A nation under siege

In July 2009, chaos hit the western Chinese province of Xinjiang. There were riots between the Han Chinese, the dominant ethnic group of China making up 90% of the country’s entire population, and the Uighurs, the majority community of Xinjiang. On the surface, it seems typical of what happens in other countries throughout Asia, Africa and Eastern Europe. Community A cannot see eye to eye with Community B, and there are tensions. But if you scratch the surface, it becomes apparent that a nation is under siege. Now, what do I mean by this?

The Uighurs are one of the great stateless nations of the world. A nation with its own history, language, culture, food and festivals, but without a country of its own. The stateless nations of this world are often subgroups within a country, and in some interesting cases, may be transnationally shared among more than one country. The Uighurs are one such nation. They are like the Basques, the Catalans, the Kurds, the Tamils, and China’s own Tibetans.

There are only 8 million Uighurs in this world, and the Han dominated Chinese government is laying siege to them. There are aggressive family planning efforts to prevent Uighurs from procreating, so that the Uighur population can be reduced and brought to a tiny number before long. There is state sponsored migration of Han Chinese to Xinjiang to alter the demographics of the province. Han Chinese are given preferential treatment in education and employment. The predominantly Muslim Uighurs are sometimes even forbidden to perform daily prayers. The Uighur language, which belongs to the Turkic language group of Central Asia and Turkey, has no official patronage in China. There are even attempts to destroy traditional Uighur architecture in Kashgar, the ancient cultural capital of the Uighurs and a famed city on the Silk Road. The very name Xinjiang means “new territory”, a name reeking of expansionist sentiments.

These have caused Uighur hatred towards the Han Chinese ruling race. Most Uighurs have stopped identifying with China. They aspire for regional autonomy and possibly independence, but recognize the futility of these efforts against an iron-handed Chinese government. Whenever possible, the Uighurs leave China. They have established sizeable communities in several western cities including New York, San Francisco and Vancouver. They are somewhat like the Sri Lankan Tamils who don’t really identify with Sri Lanka but have established Tamil settlements in Toronto, Paris, Berlin and several other western cities. As percentages of their total populations, the Uighurs and the Sri Lankan Tamils have two of the largest diasporas in the world. Another similarity with the Tamils is that the Uighur diaspora attempts to instigate separatism from outside. Uighur separatism has received unwanted publicity through Guantanamo Bay, where 17 Uighurs are currently housed.

The recent riots in Xinjiang are only symptoms of a deep, underlying disease. The disease of Chinese expansionism. Much like an anachronistic kingdom of a bygone century, China avariciously aspires to gobble up lands that do not belong to it. Xinjiang and Tibet are merely two such examples. The long-standing conundrum of Taiwan need not be raked up, for fear of inducing slumber. And just ask the Indians about China’s designs on Arunachal Pradesh and portions of Kashmir. Speaking of India, there are allegedly some Chinese designs on the entire nation! China has established bases in Cocos Island in Myanmar, Hambantota in Sri Lanka, and Gwadar in Pakistan, completing a “string of pearls” (as military strategists like to call it) around India. There are also rumors that China funds Maoists and Naxalites within India. In other words, China has surrounded India from all sides, including the inside! Come on, which other country in the world would want control over an additional one billion people?!

If China wants to be seen as a cooperative and dignified country within the international community, it needs to quit its designs on lands and people which do not rightfully belong to it. But who honestly sees it happening? It’s like expecting the dragon to stop breathing fire.