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Mainstream, Vol XLVII, No 33, August 1, 2009

Xinjiang: China’s Palestine

Wednesday 5 August 2009, by S.K. Dutta


The recent violence in Xinjiang or former East Turkmenistan, which has left more than 150 dead, is just the tip of the iceberg as to what is happening inside China. China is a country which survives under the iron curtain where the press and free thought processes are censored. People are not allowed to assemble together in social groups. No one is allowed to speak against the government’s policies. The conditions of the ethnic minorities, whether Tibetans, Manchus, Mongols or the Uighurs, are nothing but terrible since the Red Revolution of the late 1940s and the Cultural Revolution from 1966 to 1976. China has followed a Han cultural policy under which the non-Chinese areas of the country have been transformed into Han Chinese areas through systematic ethnic cleansing; thereby the ethnic Tibetans, Uighurs, Manchus and Mongols have been reduced into minorities in their own ancient homelands.

The political expansion of China started between the First and Second World Wars and it continued till the early 1960s. Under this process independent nation-states were systematically annexed by the Han Chinese regime with active or tacit support of the West. Between the last two World Wars China annexed independent nation-states like East Turkmenistan or present-day Xinjiang, Inner Mongolia and Manchuria. Under the same policy it annexed Tibet in the mid-fifties. As such, to trace the problems of present-day Xinjiang one has to go back to the historical past of the late 1920s and 1930s when Xinjiang was an independent country of East Turkmenistan that was forcefully occupied by China. Since its annexation China has systema-tically changed the demographic ratio of Xinjiang’s population. Han Chinese now account for half the province’s 21 million population from seven per cent in the 1953 census. Since the province is very rich in natural resources like iron, oil, natural gas, gold, coal, uranium as well as water, power, forest etc. mainland China has pumped a huge amount of investment into the province with proper transfer of Han Chinese into the area resulting in discrimination and political and cultural repression of the ethnic Uighur population.

Unofficial estimates put the ratio of Han Chinese versus Uighurs at 3:2; in the case of greater Tibet it is still worse: there the ratio is 6:4; in the case of Inner Mongolia the ratio for Han Chinese versus Mongols is 4:3 and for Manchuria it is 6:1 for Han Chinese versus Manchus. Such a systematic ethnic cleansing has taken place in greater China in the last seventy years or so. The whole process has been achieved in a very systematic manner through the use of brutal police force with full press censorship and iron curtain. So what was seen recently in Xinjiang was the explosion of that simmering volcano which has been on the boil since the capture of Xinjiang in the early 20th century.

The case of Xinjiang is very similar to that of Tibet: it is a fight for freedom and independence from forcible annexation, social, economic, religious and political domination and exploi-tation. Perhaps the Xinjiang case becomes more complex as it has a religious overtone to it. Here the fight is between the Sunni Muslim Uighurs and the Buddhist Han Chinese. Things are getting more and more explosive in Xinjiang with every passing day as the Al-Qaeda and the Taliban have made their huge presence among the ethnic Uighurs actively supported and aided by the ISI of Pakistan. It’s time for the inter-national community and UNO to take note of the explosive situation in Xinjiang and Tibet and do something about these. The case of Xinjiang is like that of the occupied lands of Palestine. The problem will remain till a permanent solution is found for Xinjiang.


China has had the history of following an expansionist policy since the Han Dynasty. In the historical past too China, whenever it got a chance, played on to this theory with a tendency to annex the independent neighbouring countries as and when it was feasible for her. Ancient Chinese doctrines believed in the concept of greater cultural China under which the Chinese population was exported outside to the overseas shores in a systematic way under a long time-borne process. Thus we see a good percentage of Chinese in the overseas, whether in South-East Asia or East Asia. This policy was followed even during modern times; as such today we see a good number of Chinese in the New World whether in Europe or in America. Settlement of Chinese in these places was followed by a tendency to capture the economy of the new settled areas and then gradually play an active role in its native social and political scene. Thus it was under the same principle that the independent neighbouring countries of China like Tibet, Manchuria, Inner Mongolia or East Turkmenistan were annexed by mainland China in the 19th and 20th centuries.

With India, China never had a good equation in modern times. What happened in 1962 is a glaring example of this. India should learn a lesson or two from the 1962 episode and form her policies towards China with a pinch of salt. It’s true that our ties with China have improved dramatically in the last 25 years or so but still whenever given an opportunity China has tried to use every means to isolate India in the inter-national arena. The recent role of China after the signing of the Indo-US nuclear deal at the NSG and in the IAEA is a graphic instance of its double-faced approach; as such, India should view China not as a friend but as a political foe and formulate her policies according to the Indian interest in this part of the world.

It’s time for the Indian Government to take advantage of the situation in Tibet and Xinjiang and use it for her own benefit. As in diplomacy what matters is permanent interest. China has been hostile to India in every forum since decades now. It’s time for India to pay back China in the same coin. Since China doesn’t recognise Arunachal Pradesh as a part of India and continues to occupy Aksai Chin forcibly till date, India should immediately derecognise Tibet and Xinjiang as parts of China and treat them as disputed. India should raise her voice in every world forum against the ethnic and human rights violations in both the provinces forcefully. At the same time India should try to block and prevent all international economic and financial aid to both the provinces of China through all international institutions like the IMF, World Bank, Asian Development Bank etc. as China recently tried to block development aid to Arunachal Pradesh from the Asian Development Bank by insisting that Arunachal is a disputed territory.

It’s for India to apply the same policy towards China and pay her back in her own coin since the Chinese leadership understands only the language of no-nonsense diplomacy and not a sugar-coated one. It’s also in long term Indian interest both economically and strategically to see an independent Tibet and Xinjiang and a weakened China. At the same time it’s in the Western and American interest to work together with India towards this goal.

Dr Dutta is a foreign policy expert and political critic.

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