think that a strategic military planner, thinking short to medium term,  would conclude that gaining amphibious capabilities in troop transport would be a far more desirable and beneficial objective for China's Military than waiting a generation for effective naval air power.

A Little History....

Perhaps a little naval history to set some background for where this is leading to. 

At the end of WW2, and even before it's end, aircraft carriers owned by the Allies greatly outnumbered their post war need. I will focus on two carriers built in WW2; one HMS Puncher, was a purpose built 'disposable" and, the other was to be later named, HMAS Sydney. Both have significant relevance.

HMS Puncher was classified as a tactical support aircraft carrier, a disposable vessel built to see the war through as a light support carrier providing limited air cover capability to help protect vital convoy shipping. 

Sydney was built as a mainstream medium sized carrier and it eventually went on to become Australia's flagship.

As WW2 was winding down Puncher was converted to a troop carrier to ferry home victorious “Dominion” troops to Canada. Once that role was over she was decommissioned and scrapped.

HMAS Sydney, after a period of being Australia's flagship, also went on to be converted as a troop carrier seeing action first in that role during the Indonesian- Malaysian Confrontation of 1963 and later achieving  considerable utility as the so nicknamed “Vung Tao Ferry”, transporting Australian servicemen and equipment to and from Vung Tao during the Vietnam war.

What we see then is, to my knowledge, the only instances of aircraft carriers being converted to troop carriers.

Lets look at some comparative statistics between the three aircraft carriers so far mentioned, Puncher, Sydney and Varyag.

 Displacement (Tons)
 Length (Ft)
 Beam (Ft)
Dead Weight Cargo (Tons)

The first thing that is noticeable is the size differential between the three ships. Varyag is over three times bigger than Sydney and four times bigger than Puncher in terms of displacement.

Puncher's troop capacity was the average troop numbers it carried on its several trips from England to Halifax, Canada. Sydney's troop capacity figure is it's average over 25 trips to Vietnam. Normally Sydney only had to accommodate one regiment and equipment and the men were very comfortably accommodated so, unlike Puncher, it's true capacity was never fully tested.

I was actually in the naval reserve in the early seventies and served a two week training programme on Sydney at dock prior to her being "paid off". There was one hundred of us quartered in the aircraft hold comfortably sleeping in single cot beds and, if my memory serves me, in that configuration we could have easily fitted an extra 600 hundred plus in that area alone. For a short haul with no beds required the hold could have fit, I would hazard a guess, 3000. Sydney's largest actual troop carry was in 1962 when it shipped 1,245 troop with full kit, vehicles, stores, equipment and  500+  crew from Sydney to Malaysia.

You will see, no doubt, where this is leading to. If Varyag, being tree times bigger than Sydney, was used as a troop transport for short haul with no aircraft on board and limited crewing and sparse internal fit-out,  what could we be talking about in terms of potential troop carrying capacity? I am no expert but I would hazard a guess at between 10 and 20,000. (The Queen Mary 2, a luxury cruise ship of about the same linear dimensions as Varyag but considerably more "decked" out, very comfortably accommodates 4,289 passengers and crew. The original Queen Mary, again of similar size to Varyag, was stripped out during WW2 and converted to a troop carrier with a 15,000 troop capacity)

History tells us that using converted aircraft carries as troop transports has been done before and, coincidentally, Varyag was supposedly purchased to be converted into a floating hotel.....

Occam’s Razor...

Have we in the west, then, seen what we wanted to see? 

And seen it we have! China has made it so visible and “transparent” we have all but lost interest in it, written it off as a Middle Kingdom foible, safe in the knowledge that the US Pacific Feet would send it and it's air capacity to Davy Jones' Locker before they have coffee and do-nuts for breakfast. But that scenario is with Varyag being an aircraft carrier that requires an extensive entourage, but a troop ship could load and be on it's way within 24hrs (as Sydney was able to do in Vietnam) before anyone even noticed.

The Varyag for all intents and purposes was bought as a shell and who is to say that it is still not virtually a shell today maximising available space. 

Have we seen the symptoms and diagnosed the illness with Occam’s Razor logic? 

Zebra's have hooves too! And the hooves I hear are zebra's. 

And I will leave you with one last thing to ponder. Why would the Chinese have painted the flight deck with non-slip paint?