What makes the claims more interesting, and more and more likely to drain time and energy from authorities in Beijing, is the substantially different social, ethnic, and religious composition of the region. The way in which the Chinese State is able to find a basis for solidarity (at a political level) with its Muslim (and Uighur) citizens in Xinjiang will likely set the pattern for China's transformation from a majority ethnic Han dominated state, to a multi ethnic state. I suggest here that, while China's current set of policies might work, it will succeed at some great cost. More interesting, it suggests the increasing sharp conundrum for Chinese State officials--the more intensely the Chinese State pursues its internationalist agenda, the more it participates int he construction and maintenance of international norms of state behavior, the more difficult it will be for Chinese officials to retain a free hand to develop programs of internal pacification. solve internal problems. And the irony will be that it will increasingly find itself the butt of the sort of criticism it had developed to a fine art over the course of the last half century of efforts by non-Marxist-Leninist states to deal with these issues.
Straddling the ancient Silk Road, Xinjiang was brought into the Chinese empire during the Qing dynasty. It is populated by a mix of ethnic groups, including an estimated 8 million Uighurs. In 1944, during the chaos of war with Japan, Uighur leaders declared the sovereign state of East Turkestan, but in 1950, the Communist People's Liberation Army crushed their independence.John Pomfret, Separatists Defy Chinese Crackdown: Persistent Islamic Movement May Have Help From Abroad, The Washington Post, Jan. 26, 2000. For a different view, see S. Frederick Starr, ed., Xinjiang: China's Muslim Borderland (New York: M. E. Sharpe, 2004, 528 pp.), Michael Dillon, Xinjiang -- China's Muslim Far Northwest, (London: Routledge Curzon, 2003, 201 pp.) and Christian Tyler, Wild West China: The Taming of Xinjiang (London: John Murray, 2003, 320 pp.) reviewed in Joshua Kurlantzick, The Unsettled West, From Foreign Affairs, July/August 2004.
While the Xinjiang remained mostly quiet during the earlier periods of control--in large measure because of a sound policy (for the time) of benign neglect--the rise of Muslim self-consciousness and ethnic nationalism in the Middle East and Asia since the break up of the Ottoman Empire, combined with greater assertions of control by Beijing and Han migration into the region, has had substantial effects on the relative peace in the area. In Written evidence submitted by Dr Caroline Hoy, Department of Urban Studies, University of Glasgow published 13 Aug. 2006 (U.K. House of Commons, Select Committee on Foreign Affairs), it was noted that
The Muslim communities in Xinjiang are not isolated and are linked to the Islamic communities in Central Asia and beyond. The Chinese state is apprehensive about the nature of religious practices in Xinjiang and the spread of Wahhabism. As a result of the connections not just between religious belief and ideological independence from the state, religion and terrorism, but also to the further question of cession by Xinjiang from China, the Chinese government controls religious practices in Xinjiang to a high degree. This has created further strains between the Chinese government, the Uighur and other ethnic populations.This has not gone unnoticed by the Chinese State apparatus. "A classified circular issued in December  by the Ministry of State Security, meanwhile, indicated strongly that China believes problems with Uighurs--mostly Muslim, with a Turkic language and ethnically different from the majority Han Chinese--will not go away." John Pomfret, Separatists Defy Chinese Crackdown: Persistent Islamic Movement May Have Help From Abroad, The Washington Post, Jan. 26, 2000.
Chinese authorities wisely have attempted a three prong attack on the problem of Xinjiang in general, more specifically Uighur separatism and most specifically the solidarity within a united China between Chinese Muslims and the rest of the peoples of the Chinese State. These three involve (1) violent suppression of political and military activity against the unity of the State and its control of the Xinjiang region; (2) a migration policy that reduces the distinct character of Xinjiang as either Muslim or Turkish; and (3) a generally applicable set of state policies that appear quite solicitous of Islam as a cultural element of the Chinese State. While the West has tended to ignore these policies, implementation issues that have arisen recently may raise the stakes for Chinese foreign relations in continuing to pursue these policies in their current form.
Suppression. The first prong involves a strong and violent suppression of any form of anti-state activity on the part of the Uighurs and related peoples. Specific targets have included the Uighur separatist movement that has been troublesome for the last third of a century. "China has waged a harsh campaign in recent years against what it says are violent separatists and Islamic extremists struggling to set up an independent "East Turkestan" in Xinjiang, which shares a border with Afghanistan, Pakistan, Tajikistan, Kyrgyzstan, Kazakhstan, Russia and Mongolia." Benjamin Kang Lim, Muslim Executed for Trying to "Split" China, Reuters AlertNet, Feb. 9, 2007.
For this purpose, the Chinese State has been able to enlist the help of neighboring states, even Muslim States. "There are concerns that counter-terrorist activities, associated with the expansion of relations through the SCO, are being used to suppress Uighur opposition groups in the region. China has signed extradition treaties with both Kazakhstan and Kyrgyzstan that employed to extradite Uighurs to China." Written evidence submitted by Dr Caroline Hoy, Department of Urban Studies, University of Glasgow published 13 Aug. 2006 (U.K. House of Commons, Select Committee on Foreign Affairs). As a consequence, the Chinese have not refrained from a sort of rough justice, designed to make it clear to all who might sympathize, the they take a tremendous, and tremendously costly risk, in taking on the Chinese State. In one of the latest actions in this program, it was reported n February 9, 2007, that
China has executed a Uighur activist in a far-northwestern city for attempting to "split the motherland" and possessing explosives, drawing condemnation from a human rights group which said the evidence was insufficient. Ismail Semed, who was deported to China from Pakistan in 2003, had told the court a confession had been coerced, but he was executed nevertheless on Thursday in Urumqi, capital of the predominantly Muslim region of Xinjiang, Radio Free Asia on Friday quoted his widow, Buhejer. . . . . Benjamin Kang Lim, Muslim Executed for Trying to "Split" China, Reuters AlertNet, Feb. 9, 2007.And those the Chinese State apparatus cannot bring to justice within China face the likelihood of permanent exile. Thus, for example, the New York Times reported on the circumstances of what the reporters, in an interesting understatement, described as "Muslims from western China's Uighur ethnic minority." Tim Golden, Chinese Leave Guantánamo for Albanian Limbo, New York Times, June 10, 2007 at A-1. The story describes the difficulty of finding a home for four men recently released from the Guantánamo camp after they were "found to pose no threat to the United States." It seems that while they posed no threat to the United States, they posed a substantially larger one for China, where these men are "still considered terrorist suspects by China's Communist government." Id. And, form a Chinese perspective, there was something to that position. "Pentagon officials have described the Uighur hamlet in Afghanistan as a separatist training camp that was at least loosely aligned with the Taliban. Lawyers for the men dispute that characterization. But in interviews, the Uighurs in Albania described a tiny, primitive outpost run by secretive members of some sort of Uighur liberation group." Id., at A-12. Unacceptable to the United States because of their connection with groups and events in Afghanistan (where they had been captured),
"American diplomats say they have asked nearly 100 countries to provide asylum to the detainees, only to find that Chinese officials have warned some of the same countries not to accept them. . . . “The Chinese keep coming in behind us and scaring different countries with whom they have financial or trade relationships,” said one administration official, who insisted on anonymity in discussing diplomatic issues. Id., at A-12.Even the Albanians, well paid by the Americans for their humanitarian efforts, have felt Chinese pressure: "Beijing’s ambassador to Albania has met at least three times with Mr. Berisha, the prime minister, to demand the Uighurs’ repatriation, Albanian officials said. Albania has since told Washington it cannot accept any more of the Uighur detainees." Id.
But China is also beginning to pay the price for such activity. In the case of the execution of Semed, the "exile group, the World Uighur Congress, said the prosecution had presented no credible evidence for a conviction." Id. Even as China suppresses Uighur separatist activity at home, it appears to be providing fuel for Uighur consciousness and activity abroad. The World Uyghar Congress, recently formed to coordinate and provide an institutional basis for independence, has been able to exploit Chinese internal policy to its benefit. And the repercussions for China could be serious (at the least seriously embarrassing). In a great reversal of traditional roles from the 1960s, currently it is George Bush meeting with representatives of suppressed and exploited groups and using those meetings to build a global consensus about the character of the Chinese policy of suppression as violative of international law.
US President George W. Bush met the exiled leader of China's Uighur Muslims on Tuesday, US Uighurs said, as he accused Beijing of jailing her sons in retaliation against her human rights campaign. Rights activists described Bush's meeting with Rebiya Kadeer as significant amid international pressure on China to put a stop to what they called serious human rights abuses ahead of the Beijing Olympics in August 2008. Bush Meets China's Exiled Uyghar Leader, June 7, 2007 (published by the World Uyghar C0ngress).In the case of the Uighurs in Albania, China has provided a legitimating public space within which elements of global civil society could broadcast its charges of violations of human rights norms by China against a non-Han population it controls. Moreover, this episode, like the execution of Semed, provides a growing basis for the depiction of the Muslim minority in Xinjiang, n a sympathetic light, something that will be increasingly troublesome for China as it seeks to project its power and legitimate its actions on the world stage. Thus, for example, the Albanian exile of the Uighurs released from Guantánamo provided a sympathetic foundation for the recasting of the story of the relationship between Uighur and Han Chinese as one less sympathetic to Chinese official positions. Thus, it was reported that "International human rights groups have long accused the Chinese authorities of oppressing the roughly nine million Uighurs in Xinjiang, where there have been occasional acts of separatist violence. The State Department’s own 2006 human rights report for China describes ethnic discrimination, the suppression of Muslim religious freedom and the persecution of those thought to be separatists, many of whom have been executed." Id.
It is likely that the international law instruments that China was so eager to sign when it appeared useful in its campaigns against Western hypocrisy may now be turned on the Chinese State itself. There is a sense of this from some of the still sotto voce mutterings coming from the periphery of the 2007 meeting of the G8. To some extent, it will put pressure on China either to change its tactics (put a kinder and gentler face on its suppression) or move to suppress global coverage of its activities. China will in all probability try both.
Population Policy. One of the most useful strategies that China has pursued to solve its "Uighur" problem, has been to try to make facts, demographically at least, in Xinjiang. It has coupled this migration policy with a marvelous campaign to become the authoritative source of historical information about the region. The latter, as mentioned above, it has already started in 2003 with its White Paper on Xinjiang.
The former has been even more successful in creating a reality in which the Turkish and Muslim population becomes little more than just another minority group in a largely Han state. The policy is one that, in its current form dates back to the first days of the current government. As early as 1996, dissident groups were reporting that “The influx of Chinese is the second Han migration to Xinjiang this century. In the late 1950s, the government sent thousands of Chinese to the region to pave roads, lay rail tracks and build hospitals and schools. . . . The two migrations have completely changed the demographics of Xinjiang. Before the 1950s, Uygurs made up 78 percent of Xinjiang's population. Now, they account for 48 percent, while the Han Chinese make up 38 percent.” Xinjiang, Migration, World Tibet Network News, Jan. 14, 1996.
Moreover, the policy is quite useful to the Chinese State for a number of reasons beyond control of its ethnic minorities with quasi nationalist ties abroad. It has served the Chinese State as a means of increasing its economic productivity, and since 1979 its devolution of such activity to organizations created for that purpose, as well as to enhance the reward system for critical members of the People's Liberation Army. "The Xinjiang Production and Construction Corps (XPCC) was created from de-mobilised members of the People's Liberation Army in the 1950s and is important in the province for two reasons: its control over agricultural production and the role the organisation plays in provincial stability. Much government investment into Xinjiang is channelled through the XPCC and it is a key route for Han migration into the region." Written evidence submitted by Dr Caroline Hoy, Department of Urban Studies, University of Glasgow published 13 Aug. 2006 (U.K. House of Commons, Select Committee on Foreign Affairs).
Less positively, Western authors recently have begun to publicize in the West that "During the postwar period, the CCP also began a campaign to change the demographics of Xinjiang while also exploiting its natural resources to feed eastern China's growing cities. Beijing forced birth control on the Uighurs and simultaneously encouraged massive Han migration into the region, using economic incentives or simply forcing Chinese to move west. " Joshua Kurlantzick, The Unsettled West, From Foreign Affairs, July/August 2004 (discussing points raised in S. Frederick Starr, ed., Xinjiang: China's Muslim Borderland (New York: M. E. Sharpe, 2004, 528 pp.), Michael Dillon, Xinjiang -- China's Muslim Far Northwest, (London: Routledge Curzon, 2003, 201 pp.) .
Like the suppression policy, the migration policy may not play well in the West. Forced migration and ethnic cleansing have become significantly more troublesome tactics under international law. The United Nations has wrestled with the issue in connection with the break up of the Yugoslav federation in the 1990s. United Nations Commission of Experts Established Pursuant to Security Council Resolution 780 (1992), 27 May 1994 (Final Report ( S/1994/674 - 27 May 1994)) ("The expression `ethnic cleansing' is relatively new. Considered in the context of the conflicts in the former Yugoslavia, `ethnic cleansing' means rendering an area ethnically homogeneous by using force or intimidation to remove persons of given groups from the area. `Ethnic cleansing' is contrary to international law." quoting first interim report (S/25274) Para. 55). It is possible for the global human rights community to begin to characterize Chinese migration policy in those terms. Much has been made of the concept in Burma and Sri Lanka and it is likely that the concept will assume an ever greater and more generalized character. See, e.g., Mai Mang Kung, Concealed Ethnic Cleansing in Burma. The American government has begun making noises in that direction since at least 2005. See Congressional-Executive Commission On China, 2005 Annual Report, III. Monitoring Compliance With Human Rights III(A) Special Focus For 2005: China's Minorities And Government Implementation Of The Regional Ethnic Autonomy Law:
The central government continues to place Han Chinese "from the interior" into key technical and political posts in autonomous areas and to encourage Han laborers and farmers to move into these regions. . . . Central and local directives emphasize that Han leadership is needed to spur development in autonomous areas due to the dearth of educated minorities, but the government encourages technically trained minorities to leave the autonomous areas while supporting the influx of both skilled and unskilled Han workers.Id. text at notes 51-54. The Chinese authorities have long understood the dangers. It might well have shaped their response to charges of ethnic cleansing in the former Yugoslavia:
China appears to be shifting its position on atrocities committed as part of ethnic cleansing in Kosovo. At a briefing in the Chinese capital Tuesday, Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Zhang Qiyue called for more research to determine if ethnic cleansing was part of the Serb campaign in Kosovo. China's position previously had been to deny Serbian atrocities, focusing on NATO as the villain in the Balkan conflict. "Whether this ethnic cleansing has happened or what is the concept of ethnic cleansing, a conclusion can only be drawn after serious investigation," Zhang said. She did not rule out Yugoslav leaders facing trial for war crimes.China Shifts Position on Ethnic Cleansing, CBS News, Nov. 10, 2000. Though Kosovo must remain very much on the minds of Chinese State officials. As Kosovo moves to independence, as the Ivory Coast attempts to overcome separatism and civil strife based on migration and demographic shifts (see Lydia Polgreen, A War Ends in Ivory Coast, But Peace, Order and Unity are Flickering Dreams, New York Times, June 10, 2007 at A-14), the Chinese must wonder, and rightly so, on the wisdom of cultivating majority minority territorial regions within China. It is clear that such a policy appears to increase the likelihood of separatism. It also appears that the international community appears more willing to permit such state splitting on ethnic solidarity grounds. From this perspective, China's migration policy makes much sense. Yet, as the normative structure of appropriate behavior norms embraced by the international community, and international law, seem to shift to afford greater protection for minority communities and less to state integrity, the Chinese increasingly risk falling outside the behavior norms and expectations of a "great power." Indeed, the parable from out of places like Ivory Coast and Kosovo suggests that states may be captured by demographic shifts in ways that provide them little room to maneuver under emerging international law principles. Less costly during the long period of isolation through the Cultural Revolution, the course set by Deng Xiaoping after 1979 makes Chinese exceptionalism as costly, among the community of states (and global civil society) as American exceptionalism has proven in a variety of other contexts.
Consequently, it will be hard for China to continue to pursue policies that might be subject to such attacks in light of recent development of human rights notions with respect without the likelihood that it will have to pay a big price. While China was able to afford the bill for world condemnation in the early 1980s, its integration nt he world economy today makes the price much higher. Still, it will likely take the West, through its governments and civil society elements, a number of years to elaborate n anti-migration campaign. And that may be enough. However, the Olympic Games makes China vulnerable to very bad publicity in that regard. And from widely publicized bad press can come action that might hurt Chinese economic progress.
National Political Solicitude for Cultural Islam in China. In the construction of a global approach to the pacification of its minorities, especially its Muslim minorities, the Chinese State has begun to implement sensitivityt campaigns among its non-Muslim populations. Much was made of the Chinese State's attempt to downplay the role of the pig in the 1007 Chinese New Year celebrations.
China's preparing for the year of the Pig, an especially auspicious year which begins on Feb. 18. But the run-up has been anything but lucky for pork fans. Pigs have been banned from appearing in any ads on the state-run broadcaster, CCTV, after an order that is now surrounded by confusion. . . . The order means that ads for consumer treats such as sausage snacks have been yanked from airing.Luisa Lim, Ban Thwarts "Year of the Pig" Ads in China, NPR Morning Edition, Feb. 6, 2007. Muslims in China were reported to be enthusiastic. "The media have given the news importance and reported the enthusiastic response from Muslim communities. For example, Huo Engjie, director in Shanghai of the Association of Minorities, said: “Even if we [Muslims] are less than 2% of the Chinese population, this ban shows how much the government respects us. It’s really moving.”" Year of the Pig: In Respect for Islam Pigs Banned, Spero News, Feb. 12, 2007 (from Asia News) Outside China, Muslims appeared as quick to distance themselves from the policy. The American media was quick to report that angle of the story: "Omar Ahmad, Amila.org: "When governments make a decision about what Muslims want and don't talk to Muslims, they come up with something completely ridiculous, and here's what we've got."" David Louie, Pigs Banned From Chinese Television Ads: Out of Respect for Muslims, ABC News, Jan. 25, 2007.
Analysis in the West, though not wrong, was both incomplete and of the usual sort. "Whatever the situation, the thinking behind the ban is telling. "The underlying reason goes to the very core of what it is Chinese government views as its patriarchal responsibility to maintain harmony of the entire society," said Tom Doctoroff, China CEO for the JWT advertising agency." Luisa Lim, Ban Thwarts "Year of the Pig" Ads in China, NPR Morning Edition, Feb. 6, 2007. Indeed, on one level, the pig ad ban reflected just another aspect of Chinese State ideological campaigns seeking general harmony within its population, and thus an effort at forming the nucleus of constitutional normativity with the Party at the head of the state. See Backer, Larry Cata, "The Rule of Law, the Chinese Communist Party, and Ideological Campaigns: Sange Daibiao (the 'Three Represents'), Socialist Rule of Law, and Modern Chinese Constitutionalism" . Journal of Transnational Law and Contemporary Problems, Vol. 16, No. 1, 2006. Thus, it was reported that "Communist Party propaganda chiefs have issued a stern new warning to China's broadcast executives, saying news reports and entertainment should promote socialist loyalty and soothe tensions as the country enters a sensitive political season." Edward Cody, Broadcast Media in China Put on Notice, Washington Post, Feb. 27, 2007 (""In foreign countries, televisions are privately owned and you can broadcast whatever you want," Wang Weiping, deputy head of the series division at China's State Television, Film and Broadcasting Administration, told the Southern Weekend newspaper recently. "But in China, television is the mouthpiece of the party and the people. This is its main mission, and entertainment is secondary."").
But on a more important level, the campaign represents a critical aspect of the Chinese State's engagement with a critical, and critically restive minority group sitting at the frontiers of the State. It is, in a sense, meant to demonstrate that, just as the State is capable of the most rigorous measures in defense of its integrity against those who would challenge its supremacy, so is it the most effective guardian of the rights of and respect for minority culture, religion and sensibilities. From the Party, through the State, flows both the most intense punishment and the most beneficent rewards. The state, as father, guardian, protector and disciplinarian is thus centered in the existence of the political community. And that political community remains superior to other, and now inferior, markers of difference--religion, ethnicity, language, vocation, etc. The ban on pigs, thus, cannot be understood fully, outside of the context in which it appeared--the suppression of Uighar insurgency and the migration policy of the State.
China will be pleased to see its anti-porcine edict reported globally, showing its multicultural credentials and sensitivities. But this does not mean it is inclined to give hardline Islamists the benefit of any doubt - for example, police recently raided a training camp in the northwest region of Xinjiang, whose indigenous population, the Uighurs, are mainly Muslim, and killed 18 people they said were terrorists.Rowan Callick, Year of the Pig Sparks Some Porkies, News.com.au, Feb. 1, 2007 (from The Australian). All this effort is meant to ensure that minorities remain minorities in every district of China, all remain dependent on the state, and all consider themselves an inseparable part of the the indivisible state founded on the dictatorship of the proletariat and organized on principles of family order and harmony.
There is, of course, some danger in this approach. First, it might be viewed as both shallow and inadequate. A barely plausible fig leaf over the policy of repressing State enemies among minority groups seeking separation rather than a subservient harmony with Beijing, it will produce more harm than good. Second, it might arouse the indignation of the majority Han population and increase the friction between the two communities. There were reports of such reaction in some of the press. It would be ironic and not in China's interests to move toward a social pattern in China that resembles that of Indonesia and Malaysia, but inverted. Third, it might serve to highlight a problem the Chinese would as soon have the global community forget. More importantly, it might backfire as externally directed propaganda.
China's Conundrum. It is easy enough to sit on the outside and suggest the risks and rewards of China's emerging and complicated policy toward its Muslim minorities. There is much in those policies that auger a great risk for China on the world stage--both as a matter of international relations and as a matter of international law domestically applied. But for states with large minority populations--Russia, the United States, Canada, Malaysia, Indonesia--it may also serve as a possible template for reducing the destabilizing potential of minority communities. If China might "get away" with a policy like this, then why not others?
But all of this really points to the greatest problem and challenge of the the nation state in the 21st century--the problem of solidarity. Assuming a reality in this century of large numbers of once ethnically homogeneous nation-states becoming multi-ethnic (and multi-religious) as the great migratory patterns of the last century play themselves out in this one, then the problem of finding a commonality sufficient to support viable political communities becomes critical to the survival of the state as a political community. Ironically, the Chinese appear to understand this better than most in the West. Perhaps they are searching in the wrong places; perhaps they are implementing the wrong policies. But they understand the problem, and its importance better than most. Yet the Chinese State, increasingly bound by international norms and sensibilities, will find it harder and harder to find and maintain a base for solidarity. It will be interesting to see how rising global standards favoring free movement and equal treatment will work against the maintenance of viable and distinctive states grounded in a difference begetting solidarity.