[lg policy] Strife shows ethnic tension China hopes to ignore

Harold Schiffman hfsclpp at GMAIL.COM
Fri Jul 10 14:25:00 UTC 2009

Strife shows ethnic tension China hopes to ignore
By GILLIAN WONG – 1 day ago

URUMQI, China (AP) — Ethnic strife in China is hardly unique to the
western region of Xinjiang, where 156 were killed in recent unrest.
Communal and ethnic suspicions simmer across much of China, even
though 91 percent of the population are from one group, the Han
Chinese. The situation is worst in the west, the vast borderlands
where Chinese imperial dynasties spilled into traditional homelands of
Buddhist Tibetans, Muslim Uighurs, nomadic Mongols and Hui, a Muslim
group. But other areas are not immune: in February, hundreds of Hui
and Han villagers clashed in Henan province in central China, a day's
drive from Beijing.

In the latest clash, anger at the authorities' handling of a brawl
between Uighur and Han factory workers in south China triggered a
protest Sunday 1,800 miles (3,000 kilometers) away in Xinjiang, the
Uighur homeland. Uighurs beat Han and torched their shops and cars.
After security forces quelled the riots, vigilantes on both sides
attacked people in the regional capital Urumqi. "There is huge
distrust between ethnic groups," said Nicholas Bequelin, Asia
researcher for New York-based Human Rights Watch. Incidents such as
the factory clash show that "people have negative stereotypes about
each other, there's racism in a sense, and every community closes
ranks against the 'waidiren' — the people from outside."

Government policies don't help. Beijing has promoted economic
development in Xinjiang and Tibet, but it has also imposed Chinese
language and culture and ignored minority grievances, blaming overseas
exiles for inciting any unrest. Many minority communities remain poor,
which only hardens Han stereotypes that other groups are lazy and
ungrateful, despite the government's economic assistance. Even in the
absence of such policies, old tensions bubble up.

February's melee in Henan province started when Han and Hui boys
quarreled over fireworks. A 2004 traffic accident in another Henan
village degenerated into an ethnic fight that left seven dead
officially and, according to some foreign news reports, as many as
150. Further east in Shandong province, police shot and killed at
least five Hui in a protest march in 2000 after a Han butcher
advertised sales of "Muslim pork" — outraging Muslims whose dietary
laws forbid the eating of pork.

Even among the Han, old feuds between clans and villages have picked
up in recent years. Police deployed in March to separate two villages
on the tropical island of Hainan after a fight between residents left
one dead. The cause, state media said, was an 80-year-old land
dispute. Uighurs and Tibetans complain of being discriminated against
when trying to get jobs and bank loans, unlike, they say, Han
migrants. In Xinjiang, the Han population has soared, from 6 percent
in 1949 to 40 percent in 2000.

Policies that phase out instruction in minority languages in favor of
Chinese in upper grades leaves Tibetans and Uighurs feeling further
disadvantaged, both in school and later in the job market. Beijing
maintains the language policy is to bring these groups into the
thriving mainstream.  The government also restricts religion,
appointing imams and senior clerics, limiting the numbers of monks,
tearing down unregistered madrassas and prohibiting minors and
university students from taking part in religious services.

The government's "attitude is that Tibetans simply have to become
Chinese and Uighurs simply have to become Chinese," said Andrew
Fischer, an expert in development policies of western China at the
Institute of Social Studies at the Hague in the Netherlands. Beijing
defends its approach, pointing to the economic progress and
infrastructure Chinese rule has brought minority areas. "The
mainstream position for the last 50 years is that the minorities have
benefited from Chinese peaceful liberation and being brought into the
motherland and there's no problem at all," said Fischer.

The distrust of some minorities is thinly veiled. During last year's
Beijing Olympics, police told hotels near Olympic venues not to rent
rooms to Tibetans, Uighurs and Mongolians. The Xinjiang riots have
stirred anger among many Han, who have seen images of bleeding Han
civilians on state-controlled media. Many comments on online forums
have called for a harsher crackdown. Some even say the rioters should
all be shot — a comment echoed this week by Urumqi's Communist Party
secretary, Li Zhi, who said that rioters involved in killings and
violent crimes would be executed.

Copyright © 2009 The Associated Press. All rights reserved.

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