Ethnic Violence in China: A Conflict Under Wraps

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to dribble red, the rest of the world is straining to
understand China’s inability to have anticipated and managed
the situation. China is rife with ethnic conflict, and
the clashes have grown increasingly brutal as the government
fails to face the music and attempt to not only ease,
but understand the roots of their own ethnic divides.
It is a complex state of affairs, where the majority Hans
and the minority Uighurs are dissatisfied and feels that
they are both the victim, and the scapegoat. The quarrel is
the unfortunate product of a variety of factors that cannot
be easily undone. For some time now, the Uighurs have
criticized the Chinese government for suppressing their
language, culture and religion. More recently, they have
argued that the government has created policies that
encourage the Hans to migrate to Kashgar, an ancient city
where their civilization first began. As the Hans began
receiving the more desirable state jobs, the Uighurs were
forced to move elsewhere seeking employment. Hence a
kind of cross migration
occurred. Once fairly separate
communities began
mixing and competing for
the same jobs and houses,
expectedly creating a tension
that only takes a small
spark to engulf in flames.
The Hans have issued
their own grievances. They
claim that the government
gives the Uighurs unfair
advantages on college
placement exams. The
Uighurs, like other minorities,
are also exempt from
the one child policy that
restrains the Hans. There is a general failure by both sides
to find any sort of empathy to decrease their bitter sentiments,
a result of the absence of any sort of local policy
reform. Their prejudices have thrived under a Chinese
government that has not fostered discussion between the
two parties. Therefore the Uighurs, a Muslim population
and Turkish speakers, are not fully accepted by a largely
homogenous society.
The deadliest wave came at the beginning of the month
in Urumqi, the capital of Xianjiang, when a group of frustrated
Uighur youths viciously attacked a community of
Hans. The clash took almost 200 lives, several of which
were taken by the government troops’ own gunfire as they
attempted to intervene. Several days later, the two sides
began brutally assaulting each other once again, this time
at a factory in coastal China. Again, hundreds were killed,
many injured, and the government could only offer an
explanation that it was a misunderstanding, the director of
the Foreign Affairs Office comparing it to a quarrel
between husband and wife. However, this has proven to
be a marriage of inconvenience as uprisings continue to
take the lives of civilian non-combatants. Any violent outbreak
by one party is quickly justified as a response to
another and the aftermath largely consists of pointing fingers
and counting casualties.
As the aggressive emotions continue to boil, the Chinese
government continues to offer such absurd defenses
in order to ease the discomfort their international cohorts
and potential business partners. Most recently Beijing has
denounced a Uighur activist, Rebiya Kadeer, for traveling
to Japan. China’s Vice-Foreign Minister, Wu Dawei claims
she is one of the reasons for the bloodshed, evidently worried
that she might spread awareness of China’s oppression
of the Uighurs. She has made several statements denouncing
her government, claiming that they are responsible for
several thousand people disappearing in the Xinjiang
region one night without any explanation.
This testimony will undoubtedly attract the international
spotlight, and China is anxiously trying to attain a
conversation with Japan’s ambassador to reduce any distraught
feelings. They are pulling for an image that would
have us believe this is merely a blip in the radar, that it is
not a human rights concern, and more importantly that
they have it all under control. But, this does not appear to
be an isolated incident to be
brushed off by history. The
fight between Uighurs and
Hans is very relevant, a devastating
result of the economic
crisis and intolerance that
has now erupted given
China’s failure to integrate its
minorities into a diverse,
accepting society.
And so, the situation continues
to evolve and the government
will spin it how it
sees fit, reducing the killing
to mere quarreling and hand
slapping between neighbors.
But, the conflict between the
Hans and Uighurs, like many ethnic disputes, has deep
roots and deserves a more profound analysis of historical
and cultural differences, geo-politics, and the kind of
mediation that can only come about when a government
comes to terms with its own internal flaws. These issues
are not new skeletons in the closet for China. A bitter history
with the Tibetans and the exiled Dalai Lama bears a
striking resemblance to the recent unrest, the Tibetan criticisms
against the government nearly one in the same with
the Uighurs’. A resolution would entail the regime taking a
long gaze in the mirror, not to mention an intense redistribution
of governmental priorities.
China’s heavily nationalized business sector has helped
it rest softly on a cushion of bank reserves and foreign government
bonds during the current economic crisis. China
is certainly viewed by the US and much of the developed
world as a necessary ally for their own respective survival.
Thus the international community is able to comfortably
ignore humanitarian issues occurring underneath a façade
of international business diplomacy. Indeed, it is hard to
condemn a country’s government for disregarding civil
rights when you are in severe debt and in need of a helping
hand. Beggars can’t be choosers.
This seems unlikely at this point in time because of
China’s fat wallet and the US’s unwavering duty to chase it.
At the moment it is only a concern, largely overshadowed
by more important political necessities. Still, given President
Obama’s alleged diplomatic savoir-faire, our future
relationship could definitely benefit from a shared concern
for internal affairs as well. Obama surely knows a thing or
two about how to integrate minorities and organize communities
peacefully. The future will remain unknown, but
as history shows us this kind of ethnic hatred is best not to
be underestimated or ignored. While the President smiles
and shakes hands with our Chinese allies, he may want to
be checking to see if there is blood on them.

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