Is Ethnicity a Threat to Chinese Society?

As official Chinese reports continue to paint the Uyghur Muslim minority as villains in the recent rioting in Urumqi city in the northwest region of Xinjiang, one wonders whether a communist government or the majority Han Chinese are intolerant of ethnicity.

While authorities continuously debunk human right violations in China as an internal matter, immoral and unethical behavior is something they cannot easily dismiss under the global spotlight of accountability. That China considers ethnic minority culture and religion as a threat to the closed society it wants to be is evident from the heavy-handed crackdown on Uyghur’s as well as its past record of dealing with protests in Tibet.

China shuts out “negative” information based on the ground realities of the event, but is unable to stop it from reaching a global audience through the Internet. It keeps foreign journalists away from conflict and disaster zones to keep the official take on the situation sacrosanct, but cannot stop its own people from being citizen journalists.

So it is not surprising that China feels threatened when documentaries on Uyghur’s are shown in democracies like Australia. Last Thursday, China’s consular staff in Melbourne reportedly called organizers of the Melbourne International Film Festival, Australia’s biggest, urging them to withdraw a film about exiled Uyghur businesswoman Rebiya Kadeer, “The 10 Conditions of Love,” ahead of its Aug. 8 premiere.

Tracing their roots to Turkey, Uyghur’s follow Islam, which has made it convenient for China to link their deep-rooted dissent to al-Qaida’s holy war and brand them as terrorists. Ironically, al-Qaida has now threatened revenge for China’s crackdown, which resulted in the death of several hundred Uyghur’s.

Any analogy is fine as long as does not morally rub communist China the wrong way. Xinjiang authorities blamed Rebiya Kadeer, a Chinese Uyghur who heads the Munich-based World Uyghur Congress and lives in exile in the United States, for inciting the violent protests. In similar light, Chinese state media accused the Dalai Lama of masterminding the deadly riots that broke out in Tibet in March this year.

But what is the root cause of the Uyghur flare-up that invited such a backlash from the majority Han community as well as state authorities?

Economic development in oil-rich Xinjiang has brought about a fast demographic change in the region as more Han Chinese migrants have moved in to fill jobs. Gwynne Dyer wrote in The Korea Times, “The development creates an economy that the local people are not qualified to work in, and Chinese immigrants come in to fill those jobs instead.”

While the Chinese authorities feel that the Muslim ethnic minority has never had it so good, with much progress taking place, the Uyghur’s feel threatened by Hans settling in the region and getting jobs. The Uyghur population in the region has fallen to 45 percent, whereas the Han population has touched 40 percent. This irks the Uyghur’s, who formed nearly 90 percent of the population six decades ago.

So why does China continue to crush its ethnic peoples and sell the logic that the population is benefiting from development projects?

It has a lot to do with the kind of governance and state policy where a monolithic population is easier to control than diverse minorities with popular and traditional cultures. Centuries-old cultures are perceived as a threat to society that is kept cerebrally closed and intentionally made to think and believe in the philosophies of the state.

Chinese state propaganda on TV, trucks and banners are kicking up a storm about the evils of extremism, terrorism and separatism in Xinjiang and in predominantly Muslim-dominated Hotan, close to Urumqi.

One wonders how nationalism can be so fierce, with the state and the media clamping down on the free speech, expression and freedoms of its citizens. One cannot help but think of the Nazism that prevailed some 70 years ago.