Thursday, July 09, 2009

China: Xinjiang goes "boom"

In case you've been living under a rock for the past 4 or so days, ethnic tensions in the far western Chinese province of Xinjiang have boiled over in the most serious of manners.

Its still down to who you listen to regarding causes and exactly who has done what to whom. However, it's safe to say the indigenous Uighurs (Muslims with ethnic and religious ties to other Central Asians like the Tajiks, Kyrgyz, and Kazakhs) and the relatively-recent immigrant Han (the majority ethnicity in the rest of China), who have been sorta grinding up against each other for years, and not in a good way, have finally blown off a lot of steam. Mob violence seemed to rule the streets of Urumqi, the capital city of the province, earlier in the week. State media reports 150+ killed, thousands arrested, and who-knows-how-much property damage.

The images coming out of Urumqi this week are some of the scariest you will ever see.

This first YouTube clip is not for the faint of heart. Lots of blood and bodies; you get some sort of sense early in the clip of the chaos of the street. I'm not sure where this comes from; the text on the screen looks to be Korean, but I am no Asian language scholar. Anyone with any more info, please chime in:

From MSNBC, a recap of sorts:

The Beeb, always the best bet for international news from obscure places, has this bit of reportage from Quentin Sommerville, a good, kilt-wearing, caber-tossing Jock sent off to the far reaches of Asia. If you troll through the BBC site, you'll find a good deal more from wee Quentin and others.

We've mentioned the ethnic situation in Xinjiang here before. It's not at all clear whether ETIM or any of their fellow Muslim travelers are involved here. Certainly, they are in the neighborhood and watching closely, if nothing else. This sure looks spontaneous, but it's impossible to tell anything from 7000 miles away and no access to anything other than general media reports.

The question I've got is how did it start? Perhaps street protests are routine in Urumqi. A name being tossed about by the Chinese as a possible instigator is one Rebiyah Kadeer, a rather vociferous Uighur critic of the Chinese. Ms. Kadeer has spent some time in the Chinese clink, and is currently in exile in the US. Hard to see how she's encouraging mob violence from the other side of the planet, but they said the same thing about Khomenei in the 70s and look how that turned out.

The violence looks like it's been shut down by a massive influx of state security forces - everything from riot-shotgun-toting police to what appears to be platoons of People's Liberation Army infantry. However, the underlying tensions aren't going away any time soon. Given the People's Republic's usual ham-fisted manner with its own civilians, especially the minority groups, along with Xinjiang's importance both as an oil-producer and a buffer against the really scary Muslims in Pakistan, don't expect the Chinese to scale back the influx of Han or yuan any time soon, and don't expect this to be the last time you see violence in the streets of Urumqi.

The official party line from the Chinese government makes all the right noises as far as the domestic audience is concerned, and actually represents a signficant departure from the normal internal and external news blackout we've come to expect from Beijing. Worth a look:

No comments: