Ethnic Clash in China

chinaEven the strong China cannot escape from the ethnic violence. The recent bloodbath in Xinjiang province between the Han Chinese and Muslim Uighurs signal the worst days.

The Times of India editorial says (8 July 2009)

In some ways, China’s reaction to the worst ethnic violence to erupt between the Han Chinese and the Muslim Uighurs in the troubled Xinjiang province in a decade stayed true to the copybook for repressive regimes. Authorities blamed western agencies for inciting and organising the riots while clamping down on the dissemination of information. The state media has been saturated with the official version of events, while online services like Twitter have been blocked. Access to mobile phones and the internet has been cut off, ostensibly to prevent the riots from spreading.

The spark that ignited decades of accumulated ethnic tension into a full-blown riot seemed to have come from the recent deaths of two Uighur men during a dispute between factory workers in Guangdong. Although there have been scattered reports of unrest in Xinjiang before, more information is leaking out this time. That may be due not only to the advent of new media, but also to a change in strategy by Beijing itself. Rather than banning foreign media and journalists from the region entirely, Beijing invited some foreign journalists to Urumqi, to see first-hand where the riots happened. But there are divergent stories of whether the initial protests were peaceful. The official story suggests that the Uighur protesters violently attacked innocent passers-by. But footage circulating on the internet even before the state media acknowledged there was a problem seems to show a peaceful protest.

We may never know who really started the violence, or what the truth of the matter is. The official story, however, suggests that the violence is the handiwork of Uighur separatists with Islamist leanings. If that is the case, Xinjiang could be developing into China’s Kashmir. That would have interesting strategic implications, as Beijing has so far given New Delhi little sympathy on Kashmir. It has also refused to join Washington in pressuring Islamabad to turn decisively against international jihadists based in its tribal territories, leaving an escape hatch that Islamabad adroitly exploits.

Since public opinion in Pakistan tends to be anti-American and pro-Chinese, pressure from Beijing could be very effective in persuading Islamabad to commit the bulk of its forces to fighting the Taliban instead of squaring off against India. That’s what both Washington and New Delhi should be telling Beijing now. China should no longer be in denial about what its skewed South Asia policy is doing to its own interests.

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