Tuesday, May 1, 2012

Chinese Communist Party: Annus Horribilis

2011 was to be a great year for the Communist Party of China (CPC). 

It was to be a year of celebration marking the 90th anniversary of the founding of the party in the back streets of Shanghai in 1921.

China's newspapers were festooned with striking red and gold logos depicting the icon of the CPC. It was a year meant for the CPC to proclaim it's greatness and showcase how effectively the Chinese political and economic system, under the sure and steady hand of the party, had transformed China from being under the whip hand of foreigners and warlords, mired in corruption and poverty, to the Dragon Rampant.

But just as another 'Dynasty' suffered it's Annus Horribilis the CPC found out things can go pear shaped very unexpectedly and very, very fast.

Amid the pomp and circumstance of the Anniversary the first crash, of what was to be one of many, occurred. 

The Crash...

On 23 July 2011, two high-speed trains (VFT) travelling on the Yongtaiwen railway line collided on a viaduct in  Wenzhou, Zhejiang Province. Apart from the 40 people who were killed, and the 192 who were injured, the biggest casualty was the CPC.

The country's pride and joy, the embodiment of all that was supposedly great in the new China lay in a mangled heap under a train bridge. And so too, over the ensuing weeks, the CPC came to join it.

Claims of corruption and of burying carriages. Of poor and inconsiderate response from the Central Government and the nations leaders, including the heretofore, venerable Wen and Hu. The whole event turned into a farce and made the CPC the butt of national and international criticism and derision.


Not six months later, and before the dust of Wenzhou had settled, on December 13 a band of villagers forced out local party leaders and the police and took control of the town of Wukan. 

 Whilst it soon became evidently clear that the villagers were protesting local land grab and corruption issues and not the central Government or the CPC generally, great pressure was brought to bear on both.

The international press saw it as a 'Democracy movement' and played the angle for all it was worth. 'China demands democracy' the headlines screamed. Democracy with Chinese 'Characteristics' under the CPC was a failure, it was touted.

The government and, ergo, the CPC response? They did what they have become adept at: totally mismanaging developing issues. From a PR perspective a small local issue blew out to a major international indictment of the CPC.

The Economic Model...

The CPC's economic management was the next to come under the spotlight. 

On February 27, a key government think tank and the World Bank issued its China 2030 report. 

The report surmised that China's economic rising, as evidenced by it's incredible rapid growth, could only be sustained by giving more attention to the the private sector and less to the state economy. 

The economic model of tight control of the CPC over the economy needed to be rethought, in other words, the CPC did not have the answers going forward.

The Underbelly Exposed...

The next event in the house of cards came with the Bo Xilai Affair on April 10, when the high profile and charismatic regional party leader, Bo Xilai, was dismissed as party boss of Chongqing and expelled from the Politburo.

Whilst the CPC acted quickly and decisively the whole affair exposed the underbelly of China's ruling party, an underbelly of corruption, crime and of obvious complicity or, at the very least, a 'Three Monkeys' attitude at the very highest levels.

The Blind Leading the Blind...

On April 27, blind and internationally renown dissident and civil rights advocate, Chen Guangcheng, evaded security guards guarding his house in his home village and made it to Beijing, where he was given refuge in the U.S. embassy.

He also posted an emotional plea on YouTube seeking an investigation by the central government into his treatment and calling for the safety of his family.

Again it became an international headline and a cause celebre

And, once again, the CPC did what it does best; it totally mismanaged the whole affair letting it turn into another PR nightmare and backing itself into a corner it will find hard to escape from with any face.

That it has got this far shows just how out of touch with reality the CPC is. A blind person, a campaigner against forced abortions and a family man held by thugs ex judicially with the eyes of the whole world upon him. Incredible to say the least. Does it go to stupidity on behalf of the CPC or meglomanic self righteousness? A regime so full of itself that it is oblivious to the bigger picture.

Foreign Relations Askant...

Where do you start in this nightmare created for and by the CPC.

China's Foreign Policy in the last year has been nothing short of of a bad dream. 

From Syria to the South China Seas. From India to North Korea. 

Blustering, belligerent uncoordinated, unfocused, are just some of the words that spring to mind. 

It is a veritable dogs breakfast. The CPC has not a clue what it wants to be. Good Cop, Bad Cop? Facilitator or provocateur? If the reader does not have an answer rest assured, nor does the CPC.

The Ethnic issues...

As a backdrop to this litany is a regime floundering in it's domestic ethnic issues.

The ongoing Tibet self immolations see a regime bereft of any answers other than to decry the Dalai Lama and publish ad nauseam in it's political press organs how great have been the gains made by the Tibetans under the fatherly wisdom and guidance of the Party.

The violence in Xinjiang, on and by the Uyghurs, again are indicative of a regime without answers or one hell bent regardless of the international response in nullifying a people and a culture.

The Wrap...

The anniversary of Wuzhou has yet to arrive. The Annus Horribilus may be far from over for the CPC. It is flood season in China, a period marked by natural disasters and industrial accidents, such as Coal mine flooding, resulting in many deaths. It also is the protest season and who knows what surprises that holds in store.

In their legacy year Hu will want to be remembered as the leader who brought to fruition the economic dreams of Deng. He will succeed in that. Wen will want to be remembered as the man who foresaw that the  future of the CPC is dependant on reform. He will be also be successful, in thought if not deed.

Can, or more to the point will the CPC take anything from the Annus Horribilis to save itself? Unlikely.

Wednesday, April 18, 2012

Bo Xilai: The CCP's Other Wenzhou

The Bo Xilai affair has, without doubt, been China Watcher's flavour of the month, worthy of the very best day time Soaps.

The minutia of the story bears no repeating here for most will be more than familiar with this saga of a flamboyant politician, his scheming wife and murder in the Orient.

But for me the stand-out feature about this whole affair is not the facts of what Bo and his wife did, the way they did it, nor, even, that they got caught. The most telling thing for me is that it took so long.

That fact alone speaks volumes as to the state of the Chinese Communist Party and the inner workings of the elite and, therein, lays the main story; the Bo's relegated to roles of but bit-part walk-on actors.

Corruption, graft, call it what you will, is endemic in China. Everyone is aware of that. Even the Regime routinely calls upon the Chinese people and, most ironically, it's own members to be conscious of and to take all steps to eradicate it.

It affects almost all areas of commerce and is known to be rife in most levels of officialdom. The Chinese press regularly reports the arrest or sentencing of those involved, generally just low to medium level fall guys (two notable and fairly recent exceptions notwithstanding).

It would seem to be a case of who hasn't got their snout in the trough rather than who has.

But despite these “public relations” exhortations and show trials, corruption not only continues unabated but appears to be growing in reach. It protects criminals of all hues, it shields the likes of illicit coal mine owners covering up accidents and even deaths. There is, in other words, little of Chinese society that is not touched by it's clammy hands to some degree.

It is not a new phenomena. It has it's roots farther back than the CCP coming to power. It was an accepted part of Chinese culture for centuries. In Dynastic times it was a deeply held aspiration of many to one day rise to  a position to be able to dip into the pot of gold, to take one's position at the pigs trough. Even poor peasants would sacrifice everything to assist their sons in getting even the most minor of positions in officialdom, for that was the door to money and prestige.

But, corruption in olden days, dynastic days, had a certain savoir faire air of 'honour among thieves', a modern day Mafia Omertà, that was respected not only within the ranks but also from those on the outside looking in. That is no longer the case. 

Stories, too numerous to recount, abound as to examples of it's insidious reach: poor people being dispossessed of their land entitlements, of dying people being refused medical care through the inability to “grease the right palms”. Seemingly, since the demise of the Qing Dynasty the grab for money has become boldfaced and indiscriminate as to it's nature and it's targets.

No longer is it generally seen as being a widely accepted given of Chinese society, it now is but an aberration of a way of life that goes back to Confucian times. The blatant headlong lunge for money and the 'pornographic' flaunting of the wealth so gained, has become an anathema to it's history.

The Bo affair is alarming not for what he did but for the fact that it took so long for the party to “catch” him. It speaks to 'masonic' like collusion at the highest levels of the party, reaching to the very Politburo itself.

In a society like China and within a group like the Chinese Communist Party, with it's inherent nature of suspicion, it would seem to have been impossible given what Bo and his family was doing for him to have gotten away with for so long. Either blind eyes where turned to it or, more than likely, the practice was so widespread to be considered the norm.

The CCP even has an oversight committee called the Central Commission for Discipline Inspection of the Communist Party of China whose responsibility is the investigation and exposure of corruption and malfeasance among Communist Party of China members and to ensure the probity of high officials including members of the Politburo.

The extrapolation of this would mean that the Hus' and the Wens' of the CCP are themselves equally as guilty, be it in practice, or, at least by omission.

As Minxin Pei stated in a recent article in Project Syndicate

Personal misdeeds or character flaws did not trigger Bo’s fall from power; these were well known. He was simply a loser in a contest with those who felt threatened by his ambition and ruthlessness.

He went on to say
Bo, the former Party chief of Chongqing, has come to symbolize the systemic rot and dysfunction at the core of a regime often viewed as effective, flexible, and resilient.

In other words blind eyes were turned and only opened when Bo rose to a position of potential threat. What we therefore are witnessing with the Bo affair is the exposure of the internal rot in the CCP at the very centre, the pinnacle of it's power. A pyramid of rot at the lowest and highest levels. A rot, long perhaps suspected, but one, till now, unexposed as to its insidiousness and pervasiveness .

The errant school boys this time have got away with it. They have been one step ahead of the principal. Able to clear away the empty beer bottles and the spent cigarette butts they have however left the stench of their party for all to smell. Their stories have been agreed, a fall guy has been chosen as temporal sacrifice. This time it has been a close call but not the next.

The Bo Affair will not bring about the immediate fall of the CCP regime. It will not usher in a “Chinese Spring “, as some have predicted, but it does mark the beginning of the end. It marks the start of what will, over the next ten years under Xi's leadership, be a veritable scramble from pillars to posts for ways and means to forestall the inevitable.

A train wreck at Wenzhou last year took the shine off the CCP's 90th Anniversary celebrations.

A 'train wreck “ this year has stripped away the underlying skin to expose an apple rotten to it's core.

Friday, April 13, 2012

The Uyghur Question: Violence not the way..

A Hard fought battle...

Twenty years ago the world knew little of the Uyghurs of Xinjiang China. 

Most international Human Rights attention was focused on China's so called “One Child Policy” and the “Tibetan Issue”, the latter as a result of an enigmatic spiritual leader, a western romantic image of monks in saffron robes meditating in Shangri-la and a Hollywood star, all things the “Uyghur Question” did not have going for it to become a cause celebre.

The catalyst for the seeping to the west of greater information regarding modern day Xinjiang and the Uyghurs was China's 'opening up' and the resultant relaxation of foreign tourist restrictions in  the mid 80's which, combined with improvements in travel, made Xinjiang far more desirable and accessible to foreigners.

Informational websites about Xinjiang travel and Uyghur culture and history began to appear, one of the first, the highly popular “Lonely Planet” did much to make Central Asia a 'must see' destination at the time. 

As well, greater academic attention was able to be paid to the region. Three academics that stand out in my mind from that time were Professors Dru Gladney, an American, Colin Mackkaras, an Australian and, a then Ph.D. student from Ohio, Nathan Light, who, at one stage, had the most highly ranked website on the Internet concerning the Uyghur.

A violent incident Baren 1990 and another in Ghulja in 1997, both which the Chinese ruthlessly suppressed, brought about  the springing up of several Uyghur “exile” groups and websites, some purely news based but others representing to varying degrees issues of Uyghur 'nationalism' as well as highlighting Chinese government policies adversely affecting the Uyghur people.

9/11 and the subsequent “War on Terror” provided further discussion/rallying points for the “Uyghur Issue” particularly as China successfully sort to have a little known Uyghur group branded an “International Terrorist Organisation” and several dozen Uyghurs were caught up in the American Coalition intervention in Afghanistan.

Radio Free Asia and to a lesser degree Asia Times Online must be given a lot of kudos as they were very important conduits for bringing the Uyghur cause to a wider wider western audience in the 1990's, particularly American, . Amnesty International was one Human Rights Organisation that gave the issue increasing attention through this period.

Thus, as we entered the second decade of the 21st century the “Uyghur Question” had become widely known. It had the attention of the world press, think tanks, most western governments and all HRO's.

It has been a hard fought battle for Uyghurs and their international supporters to have raised the “Uyghur Question” to a level where today it is arguably equal to that of the “Tibet issue” in top of mind awareness concerning China Human Rights issues.

The west, as a result of this tireless effort, has come to more fully appreciate the problems faced by the Uyghurs in China and the visibility of the cause has continued to rise despite such things as the anti-Muslim backlash post 9/11, and the Chinese Regime's constant rhetoric concerning “Islamic fundamentalism” “terrorism” and “separatism”, utilised as a means of masking or justifying the harsh policies and crackdowns on Uyghur religion, identity and culture.

A possible surrender..

All this achievement, however, runs the very serious risk of coming undone if a recent set of incidents are representative of a new and what would be a very disturbing trend in Uyghur interaction with the Han Chinese.

Uyghur/Han relations go back some two thousand years. In that period these two ethnic groups have run the whole gamut of relations, from extreme violence, perpetrated upon each other, to being allies in wars and vigorous trading partners.

Whilst there is no doubt that racial tensions have always existed and have resulted in occasional racially motivated crimes being committed by Uyghurs on the Han, including murder, the frequency would be no greater than similar crimes in some western countries.

The greater majority of serious incidents, post 1949, that have resulted in Han deaths have been as a result of response by Uyghurs to very specific Chinese government actions and generally has been directed against figures of authority, that is, non civilian targets such as police and soldiers. Without exception  all incidents have resulted ultimately in far greater casualties, fatalities and deaths by judicial means, being sustained by the Uyghurs than the Han Chinese.

The exceptions to this have been the Urumqi riots in 2009, two incidents in Kashgar in July 2011 and the recent Uyghur rampage in Yecheng. In these incidents the very serious violence witnessed  had been initiated by Uyghurs and the targets have been innocent, unarmed Han Chinese civilians, including women and children.

These incidents can not be directly attributable to specific Chinese government actions nor to religious, independence/separatist/terrorist /political motivations, nor are they seemingly organised or seriously planned. They are, without ifs or buts, spontaneous, racially motivated crimes of the most heinous nature, in terms of both the violence used and the number of casualties.

If what we have witnessed since 2009 is in fact a trend developing than all the good work done by so many will come undone very rapidly. The Uyghur cause that has taken over twenty years to be brought to the level of international attention that it now enjoys, and deserves, will be blown away like a dust storm on the Taklamakan.

This will be especially seen in stark contrast to Tibetan self immolations as a method of anti-government protest,  juxtapose to mass murders by Uyghur elements. 

Sympathy, I can assure you, will not side with the Uyghur and perhaps all the Chinese Regime's rhetoric as to terrorism, religious fundamentalism and fanaticism may start to strike a chord of doubt as to the veracity of the 'cause' in the minds of some regardless of the lack of credibility  of these dispersions.

The Chinese government, notwithstanding the recent elevation in the worlds eye of the Uyghur cause, still hold the whip hand in Xinjiang. It is still seemingly impervious to international scrutiny and condemnation, and, as such, any loss of international support for the Uyghur cause will undoubtedly buoy the regime further to more quickly, and by whatever means deemed expedient, finish the work they have been engaged in since 1949, that is, the eradication of the Uyghur as a culture within China.

A bugle call ….

Why all this is happening now is a question I believe no-one is in a position to answer. Of course certain organisations have alluded to the “build up of frustrations” of “pent up rage” in attempt to somehow mitigate what has transpired, but murder, and that is what we are speaking of here, can not be so mitigated. There can be no excuse for the viciousness of these crimes

If this pattern is a trend in the making it must be stopped dead in it's tracks. In the words of the famous, Uyghur Nationalist and exile activist, the late Erkin Alptekin:

“We must emphasise dialogue and warn our youth against the use of violence because it de-legitimises our movement”

But unlike the Tibetans the Uyghur have no one person or group that is universally recognised as providing overall leadership. In fact the “Uyghur” is such an non- homogeneous construct and Chinese control so iron-fisted that such an “Uyghur leader” is unlikely to be found from within. It should be up to more localised 'leaders', secular or religious, from village, town of prefecture level to reign in those within their purview but, given the Chinese government's total iron-fisted control, this is not going to happen as the likelihood of retribution for any who attempt so is a non sequitar.

Uyghur exile groups such as the World Uyghur Congress and Uyghur American Association et al, are not performing this leadership role. Unfortunately, their response to such incidents has been 'knee jerk'. Instead of recognising these incidents for what they are , that is very serious crimes, and immediately calling on Uyghurs to refrain from such actions in the strongest possible terms, as Erkin Alptekin had done previously, they have, nonsensically, attempted to somehow mitigate the events by falling back on old cliches of “pent up frustrations' etc.

This response plays directly into the hands of the Chinese Regime as a recent Global Times article would attest. (Uyghur refuse the label of terrorists' scapegoats

Violence as a response to Chinese policies must not exist in the lexicon of the “Uyghur Question”. Violence against Han civilians is a criminal act, it is not the act of a proud and ancient people but the act of cowards within.

It must be railed against by all actors in the 'Uyghur Question', from Uyghur exiles groups, to the likes of you and I, and it must be done so in the strongest and most unequivocal terms.

The message must somehow be relayed to those elements of Uyghur society who see violence as being justified, be it against Chinese government policy or some perceived 'market place' slight, that this is not the way forward in saving the Uyghur identity, culture and spirit.

We all will do the Uyghur cause no justice by ignoring or attempting to justify such violent response against Han civilians. If we follow that path, either actively or even passively, we give up the moral high ground we have fought so hard and for so long to gain and we play directly into the Regime's hands.

Sunday, March 11, 2012

Xinjiang: Korla Incident - An Analysis

Radio Free Asia reported that four Uyghurs have been killed in a pre-dawn raid on a farmhouse in Towurchi village near Korla City, Xinjiang, on Thursday March 8.

According to Radio Free Asia police became suspicious of the farmhouse after interrogating an Uyghur who reportedly had been injured in a home made bomb explosion. A subsequent raid by four police officers resulted in the initial death of a 21 year old Uyghur who police claim rushed the officers with an axe.

Upon calling for reinforcements, a 40 man police team raided the farm and was confronted by Uyghur men hurling bottles who then supposedly attacked the police team brandishing knives resulting in their fatal shooting.

RFA claim Korla City Police Bureau Detective Office Chief Wu San confirmed the events

The Uyghur in Korla

Korla is the capital of the Bayangol Mongolian Autonomous Prefecture and is some 200 kilometres south west of Xinjiang's capital Urumqi. Until the 1960's Korla was a small Uyghur town however this changed when oil was discovered in the Taklamakan Desert. It is now a modern city of some 430,000 residents of which the Uyghur number about 100,000. Korla's population is increasing by some 20,000 people per annum, the majority Han Chinese, who are offered considerable incentives by the Chinese government to relocate there to work in the burgeoning Petro-Chemical industry. 

Korla is the home of the PetroChina Tarim Basin Oil Control Center, which operates the Taklamakan oil fields. PetroChina is China's largest oil producer with revenues of $221 billion and overall employs some 600,000 and is the major employer in Korla. 

Prior to the discovery of oil in the Taklamakan in the '50s Korla was a predominantly Uyghur town of adobe brick dwellings, unpaved streets but having a well established agricultural industry growing wheat and rice as well as fruits, most famously, it's fragrant pears.

Today the Uyghur in Korla have become disenfranchised. Like Kashgar, the old Uyghur town has all but disappeared being replaced by modern multi-storey buildings. This is not, in itself, a bad thing, the Chinese government have done remarkably well with the urban renewal programmes and today Korla is cited as one of the cleanest and well laid out cities in China. However, again like Kashgar, the tearing down of the old is a poignant reminder to the Uyghurs of the new world that they are increasingly playing so little a role in.

The petrol industry has brought much wealth to the the majority Han population but, like in many areas of Xinjiang, this new economic prosperity has all but passed the Uyghurs by. 

In an article published in 2008 Dispatches From China's Wild West the author claims that there are very few Uyghurs employed in the industry and noted, even then, the disenchantment and discontent being felt by the Uyghur people of Korla.

The article quotes an American living in Korla at the time as saying

"More disturbing―and perhaps dangerous for Xinjiang―is the fact that Uighurs are almost completely excluded from the oil boom. I can't even think of a single Uighur I've met whose employment is related to the petrochemical industry in any way. Obviously, this breeds resentment in those people still living in mud-brick huts, which are frequently demolished to build another garish new apartment complex.

Also according to the article lack of employment opportunities had led many Uyghur youth to alcohol and drug abuse. This again is a common factor in similarly affected Uyghur towns and cities throughout Xinjiang.

The Korla Incident- An Analysis

Like several violent incidents that have racked Xinjiang since the Urumqi riots in 2009 one thing is becoming increasingly obvious and that is the readiness of security forces to use lethal force against the Uyghur in circumstances that would bring howls of protests if they occurred in the west.

In the Kashgar and Hotan incidents of July 2011 and in the Pishtan and Yecheng incidents more recently, heavily armed Security forces, far outnumbering the Uyghurs they confronted, used modern firearms to control and kill Uyghurs despite there being no reports of them being armed with anything other than knives, clubs and axes. 

In Kashgar it has even been claimed by Uyghur exile groups that security forces engaged in ex-judicial executions and the Pishtan Incident included the deaths of women and the arrest of children.

This is not to say that the Uyghur have been totally blameless. The Kashgar and Yecheng incidents obviously were violent attacks instigated by Uyghurs against Han civilians resulting in many fatalities among the Han.

This Korla incident follows the same pattern. We have, ultimately, a 40 strong, no doubt heavily armed tactical response Group, shooting dead four Uyghur men in the presence of woman and children for throwing bottles and brandishing knives.

And what did the police find in this so called bomb making factory, and, no doubt to be reported, the residence of a violent Islamic Terrorist cell that required the killing of four people?

"We found two bows, some bomb-making materials, and boxing gloves. It looks like they were preparing some sort of armed attack,”

There can be no doubt in my mind that there exists within the Xinjiang security forces, flowing directly from the governments in Urumqi and Beijing and the Chinese Communist Party a 'take no prisoners" approach to managing Uyghur ethnic relations in Xinjiang.

After over a decade of closely watching Uyghur affairs I have not seen nor been presented with any evidence of systemic terrorism or religious extremism on behalf of the Uyghur people. As such I can not, for the life of me, see the rationale behind such a stance other than it emanates from some blind belief by the Chinese of the superiority of the Han Chinese as a race. In other words sheer racism.  

Saturday, March 3, 2012

The “Uyghur Question”: A Racial Answer

Yet another violent incident has occurred in China's Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region as a result, reportedly, of a rampage by Uyghur youths. The incident, which has left up to twenty people dead, occurred in Kargilik (Yencheng) a predominately Uyghur town 249 kms northwest of the southern city Kashgar.

Initial reports cite sources as claiming that several Uyghur youths, responding to racial abuse from Han Chinese, set upon them with knifes and clubs killing at thirteen. Security forces  responded and subsequently 7 Uyghur youths were killed and two arrested. 

This is now one of four violent incidents that have occurred in Xinjiang since major riots tore apart the capital city Urumqi in 1997 leaving 197 people dead and 1,721 injured. The others being two in Kashgar, one in Hotan and another in Pishtan, all which occurred in 2011.

There are common threads now quite evident in these incidents.

  •  Firstly, in all of them, including Urumqi, it is apparent that they are as a direct result of racial tension between Uyghur and Han Chinese. Apart from Pishtan, where there was a religious angle, religion, per se, has not been an issue, nor has politics of separatism. In these racially inspired incidents it has been Uyghurs who have first resorted to violence which resulted in the consequent deaths of both innocent bystanders and most of the alleged perpetrators. 
  • Secondly, in all incidents there has been, seemingly, extremely heavy and what could be called overkill responses from Chinese security forces including, it has been alleged, ex-judicial executions of cornered suspects. 
  • Lastly, Urumqi aside, all have occurred in the southern area of Xinjiang, an area that until the railroad reached Kashgar in 1999 and was extended to Hotan in 2010, was almost exclusively Uyghur dominated.

Racial tension in Xinjiang

The Uyghur, being a Turkic people and Islamic, are culturally and racially very distinct from the Han Chinese who are the majority ethnic group in China and predominate in government at all levels. 

Racial, territorial, religious and economic tensions have always existed between the two groups going back two millennium. Their history has been marked by incidents and periods of extreme violence from both sides. Neither is without guilt in this area however, it is only fair to say, that the Uyghur have, historically, come off second best in the contest.

It was not until the Qing Dynasty exerted full control over the region, that is known today as Xinjiang in the eighteenth century that the Han population began to increase markedly. Prior to this period, from 60BC when the Han Chinese claim dominion, Han control over Xinjiang was tenuous, to say the least, and fluctuated wildly as to degree. 

This process of in-migration has intensified post the communist takeover in 1949 and has exponentially exploded since the 1970's when the economic value of Xinjiang began to become more apparent and widely known. Since 1949 the Uyghur's percentage of the population has decreased from 95% to under 49% and continues to decrease at a very rapid rate.

We have seen since the Qing Dynasty, but more notably since the Communist takeover, a significant and very rapid change in the racial make-up of Xinjiang; the Uyghur going from a position of numerical predominance to one of minority in their “own land”. As well, their relative economic position has decreased markedly as traditional industries decline in popularity and the Han, with greater capital and management expertise, not to mention government support and encouragement, predominate in economic matters. 

For the Uyghur to be confronted and to have to contend with such a racially, culturally and economically distinct people, and to face such change in so short of a time span  is hard for many to fully appreciate especially in terms of it's effect on the combined psyche of the people.

The Blame Game

Who and/or what is to blame for this rapidly deteriorating situation in Xinjiang? A situation that will only get worse and be punctuated increasingly by such violent incidents we have witnessed since Urumqi 2009.

Xinjiang poses a very large question, not only for the Uyghurs, the Beijing regime and the Han Chinese generally but also the world at large. The question as to how to resolve the “Uyghur Question” can only be answered with a true understanding of what is the essential problem that has lead to this post 2009 violence spiral which, unfortunately, will continue to escalate unabated if left unaddressed.

I have briefly touched on the historical context. There has always been and there will always be a degree of enmity between the Han and the Uyghur. For many reasons this is unavoidable. It is the nature of the beast and it derives essentially from racism.

Much has been said, particularly from the regime, that these problems are separatist and religious based. That is, that there exists within Uyghur society a section bent on separating Xinjiang from China and developing an independent Islamic state. These religious based separatists, terrorists or  whatever nomenclature the Chinese wish to use are, according to Beijing, the root of all ethnic unrest in Xinjiang.

The Uyghur view on the other hand ( and here we must be careful *) is that these problems stem from the inequalities that have been exacerbated and magnified with the post 1949 surge in Han numbers and relative demographic share. That the Uyghur in “their own land” have become second class citizens, denied a fair piece of the economic and political cake by both the regime and the Han “immigrant” population.

The “Uyghur question” however is not about Uyghur separatism nor Islamic terrorism, for these things exist only as a basis for Beijing propaganda. Nor is it only about the destruction of “Uyghur culture”, which whilst undoubtedly occurring, seems to reside as an overriding issue in the romantic minds of some western observers. The "Uyghur Question" boils down very simply to race and it is racism on both sides that is at the root of the “Uyghur Question” and fundamental to it's resolution.

Both sides are equally to blame. Let us look at this latest incident as a bellwether and attempt an analysis.

We have a situation where apparently a group of Uyghur youths were racially abused by some Han Chinese as a result of what is probably some mild dispute in a normal market day interaction. In what can only be seen as a gross over-reaction, and a serious criminal offence, the Uyghurs have resorted to extreme violence leading to death for what most likely was a minor altercation. The security forces equally have resorted to extreme violence shooting dead eight Uyghurs some, obviously dangerous no doubt, but at the end of the day only armed with knifes and not all possibly the prime offenders.

Was this incident about religious terrorism or separatism? No. Was this incident about cultural degradation or economic inequality? No. Does one kill someone else in a  normal situation in a backwater town because one has a couple of more Yuan than the other? I do not believe the Uyghur to be like that.

I hear nay-sayers citing “built up frustrations” or “boil over emotions” but this can not excuse what apparently was brutal murder by the Uyghurs involved. It is pure and simple racism, the hatred of one race for another, in this case hatred of the Uyghur for the Han and the overkill shown in the response by security forces hatred of the Han for the Uyghur. As I have alluded, this is not a recent phenomena dating post Qing or 1949, it is historically entrenched and it is a two way street.

The response of security forces in this incident, and the 2011 ones in Kashgar and Hotan are primarily as a result of this same inherent racism exacerbated by the unrelenting barrage from Beijing constantly casting the Uyghur as bloody terrorists, religious extremists and separatists. The average Han has been brainwashed to believe this, whether intentionally or not, by Beijing. The security forces, the young policeman at the pointy end, too, are not immune to this brainwashing and over react to situations and do so with no thought or fear of investigation or punishment for their over reactions.

Uyghur-Han Relations - The Future

One can not wave a magic wand and make racism disappear. It can however be ameliorated.

 Affirmative government action in the likes of South Africa and the United States are proof of this. Leadership on this issue must come from a government and therein is the problem with China for the government is part of the problem. For whatever Machiavellian reason or just blind self righteousness Beijing will not take ownership of the ethnic problem in Xinjiang nor admit complicity in it. Until it does voluntarily, which is highly unlikely, or, is forced to by some real pressure from world opinion the “Uyghur Question” will not be resolved but only get a lot worse resulting in much death on both sides.

*I have purposely parenthesised as an aside because the greater majority of what we are hearing about in situ Uyghur sentiment arises from Uyghur “exile” groups and western media who tend to churn out formulaic responses to such incidents. With no disrespect to their respective views and motivation, I for one treat them with similar credence to how I view Beijing-speak. That is, to a degree, heavily biased.

Monday, January 23, 2012

China: The Eye Of The Dragon

Today, January, 23 marks the beginning of the Chinese Year of the Dragon. Of all the year signs the Dragon is considered by the Chinese to be of great importance. To be born in the year of the Dragon is to be born to all that is good, powerful and prosperous.

Dragons, therefore, are very important symbols in Chinese culture. In ancient China they came to be seen as a symbol of power, strength, success, luck and honor. So much so that they emerged as a representation of the imperial power of the Chinese emperors.

Unlike the representation of dragons in western culture, the dragon, in Chinese culture is quite a different “beast”. They are not seen as fire breathing, bloodthirsty creatures but, quite the opposite, are viewed as being wise and caring, possessing of personalities, and exhibiting magical powers.

However, Dragons were capable of turning into beasts if they were angered.

What significance can the Dragon Year be for China and what will the year ahead hold? 


China has been and is riding a crest of a wave. Economically, despite the doomsayers predictions of hard landings, China is in a relatively very good position. Her growth rate remains high, if less than previously experienced, and but still ranking her at number 6 in the world. Positive structural changes have occurred and will continue to occur. Recently, for the first time, China's urban population became greater than it's rural which proves structural changes are occurring and following the historical path of a country moving from a status of undeveloped to developed. Importantly domestic consumption is increasing which is a good sign on several fronts: Firstly, strong domestic consumption will act as a buffer, to some degree, from adverse international economic factors, and, secondly, it's positive effects on international economic relations vis a vis claims of China and currency manipulation.

Structural changes are also being witnessed in the small manufacturing enterprises (SMEs) sector and the State owned enterprises (SOEs). SMEs are being rationalised as competitive advantages brought about by cheap labour and an undervalued Yuan is ever quickly being whittled away. Capital will desert the less performing businesses and industry sectors and be re-channeled to less labour intensive and more capital intensive industries. We will witness continued failures among SME's and these, no doubt, will be heavily reported on but will have no significant bearing on the economy as a whole.

SOEs have also been going through a restructuring and repositioning over the last several years and this will continue. More accountability being required of them is very positive and this too will continue restructuring of this sector as less performing organisations are forced to close or amalgamate. Two sectors this has been quite evident in is agriculture and energy, particularly coal mining.

There are areas of concern that exist and bear close watching however. Inflation and Local Government Debt. Recent figures out of China see a rather remarkable turn around in the inflation figure, so remarkable in my view as to be suspect to some degree. China is not unknown for it's production of “rubbery” figures across all statistical data, be it economic or social, and rampant inflation has always been an”Achilles Heel” for the regime and one much feared. Every social upheaval in China has been preceded by high inflation and manipulation of figures to the positive is much in the regime's interests.

Local Government Debt and it's level is something that is extremely hard to get a handle on even by the best of economists and economic commentators. The only real measure for mine in this area is whether the government “doth protest to much” that there is not a problem, and that, they have been doing quite a lot of. Despite the enormity of a major LGD problem and it's potential dire consequences of it coming to a head, my gut feeling is that it has been identified well in advance and contingency plans will be well in place, if not already being activated behind the scenes. The Dragon's Honour is at stake here and will not be allowed to be tarnished.


China has recently, and very uncharacteristically, been asserting herself rather stridently on the world scene. From statements by low level party and government apparatchiks to state media organs, a certain swagger has arisen in China's Foreign Affairs. How much of this is real, how much is just a lack of central control or how much it will be affected by the “Dragon” is open to conjecture. The “Year of the Dragon” and it's cultural connotations can not be brushed off as to it's subliminal influences on Foreign Policy. No truer is this than with the issue of the South China Sea. Nationalism is on the rise in China and it is coming from the grass roots and can not be ignored by the regime. Undoubtedly unbridled nationalism is not in the regime's interests and they will do much to hose it down but it can not be ignored by them. We therefore can expect to see more blustering but that is all it will be: bluster. If anything, given the coming leadership transition, we can expect to see more internal rather than external focus by the regime.


  • Migrant workers: The government and the CCP, obviously, from state media coverage and some reforms that have been mooted or implemented, have recognised that issues adversely impacting on China's migrant workers must be addressed as a matter of priority. As a demographic they are vitally important to the economy but also their size and social-economic profile point to them as being potentially a great force for de-stabilisation and social upheaval. In the coming year we can expect to see an increase in industrial action and even re-runs of the Guandong riots of last year. Whilst the Hukou system is unlikely to change in substance we will see minor tweaking in the areas of education and health. The “Spirit of the Dragon” will most definitely come to play in this area for both migrant workers and the powers that be. 

  • Ethnic Issues: Major issues have developed over the last year which are both worrying in themselves and portent for worse to come. Tibetan self-immolations, considerable bloodshed among the Uyghurs and uncharacteristic rumblings from the usually quiescent Hui Muslims does not bode well for the Year Of The Dragon.The connotations of the Dragon, rising nationalism and increasing resentment and action by particularly Tibetans and Uyghurs will mean a much harder line being taken by the regime generally, but more particularly, local officialdom, resulting in considerable trouble most likely to surface this Chinese spring and summer. 

  • Local issues: The seeming success of the Wukan protesters will imbue a sense of empowerment among local issue takers which will  lead to increasing incidents of the ilk. It will however be premature. Appeasement will be taken only so far before the Dragon is awoken in this arena and the people will be put back into line subtly or not so. 

  • Leadership transition: Nothing but an orderly leadership transition can be expected, nor can the outcome as to President and Prime Ministerial positions not to be as expected, don't, however, look for Bo Xilai in the winner's circle. 

The Chinese Dragon may be a cultural concept but do not underestimate it's importance in the Chinese psyche. It is one that will indirectly affect many areas of China in the coming year. The overall concept of the Dragon and with it's imperial connotations, will be subconsciously taken into account in all decisions taken by all Chinese this coming year, from the maligned migrant worker to the oppressed minority, from the lowest official to the highest. It's symbolism of power, strength and honour will be surely felt and the "spirit of the Dragon" will  in each and every Chinese  turn into a beast if angered

Saturday, January 7, 2012

Comment: 2011: The Uyghur Human Rights Year in Review

Henryk Szadziewski in his Huffington Post article looks back at 2011 and examines some of the incidents that made the year such an "annus horribilis" for the Uyghur ethnic minority of China.

Not since the riots in Urumqi in 2009 have the Uyghur people been subject to such a bloody year. 

In terms of the number of separate incidents that resulted in deaths and injuries as a result of clashes with Chinese officials, it rates as the worst, at least as far back to 1997 when the Ghulja incident and several others violent clashes occurred. 

2011 saw incidents resulting in seven Uyghur deaths in Kashgar City (2 ) and 25 in Hotan Prefecture (2). It must be noted that these are only "major" incidents that have made their way into the western media. The World Uyghur Congress states that since Urumqi 2009 there have been some 20 other bloody incidents that have gone unreported in the western media. I will make note here that it has not only been Uyghurs that have died in these incidents as many, apparently innocent, Han and two Uyghur policemen have also perished.

Apart from deaths and injuries Szadziewski also refers to the upsurge in Uyghur refugees reaching Europe, the hounding of refugees outside of China and enormous pressure being brought to bear on neighbouring countries resulting in refoulments.

Without revisiting and analysing each 2011 incident why are we seeing such apparent levels of discontent among the Uyghur and such heavy handed, seemingly remorseless hounding and lethal response by the Chinese?

The general line taken by the Chinese government is that this is as a result of an increase in religious fundamentalism among the Uyghur resulting in terrorist clashes.

The line taken by Uyghur expatriate organisations and some media, is that it is as a result socio-economic pressures generally, and strike hard campaigns continually being undertaken by the Chinese government, combining to push the Uyghur closer and closer to the brink.

Regardless of these disparate viewpoints the fact remains that the Chinese response would appear to be shoot first, ask questions later and totally disregard international opinion.

In the Kashgar incident there were reports of ex-judicial killings. Two of the dead were apparently found hiding in a field armed only with knives before being gunned down and killed. In Hotan City incident eighteen Uyghurs were killed, again, reportedly, not with a gun in their possession. The recent Pishan incident involved the deaths of men, two women and the wounding of children, apparently members of a family group, who were attempting to flee the country as religious refugees.

There is, it  would appear to be, an unstated, but seemingly official, policy at work in Xinjiang and China post the Urumqi riots. 

It is  called "payback"