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China to De-Emphasise Uighur Identity of Xinjiang

In the wake of the first Xinjiang Work Conference, a joint conference of the Chinese Communist Party’s Central Committee and the State Council, China’s cabinet, held at Beijing from May 17 to 19, 2010, to draft a blueprint for the region’s economic development until 2020, the Chinese authorities have embarked on a campaign in Xinjiang, which de-emphasises the Uighur ethnic identity of the province and highlights the Government’s plans for its rapid economic development in order to bring it on par with other Chinese provinces.

2. The various documents and statements emanating from the conference, which was inaugurated by President Hu Jintao, underlined the plans of the Government for what was described as a leap-frog economic development of the province, but were silent on the Government’s plans to protect the Uighur ethnic and Islamic religious identities of its Uighur population. However, subsequent comments by Chinese experts have indicated that the Government would follow a two-pronged policy based on rapid economic development and closer social integration in order to reduce Han-Uighur tensions which led to a serious outbreak of violence in July last year.

3.The “China Daily” of June 4,2010, quoted Prof.Qiang Shigong, Director of the Research Centre on the Rule of Law at Peking University, as saying as follows in an interview with a local journal called “South Wind Window”, or “Nanfengchuang” after the Xinjiang Work conference: “We need to adjust our Xinjiang policy according to the changes of social environment and approach the problem under the context of globalization.The economy’s development, although important, cannot create ethnic unity without the support of other polices, and on the contrary it may lead to social polarization and ethnic tensions because people of different ethnic backgrounds differ in their capability of adapting to the market. The ethnic integration in Xinjiang should not be understood as assimilation of non-Han Chinese. The Government should be sensitive to cultural diversities, and protect ethnic groups’ rights according to the law. ”

4.He urged measures to weaken the identity of ethnic groups in policy-making, such as closing ethnic schools to promote more communication between different ethnic groups. He also said the promotion of Mandarin in ethnic regions could benefit local people in the current market economy environment. “To develop the economy and improve people’s lives doesn’t mean only helping people out of poverty. Instead, their education level and competitive capabilities should be enhanced fundamentally.The Han Chinese should take responsibility for the integration, and Han people should make more sacrifice and contribution to the goal,” Qiang said. In his view, as the Government sends officials from other regions to work in Xinjiang, it should also encourage officials in Xinjiang to work in other regions.

5.The Xinjiang authorities have launched a door-to-door campaign to explain the new policies of the Government for the economoic development of the province to the people on the eve of the forthcoming anniversary of last year’s outbreak of violence. According to Mr.Li Yi, head of the publicity department of the regional office of the Communist Party of China,over 9,000 officials and scholars would explain the Government’s policies in schools, government departments, communities, villages, families and mosques across Xinjiang.

6. The Chinese authorities mistakenly seem to think that the feelings of alienation in the Uighur community are only because of the economic disparities between the Uighurs and the Han settlers. They do not seem to realise that these are more due to the unhappiness of the Uighurs over the failure of the Government to respect their ethnic and religious rights.

( The writer, Mr B.Raman, is Additional Secretary (retd), Cabinet Secretariat, Govt. of India, New Delhi, and, presently, Director, Institute For Topical Studies, Chennai, and Associate of the Chennai Centre For China Studies. E-mail: )

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