Friday, February 27, 2009

Fundamental Misunderstanding

Today I had lunch with a former colleague who I haven't seen for a few months as he's now based in Xinjiang, his home province.

However, he's back in town for the upcoming National People's Congress and Chinese People's Political Consultative Congress next week to see what new policies will be implemented.

He was telling me how much he missed Beijing, as Urumqi, the capital of Xinjiang is very polluted. "Sometimes you can't even see 200 metres in front of you," he explained, saying the city is surrounded by mountains on three sides, trapping the air.

It also doesn't help that the main industries there are producing steel, which in turn uses a lot of coal. Many homes still use coal for heat and cooking too.

Nevertheless, he raved about the landscape, how there was so much to see, as the Xinjiang Uighur Autonomous Region covered one-sixth of China. The north was more about scenery, while the south was about its culture.

He added the place was rich in natural resources, like minerals and lots of oil. However, there's the West-East pipeline that transports gas to Shanghai. He said there's a cap on how much gas can be consumed in Xinjiang, which is why many cars are lined up at gas stations all the time, as most of it is piped to the east.

One of the biggest concerns in this western region is social stability he says, as there are constant terrorist threats from Uighurs who want to separate and form their own country of East Turkestan.

"I don't understand why they want to harm innocent people," he said.

I explained that genetically they aren't even Chinese -- they are from Central Asia. And perhaps, I suggested, they feel desperate, which is why they have resorted to violence to get their message across.

"But the Chinese have made their lives so much better," he said. "Now they live almost like people here in Beijing. We liberated them."

As soon as he said that I realized I had to tread very carefully through this conversation. But what did China liberate them from? Sound familiar?

We ended that thread of the conversation soon afterwards, but he seemed sad about how his home province has become so polluted and not as developed as he had hoped.

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