Striking similarities with Tibet

BEIJING: The deadly unrest in China’s remote Xinjiang region is strikingly similar to that seen in neighbouring Tibet last year, and so are many of the reasons behind it, experts say.

Those at the centre of recent violence in Urumqi, the capital of Xinjiang, and the unrest in the Tibetan capital Lhasa 16 months earlier are ethnic minorities — Muslim Uighurs and Buddhist Tibetans.

Both lashed out at members of the majority Han Chinese population, who in their eyes represented a much-hated government policy of sinicisation in China’s two most western regions.

“These events have brought to light a context of hate and fear (in the two regions),” said Claude Levenson, an author and specialist in Tibetan issues.

Analysts said in Xinjiang, as in Tibet, rioters felt deep resentment at the government’s efforts to transfer millions of Han Chinese to these far-flung areas.

This policy has changed the regional demographics — Han Chinese now make up 75 per cent of Urumqi’s population and 17 per cent of Lhasa’s.

And while China has pumped billions of dollars into the two autonomous regions to lift their people out of poverty, some Uighurs and Tibetans complain they have been relegated to second-class status in their own lands.

“The government in China has used the same ethnic policy for 60 years,” said Dru Gladney, an expert on China’s ethnic minorities, particularly the Turkic-speaking Uighurs, at Pom-ona College in California.

“This one development model does not work in places like Xinjiang and Tibet where there are strong identities.” In another similarity between both cases of unrest, exiled groups say the government has underestimated the number of people killed.

In Urumqi, the government said 184 people died in the initial rioting on July 5, while authorities confirmed police killed two Uighurs on Monday. In Tibet and other Tibetan-populated areas, authorities say “rioters” killed 21 people last year. But exile groups say “thousands” could have died in Xinjiang, and over 200 in the Tibetan unrest, with many victims on both cases allegedly due to security crackdowns.

The riots in Xinjiang, like those in Tibet, had a huge international impact, and Uighur and Tibetan exiles in the West also fed the flow of information.

In both cases, Beijing blamed the unrest on exiled personalities, emblems of their minority’s struggle to keep their culture — Rebiya Kadeer and the Dalai Lama.

Urumqi tense

URUMQI: The capital of Xinjiang region was tense amid tight security on Tuesday, a day after police fatally shot two Uighur men and wounded a third more than a week after deadly ethnic rioting. It was the first time the government has acknowledged that its security forces opened fire since the violence hit Urumqi on July 5.

A police van parked at the mouth of the alley blared messages in the Uighur language, attacking Rebiya Kadeer, the prominent exiled Uighur activist whom the

Chinese government blames for inciting the unrest. It has not provided evidence. Kadeer, who lives in Washington, DC, has denied the charges and blames government policies for causing the violence. — AP

Qaeda threat

HONG KONG: Al-Qaeda is threatening for the first time to attack Chinese interests overseas in retaliation for the deaths of Muslims in the restive Xinjiang. The call for reprisals against China comes from the Algerian-based offshoot Al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb, according to a summary of its report sent to AFP by the international consultancy Stirling Assynt.

“Although AQIM appear to be the first arm of Al-Qaeda to officially state they will target Chinese interests, others are likely to follow,” said the report, which was first divulged by the South China Morning Post on Tuesday. Bin Laden’s network has not previously threatened China, but “a thirst for vengeance over clampdown in Xinjiang was spreading.” — AFP