The Present and Future of Xinjiang


Xinjiang, the gigantic most north-western province of China, holds a unique place in Chinese culture and society. A blog post by Taylor McNaboe aims to address some of the concerns and opportunities in the region

There are several reasons why I chose to tackle the region of Xinjiang this week. The previously Uyghur majority region’s situation is integral to China’s development, and it is indispensable that China keep it in order to have rapid development in energy. Sinopec, a state-owned petrol company, recently invested 70 billion RMB into Xinjiang’s economy. In addition, although the situation affects more people and has caused more ethnic violence and civil unrest in China, Xinjiang’s situation has been overshadowed by the complicated situation in Tibet, which has a lot more international recognition, reasons for why this has occured will be discussed later in the post.

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Xinjiang, taking up 1/6 of China’s territory in the sparsely-populated desert region of the nation’s northwest, is hosting one of China’s prevalent inter-ethnic struggles. Although the region is already recognised by the Chinese government as one of the country’s five autonomous regions due to its large Uyghur population, there have been various (yet fragmented) struggles for independence – some propose a nation called East Turkestan. Historically, Xinjiang has been in and out of China’s grasp, most recently recaptured in 1949 from local authorities and the KMT (国民党) by the CPC (中国共产党).

Various factors contribute to ethnic unrest in Xinjiang, including the lack of government implementation and realisation of affirmative action of Uyghur people in education and income, the general feeling of governmental neglect of development of China’s West despite a recent government design of contributing more SOE investment into Xinjiang in addition to Tibet and Yunnan, and the ethnic minority population feeling religiously and culturally repressed by Communist authorities.

Recent development in international politics only brings more ambiguity to policy and classification towards Uyghur separatist movements. In the aftermath of the September 11th attacks, China’s policy towards separatist groups as terrorist organisations was seen with more international understanding, especially in light of Bush’s ‘War on Terror’. Furthermore, Beijing claims that Al-Qaeda operatives, chiefly in Pakistan and Afghanistan, have been training many members of the separatist groups and therefore should be classified as a terrorist organisation internationally.

The international reaction to these claims have been inconsistent; Amnesty International claims that China are infringing on the rights of the Uyghur population, while American policy has the United States simultaneously deploring terrorist acts by Uyghurs in China and indirectly funding endeavours by Rebiya Kadeer, one of the wealthiest women from the Xinjiang region and carries a role that politically parallels the Dalai Lama.

Tension between Uyghurs and Han people in Xinjiang have only worsened. After a series of ethnic riots in 2009 that took place in Urumqi (乌鲁木齐), the province’s capital, the Chinese government has implemented harsher restrictions to the Uyghur people, including land seizures, house searches, and an increase in arrests. To make matters even more complicated between the Uyghur population and the Han Chinese, the government recently promised to reinstitute investment for the Uyghur people by promoting a resurgence in SOE presence and government employment of Uyghurs in addition to a modernisation of the cultural capital, Kashgar, which unlike Urumqi hsd been relatively untouched and has a large Uyghur population by percentage.

Although consideration of Kashgar as one of the five “special economic zones”, a title previously held by contemporary economic powerhouses Pudong District (Shanghai) and Shenzhen, many are concerned about the preservation of Uyghur culture in Kashgar. Moreover, there is a looming fear among Uyghurs of sharing a similar fate to those in Urumqi who can no longer to afford to live in the city of their ancestors due to the growing income gap between Uyghur and Han people.

Xinjiang has an uneasy present, filled with city lockdowns, ethnic tensions, and development concerns. The programmes to bring Xinjiang through a dark tunnel do not have a clear future. Since the 2009 riots, former President Hu Jintao stated that “harmonious society” in Xinjiang could only be realised through economic development. Only time will tell whether Uyghurs will fully benefit from and integrate into the development projects and more importantly Chinese society, as China recognises the necessity of holding Xinjiang in order to support itself as a growing industrial power.