Tuesday, July 07, 2009

Far From Xinjiang

I returned from my short trip to western Pennsylvania to find Urumqi, the capital of Xinjiang province, was in flames--a riot had broken out after what allegedly began as a peaceful protest/vigil by the Uyghur population turned violent because the police had to suppress any form of protest.

My wife began calling her friends and family in her hometown just two hours from Urumqi. She found that all landlines were inaccessible and only a few cell phones could be reached. Later, there was no phone service or internet access in the region. We have to hope that Jia's family and friends will be safe during this time.

While I do not condone violence, I do understand why the Uyghurs are angry, and would support any attempts at peaceful protest. From my limited experience in Xinjiang and around China, I have witnessed a lot of racism toward these people. There were plenty of rumors around--such as they were spreading AIDS through cheap barbecued food. I've also seen plenty of Shenzhen locals mistreat waitstaff at Xinjiang restaurants (though that happens often in most restaurants, it was usually worse in Xinjiang restaurants). It can be difficult when such a group of people is treated so poorly by the majority that is seen as representative of the government.

Now comes news that mobs of Han youth are going around Urumqi for revenge in what they consider defending the country. They're also spreading more fear and rumors by claiming that the Uyghurs will poison the water (a tactic that would be rather stupid considering the Uyghurs would need to drink water in the desert as well).

The greatest challenge to stability in China is not that it needs to pacify the minority population, but it now needs to fix its image in the Muslim world. While US media is paying little attention to the unrest, Al Jazeera seems to be giving it a bit more air time (it is the lead story on its English website). China has been rapidly making deals with Muslim countries, mostly for natural resources needed to continue development. Though other nations have kept quiet about the situation in Xinjiang, it may only be a matter of time before attitudes change, thus altering current and future deals.

1 comment:

Peg Spencer said...

Interesting to hear a little about this from someone who is living in the midst. Keep us posted!