Tuesday, July 7, 2009

Inequality Breeds Violence

The riots in Urumqi, the capital of Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region have so far left 156 dead, and over 1,000 injured, in what some say were peaceful protests against the government that later became violent.
Today China Central Television or CCTV showed lots of images of burned out cars, people trying to turn over a police car, and a few bloodied people (Han Chinese), but no actual footage of the beatings or fires, which was probably too violent for breakfast viewing.
I watched the news while eating breakfast in the hotel cafe and the other guests seemed shocked and horrified by the dramatic pictures.
Han Chinese don't understand why Uyghurs are so angry and frustrated -- the Chinese government introduced mass migration into this western region and has basically "ethnically cleansed" the area by forcing locals to speak Mandarin, not allowing those who work in civil service to practice the Muslim religion during office hours, even though they have to pray regularly to Mecca, and now knocking down their centuries' old homes for fear they cannot withstand earthquakes and forcing these people to live in lifeless apartment blocks.
The government has also made it much easier for Han Chinese to do business there or get a job due to preferential treatment -- making Uyghurs second-class citizens in their own homeland.
In Beijing, there is a small Uyghur population who make their living opening Muslim restaurants, or selling Muslim foods on the streets. These people are not treated well by Han Chinese, who look down on them and make fun of their poorly-pronounced Mandarin.
One can only imagine what tensions are like in Xinjiang now -- by Uyghurs who feel their home is invaded by Han Chinese, and by the Chinese who feel Uyghurs are troublemakers and don't appreciate the economic developments they've made in this western region.
However, things are pretty much one-sided here.
Yesterday afternoon Twitter was blocked and today no access either, but we can still get all the major news websites like the New York Times and BBC.
The government is blaming Uyghur businesswoman Rebiya Kadeer who is exiled in the United States on inciting the violent protests.

Her book, Dragon Fighter was published earlier this year. I got a chance to read a few pages and was immediately gripped by the first chapter where she described how she knew she would be executed.

She was accused of leaking state secrets and knew that her fate was already decided. Instead of cowering towards death, she defiantly dressed in traditional clothes in white and went into the courtroom.

For her last words, she spoke at length of her accomplishments, of her economic and political contributions to China, as at one point was a representative of the National People's Congress (NPC).
In the end the court spared her life and sentenced her to six years in prison. Afterwards, she made her way out to the United States into exile and is now head of the World Uyghur Congress, and the Chinese government's number one Uyghur enemy.

"It is common practice of the Chinese government to accuse me for any unrest in East Turkestan and His Holiness the Dalai Lama for any unrest in Tibet," she said in a statement condeming the riots. "The Chinese authorities should acknowledge that the peaceful protest was sparked by the unlawful mob beating and killing of Uyghur workers at a Guangdong toy factory more than a week ago. The authorities should also acknowledge that their failure to take any meaningful action to punish the Chinese mob for the brutal murder of Uyghurs is the real cause of this protest."

There are Chinese claims that Kadeer was in contact with people who incited the violence, but there has been no proof of this presented yet.

In the meantime foreign journalists are allowed into the area, but heavily escorted at all times, even handing them video images of violence on their arrival that were heavily edited.

The riots these few days are considered the worst in a long time and are a black eye to the central government who was hoping to show the world that in the past 60 years China has been a peaceful and harmonious country.... not.

Tensions will continue to persist when political, economic and social inequalities still exist... a general rule of thumb the CPC leadership doesn't seem to have understood...


No comments: