As northwest China’s Xinjiang Province settled into tense stillness on Wednesday after three days of deadly ethnic violence, a Communist Party leader from the region pledged to seek the death penalty for anyone behind the strife that state news reports say claimed at least 156 lives.
Li Zhi, the party boss in Urumqi, the Xinjiang capital where the violence was centered, said that many suspected instigators of the riots had been arrested, and that most were students. His promise to seek the death sentence for those responsible came as China’s president Hu Jintao cut short his stay in Italy, where he had planned to attend a Group of Eight summit meeting, to return home and deal with aftermath of the riots, the worst ethnic violence in China in decades.
Mr. Hu had planned to meet with President Obama at the Italy summit to discuss climate change and other issues. China’s foreign ministry said in a written statement that he was returning to Beijing “given the current situation in Xinjiang,” where Sunday’s riots by ethnic Uighurs were followed Monday and Tuesday by reprisal attacks on the part of ethnic Hans.
The Uighurs, a Turkic ethnic group, once were the majority in Xinjiang but now comprise only about half of the province’s 20 million people. In Urumqi, the provincial capital of more than two million where the violence has been centered, Uighurs are greatly outnumbered by the Han, who make up some 90 percent of China’s population.
The immediate cause of the riots appears to have been rumors that Uighur men had raped Han Chinese women at a factory far from Urumqi, rumors that led Han Chinese to attack Uighurs, which in turn prompted attacks on Han Chinese by Uighurs, kicking off a cycle of ethnic violence. The proximate cause however, is China's policy of cultural annihilation, affected by the repression of the practice of Islam by Uighurs, as well as a state policy of encouraging Han Chinese to move to Xinjiang and so overwhelm the Uighur population. As in Tibet, China has expressed a policy of economic advancement, but the rising tide fails to lift all boats, as most of the benefits of the rapid economic growth go to the Han Chinese who have moved to the province. As in Tibet, Chinese leaders have responded to the violence by pouring troops into the region, and by rounding up those who they suspect of participating in or organizing the riots. As is always the case, there is no excuse for the killing of innocent men, women and children, no matter how grievous the injury inflicted upon your people. But Chinese leaders are well aware that their policies are the cause of this latest round of violence. So far the White House has only expressed "concern" about the rioting.
As a slight aside, here's the typical right-wing take on the violence in Xinjiang:
As with military coups, not all protests are created equal. Chinese officials have begun to blame foreign agitators for fomenting the violence in Urumqi and throughout the Xinjiang region, as did Iran with their unrest over the rigged presidential election. Unlike Iran, however, China has some factual basis for this claim. Al-Qaeda has recruited and trained Uighur radical Islamists, who want independence for Xinjiang in order to establish a Turkic theocratic state, just as the Taliban created in Afghanistan.
That doesn’t mean that other Uighurs don’t have legitimate claims on democratic reform and independence for better reasons, of course. The AQ-Taliban connection to the Uighurs makes it difficult to determine which forces are in play in Xinjiang at the moment, though. Broad assumptions in either direction would be a mistake, especially since the “freedom fighters” causing most of the trouble in that region don’t support freedom at all — just a change of tyrants.
Like a typical right-winger, Morrissey judges the validity of the Uighur's desire for freedom on what sort of freedom they'd like to have, and who they associate themselves with to get it (not what acts they perpetrate though; terrorism is okay, if it's perpetrated against a regime hostile to the United States.) Because the Uighurs desire a "Turkic theocratic state" (Morrissey demonstrating his command of Wikipedia with a reference to the Uighur's ethnic grouping) where the religious preference would be Islam, and because Uighur's are strongly suspected of having trained at Al Qaeda facilities (though only to return to China to fight the government there) their desire for freedom is not as legitimate as the desire of say, the Tibetans, whose religious preferences don't trigger pants-wetting on the part of right-wingers, and who do not affiliate with religious terrorists. Morrissey's judgement is not unusual in it's obtuseness, but it remains disappointing that right-wingers judge all matters in the world of foreign policy through their own peculiar lens. The Iranian dissidents are approved of, because they are opposed to a leader both feared and hated by the right. The dissidents in Honduras are not approved of, because they support a leader viewed with suspicion and disdain by the right. The rioters in Xinjian are not approved of because their separatists have mingled with Al Qaeda and because they are Muslim. None of this has anything to do with validity or invalidity of claims of religious or political oppression; it's all merely an ad hoc judgement based on who right-wingers do and do not approve of in the world. As an approach to foreign policy this is neither principled nor coherant (nor workable), but it makes perfect sense to a right-wing authoritarian who quivers under their sheets at night at the thought of Latin American electing quasi-socialist leaders, or Muslim terrorists slipping into their room at night to force them to wear burkas and pray to Allah.
UPDATE: Oh dear. Via Local Crank, more right-wing idiocy on the Uighurs. Honestly, who could have predicted that 9/11 would make right-wingers suckers for Chinese propaganda?
UPDATE II: And this post from Glenn Greenwald, who plays the thought exercise "What if the Uighurs were Christian?" You can probably guess his conclusion.