China's Xinjiang seethes a year after riots: Uighur activist

Feb 16, 2009
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China's Xinjiang seethes a year after riots: Uighur activist

One year after deadly riots in China's Xinjiang, Beijing has reaffirmed policies that have angered Muslims in the region, raising the spectre of further unrest, a top Uighur activist said.

In an interview with AFP, Ilham Tohti -- an outspoken professor, blogger and member of the Muslim Uighur minority -- said China's "carrot and stick" pairing of economic development with tight security controls had failed Uighurs.

It has instead benefited members of China's majority Han ethnicity who are flooding into the region, while Xinjiang's eight million Uighurs are becoming further marginalised in their ancient homeland, with no end in sight, he said.

"The situation for Uighurs in Xinjiang is increasingly bad," Tohti, 40, said in his modest flat on the campus of Beijing's Minzu University of China, where he lectures -- under watchful eyes -- on economics and Uighur issues.

"In this climate, it is very hard to bring together Uighurs and Han, immigrants and locals. This is a huge problem but the government has come up with no plan for it."

Xinjiang's Uighurs -- a Muslim, Turkic-speaking people -- have for decades alleged Chinese political, religious and cultural oppression in the vast region abutting Central Asia.

Their anger erupted on July 5 last year when Uighur rioters savagely attacked Han in the capital Urumqi, leaving nearly 200 people dead and up to 1,700 injured, according to official figures.

Amid the unrest, Tohti -- perhaps the top Uighur activist within China -- disappeared into police custody for six weeks.

Authorities also shut down his Uighur Online website -- which criticised government policy in Xinjiang while advocating Han-Uighur understanding -- alleging it was fuelling the unrest.

Tohti has since relaunched the site on an overseas server, though it remains blocked in China, and has resumed his lectures despite periodic interference by the authorities. He says he carefully measures his words to prevent provoking the authorities.

In April, China's government removed Xinjiang's unpopular hardline Communist Party boss, Wang Lequan, who had held the post for nearly 15 years, and pledged to raise living standards in the region.

But "nothing has really changed. Only the propaganda has changed," said the diminutive, chain-smoking Tohti, speaking fluent Mandarin.

Economic growth alone -- even if it did benefit Uighurs -- cannot appease a people with centuries of history and culture who seek true autonomy, he said.

"It's as if someone went to a pharmacy with a headache and they gave them medicine for foot pain," said Tohti, an animated figure who punctuates his points with wry smirks, raised eyebrows, and heavy sighs.

"We need an economic life but we also need a cultural life. We need respect," he said.

First, he said, China must stop flouting its own laws to oppress Uighurs -- especially the law making Xinjiang a "Uighur Autonomous Region". The designation exists only on paper, he said, with the Beijing-dominated Communist Party in control.

Eschewing radicalism, Tohti says Uighurs must seek change through Chinese law, adding: "There is no other way out."

To this end he has translated the autonomy law into Uighur, distributing it electronically and via printed copies through a network of supporters in Xinjiang, and arguing that Uighurs must break their own shackles of ignorance.

"The problem? We don't understand our own problem. We don't understand our own rights. We don't understand how to protect our rights. The most pressing task is to cultivate our people and spread knowledge," he said.

Besides education, there is the issue of procreation. Tohti urges all Uighurs to take advantage of their legal right, as an ethnic minority, to have more than one child as a way of magnifying their voice.

Yet that voice has been stifled since the riots, he said, as China shut down Xinjiang's Internet access during the unrest, saying instigators were using it to foment violence.

The government touted the lifting of those restrictions in May as a return to normalcy but Tohti said at least 80 Uighur sites that were accessible before the riots remained blocked.

Security in Xinjiang has become draconian, he adds.

Many Uighurs were buoyed when ethnic cousin Turkey criticised China's handling of the unrest.

But Tohti calls that misplaced, saying Turkey is unlikely to challenge a rising, economically powerful China on the issue and that Uighurs cannot expect overseas help.

What does he tell the many Uighurs convinced that China will never allow true cultural and political autonomy?

"I can only say, let us wait and see," he said.


Tihar Jail
Oct 2, 2009
In China, unrest spreads as more workers rally

BEIJING -- A series of labor strikes continued to spread Friday across parts of China, as newly emboldened workers pressed for higher wages and better conditions, posing a fresh challenge to the government and the country's only officially sanctioned union.

In Zhangshan, in southeastern China, about 1,700 workers at a Honda Lock factory..............................The workers walked off the job Wednesday, demanding more pay and the right to elect their own union representatives -- a direct affront to China's official union, the All-China Federation of Trade Unions.

Two other Honda plants in Guangdong province remain idle because of work stoppages.

Meanwhile, the unrest spread to China's other main industrial base in the Yangtze River Delta, when 2,000 workers at a Taiwanese computer parts plant walked off their jobs in Shanghai's Pudong district.

In Kunshan city, in Jiangsu, just outside Shanghai, workers striking at a Taiwanese-owned rubber factory earlier this week clashed with police who tried to break up their protest. Workers this week also walked off the job at a Japanese industrial sewing machine plant in Xian and at a Taiwanese sporting goods factory in Jiujiang, in Jiangxi province.

It's everywhere. And all kinds of enterprises," said Xu Xiaonian, an economics and finance professor at the China Europe International Business School. "It's not confined to multinationals and joint ventures. And not just the South -- everywhere."

But the underlying causes, they said, were China's growing income gap and mounting frustration by a younger generation of urbanized workers that their wages have stayed relatively meager even as prices all around them -- particularly for housing -- have soared.

"Their money is worthless because property prices keep rising," said Andy Xie, a Shanghai-based economist. "We're seeing this social tension building up." He added, "Every period of social instability in China has been driven by inflation."

Geoffrey Crothall, a spokesman for the China Labor Bulletin, a Hong Kong-based advocacy group, said the unrest "reflects accumulated pressure that's been building up for quite a long time. Wages have been kept low for many years."

Also significant, Crothall and other said, is that workers have made one of their central demands the right to elect their own union representatives, a rebuke of the official union that ostensibly represents workers in China but in reality has long acted as a partner of factory managers and local government officials to ensure labor peace.

Some economists, however, have said that foreign firms might also decide to move their China operations away from the more affluent coastal regions to areas inland and farther west in the country,

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