Following a month of violence, the Chinese propaganda machine in occupied East Turkestan has gone into over-drive. State media has carried hyperactive reports of Islamist terrorists trained in Pakistan, brutally mowing down numerous civilians and hacking bystanders with knives. Meanwhile it portrays the regional governor’s response as an inspirational Martin-Luther-King-style rallying cry for unity. Constant references to religious extremism, foreign interference and of course “the battle against separatism” compound the line of Hu Jintao’s government: that ruthless fanatics are trying to forcibly separate an integral part of China, through murdering the innocent population of what they term “Xinjiang”.
The reality could not be more different.
For though acts of terrorism do appear to have taken place in some form or another (and must of course be condemned), reports from official Chinese outlets must always be treated with extreme scepticism. After all, China (and the occupied territories of East Turkestan, Tibet and Inner Mongolia) ranks 171st out of 178 states in the press freedom index and is still dominated by the same government mouthpieces that ludicrously proclaimed the 2008 Tibetan Uprising to be a violent, international-orchestrated plot- despite the fact that it was Chinese forces murdering protesters and parading prisoners through the streets whilst the Dalai Lama (the apparent mastermind behind the ‘plot’) called for calm.
Perhaps even more significant than this, is the overwhelming likelihood that any violence which actually did occur, was generated, at least to a large degree, by the Chinese government. Over six decades the powers-that-be in Beijing have systematically raped East Turkestan and continue to do so. The 2011 Amnesty International Report highlights overwhelming restrictions on freedom of expression, the failure of authorities to investigate deaths during the 2009 upheaval and harsh prison sentences, often more than a decade, being meted out to Uighurs for writing about the situation in East Turkestan, talking to foreigners, making web postings or sending text messages. Reports from citizens inside East Turkestan suggest that the recent violence was in fact triggered by land disputes and by Chinese state police cracking down on worship rather than stemming from any extremist cause.
Given the daily repression faced by Uighurs it is distinctly understandable that some may choose to respond violently. After all, the almost overwhelmingly peaceful nature of the neighbouring Tibetan and Burmese struggles are exceptions to the rule: in occupied and oppressed nations at least a handful of people will generally revert to deplorable though explainable acts.
Yet far from realising this, Chinese authorities have exacerbated the situation through their own brutal response to outbursts of violence. Police have already killed suspects and are unlikely to come up against any official enquiry for having done so. Those blamed for previous attacks have been handed the death penalty through a corrupt and politicised excuse for a judicial process. And the state rhetoric about an “evil force” continues hot on the heels of future president Xi Jinping’s pledge to “space separatism”. Such actions and narrative serve only to further radicalise those taking up arms against the occupation and thus perpetuate the cyclical violence.
If the Chinese government genuinely wanted peace in East Turkestan it would respect human rights, provide genuine autonomy, allow freedoms to engage in politics and religion, de-censor the media and ultimately look at a phased withdrawal and transition to an independent state with enshrined rights for the Han minority. That would not be easy, but it would all be possible. However Jintao, Jinping and those who serve them do not want peace or justice….it is painfully clear that they want land, they want power and they want control. And for that reason the violence is going to carry on. And on. And on.