China’s Communist government is attempting to pacify the restless Xinjiang region, home of the largely Muslim Uighur minority, with a “year of ethnic unity progress,” while also expressing outrage that a Uighur leader received a human rights award in Washington this week.
As China’s state-run Xinhua news service put it, the Communist Party is calling for “efforts to improve ethnic unity” and “promote the Chinese national community” in Xinjiang.
While an outside observer might suggest there is already plenty of “ethnic unity” in the province, leading to a perpetual and often violent insurrection by the oppressed Uighurs against the ruling Han Chinese minority, what the Communist Party means is that Uighurs must be taught to think of themselves as part of China.
Communist Party of China official Sun Chunlan reportedly said “more should be done to reinforce the ideological, material and social basis for ethnic unity in Xinjiang, and called on officials to promote unity and improve people’s livelihoods and foster closer ties between the CPC and the public.”
According to Xinhua, Sun visited “an economic development zone, an industrial park, an agricultural base and a school in Xinjiang” and talked with “workers, farmers, and teachers and students.”
She also dropped by a major local mosque to thank its clerics for their “important contributions to maintaining national unification, ethnic solidarity and religious harmony.”
Reuters notes that hundreds have been killed by violence in Xinjiang, which the Chinese government blames on “Islamist militants who want to establish an independent state called East Turkestan” for the Uighurs.
The government seems at least tentatively willing to admit this is partly due to arrogant treatment of the Uighurs by Han Chinese.
“We must respect differences, and take a respectful attitude towards dealing with problems of [different] customs, to create an atmosphere in society of respect for the culture and customs of different peoples,” the Communist Party chief of Xinjiang, Zhang Chunxian, said on Thursday.
Zhang also urged companies operating in Xinjiang to hire more minorities, and called for more bilingual education, addressing a common concern of Uighurs that their culture and language are being erased by the Chinese government.
Reuters suggests that the Chinese government may have concluded that stern measures to stamp out Uighur nationalism have backfired, as the previously “moderate” Muslims of Xinjiang “have begun adopting practices more common in Saudi Arabia or Pakistan, such as full-face veils for women, as China has stepped up a security crackdown in recent years.”
This new opening to the Uighurs has its limits, as another Reuters report on Friday had Chinese officials expressing outrage that Dolkun Isa, chairman of the World Uighur Congress, was given an award by the Victims of Communism Memorial Foundation in Washington this week.
“The giving of this award by the relevant organization to a terrorist like Dolkun Isa who has carried out multiple crimes is to profane and sully human rights and the rule of law,” thundered Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Hong Lei.
According to Reuters, the Victims of Communism Memorial Foundation gave Isa an award for “leading a movement of principled opposition to the ongoing persecution” of the Uighurs.
In his acceptance speech, Isa rejected violence, described the Uighurs as “a people of peace and development” and said their plight was “a Chinese government problem, a condition generated by systematic denial of fundamental human rights and freedoms.”
Although Beijing seems grudgingly willing to admit there is room for improvement in Xinjiang, it has always vigorously resisted charges that it systematically persecutes or oppresses the Uighurs, and refused to recognize the insurgents of Xinjiang as anything more than a tiny handful of extremist militants.