It has proved rather difficult to read media coverage of events inside East Turkestan which has not been coloured by a communist Chinese gloss, even more rare to find a journalist with a sound knowledge of the political and cultural ideology of communist China (which pervades the governance of occupied territories such as Tibet and East Turkestan) or a willingness to go beyond the packaged media image, so adroitly managed by Beijing’s Ministry of Propaganda.
The reportage from Urumchi has not been one of the liberal press’s finest moments, rather like those embedded journalists secured in military compounds, picking sand from their boots in Iraq while unable to report independently, or their media colleagues barred from entering Gaza to witness the destruction being waged upon Palestinians during Israel’s military onslaught (against the largely defenceless civlian population) journalists inside Urumchi have found themselves virtually dependent upon press-briefings from the very authorities responsible for the human carnage, which they seek to report upon!
Under such censorship and manipulation it is impossible to expect full exposure of events, and even less likely for a balanced or detailed examination of underlying factors which contribute to the situation. This has suited communist China’s public relations objectives; to misrepresent legitimate and initially peaceful protests Uyghurs as mob violence, fuelled by extremist ideology, and orchestrated by hostile external forces. In complying to a highly restrictive set of conditions imposed by the Chinese regime, foreign journalists in Urumchi have proved all too willing to repeat official propaganda, and appear troublingly uncritical of state- controlled press briefings, which seem to form the backbone of much press coverage.
A very welcome exception to the automata -like, and fact-free coverage of many newspapers is the Financial Times, which throughout recent unrest in East Turkestan has provided a factual, balanced and forceful perspective on events inside the region. One of its journalists. Mr. Gideon Rachman has presented a rare and enlightening insight into the imperialist thinking which saturates communist Chinese policy and actions inside occupied territories such as Tibet and East Turkestan. He also outlines how the colonial suppression of a people gives birth to a profound desire for freedom and independence. so violently denied to the suppressed peoples of Tibet, East Tukestan, Inner Mongolia and Manchuria. The communist Chinese regime should contemplate the words of the great Daoist philosopher Lao Tzu:
For even the strongest force will weaken with time,
And then its violence will return, and kill it.
The article is featured below:
China is now an empire in denial
When the Soviet Union collapsed in 1991, it suddenly became obvious that the USSR had never been a proper country. It was a multinational empire held together by force. Might we one day say the same of China?
Of course, any such suggestion is greeted with rage in Beijing. Chinese politicians are modern-minded pragmatists when it comes to economic management. But they revert to Maoist language when questions of territorial integrity are touched upon. Supporters of Taiwanese independence are “splittists”. The Dalai Lama, the spiritual leader of the Tibetans, has been described as a “monster with a human face and an animal’s heart”. The Muslim Uighurs who rioted violently last week were denounced as the tools of sinister foreign forces.
According to David Shambaugh, an academic, the main lesson that the Chinese drew from studying the collapse of the USSR was to avoid “dogmatic ideology, entrenched elites, dormant party organisations, and a stagnant economy”.
It is an impressive list. But it misses out one obvious thing. The Soviet Union ultimately fell apart because of pressure from its different nationalities. In 1991, the USSR split up into its constituent republics.
Of course, the parallels are not exact. Ethnic Russians made up just over half the population of the USSR. The Han Chinese are over 92 per cent of the population of China. Yet Tibet and Xinjiang are exceptions. Some 90 per cent of the population of Tibet are still ethnic Tibetans. The Uighurs make up just under half the population of Xinjiang. Neither area is comfortably integrated into the rest of the country – to put it mildly. Last week’s riots in Xinjiang led to the deaths of more than 180 people, the bloodiest known civil disturbance in China since Tiananmen Square in 1989. There were also serious disturbances in Tibet just before last year’s Olympics.
In a country of more than 1.3bn people, the 2.6m in Tibet and the 20m in Xinjiang sound insignificant. But together they account for about a third of China’s land mass – and for a large proportion of its inadequate reserves of oil and gas. Just as the Russians fear Chinese influence over Siberia, so the Chinese fear that Muslim Xinjiang could drift off into Central Asia.
Han Chinese immigrants suffered badly in the race riots that convulsed Xinjiang. But China’s emotional and affronted reaction to the upheavals in Xinjiang is typical of an empire under challenge. With the British in Ireland, the Portuguese in Africa and many others besides, the refrain was always that the locals were ungrateful for all the benefits that had been showered upon them.
In the mid-1990s I had a conversation with an Indonesian general who was genuinely outraged by what he regarded as the ungrateful attitude of the brutalised population of East Timor, after all the lovely roads and schools that had been paid for by Jakarta.
China is especially ill-equipped to understand ethnic nationalism within its borders because many government officials simply do not accept, or even grasp, the idea of “self-determination”. Years of official propaganda about the need to reunify the motherland, and the disastrous historical consequences of a divided China, means that these attitudes are very widely shared. I once met a Chinese dissident who was strongly opposed to Communist party rule. But when I suggested that perhaps Taiwan should be allowed to be independent, if that was what its people wanted, his liberalism disappeared. That was unthinkable, I was assured. Taiwan was an inalienable part of China.
Yet the idea that Tibet and Xinjiang could aspire to be separate nations is by no means absurd. China insists that both areas have been an inseparable part of the motherland for centuries. However, they both experienced periods of independence in the 20th century. There was a short-lived East Turkestan Republic in Xinjiang, which was extinguished by the arrival of the Chinese People’s Liberation Army in 1949. Tibet experienced de facto independence between 1912 and 1949.
As things stand, the break-up of China looks very unlikely. Over the long term, a steady flow of Han immigrants into Xinjiang and Tibet should weaken separatist tendencies. The Dalai Lama, Tibet’s spiritual leader, is not even calling for independence. Some Uighurs may be more militant – but they lack leadership and the international sympathy that bolsters the Tibetan cause.
The Mikhail Gorbachev years and the loss of the Soviet empire in eastern Europe created a degree of political turmoil inside the USSR that does not exist in contemporary China. The Chinese state is much more economically successful, more confident and more willing to shed blood to keep the country together.
Violent repression of separatism can be very effective for a while. But it risks creating the grievances that keep independence movements alive across the generations.
For the moment activists campaigning for Xinjiang or Tibet look forlorn and defeated. That is often the fate of champions of obscure and oppressed peoples. The Baltic and Ukrainian exiles who kept their countries’ aspirations alive during the Soviet era seemed quaint and unthreatening for decades. They were the archetypal champions of lost causes. Until, one day, they won.
Source: Gideon Rachman, Financial Times July 13