China’s unrest: Beijing still fails to deal with ethnic minorities

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The Chinese government’s difficulties with the Uighur minority in its western-most Xinjiang region seem to be increasing despite Beijing’s efforts to integrate it and its people with the country’s Han-speaking majority.

The Uighurs, estimated at 10 million in a Chinese population of 1.3 billion, are mostly Muslim, speak a Turkic language and were brought under Beijing’s control only in 1949, when the Communists began to rule in China.

The Uighurs have consistently resented Han Chinese efforts to control their region. One instrument Beijing has used is flooding Xinjiang and cities such as Kashgar and Urumqi with Han-speaking immigrants. The Uighurs see this effort not only as reducing their economic and political prospects, but also as a Beijing attempt to obliterate their culture and religion.

They have become increasingly violent in their efforts to resist. On March 1, a knife attack, apparently carried out by Uighurs, at a railroad station in the city of Kunming, outside the Uighur area, killed 29 and wounded 143. Previous violent Uighur resistance has occurred within their areas of strength, particularly in Urumqi in 2009.

In general, Beijing has not showed particular aptitude at dealing with its minorities, not only the Uighurs but also, better known, the Tibetans. Tibetans in recent months have increased self-immolations and Beijing took offense at President Barack Obama’s meeting at the White House with their spiritual leader, the Dalai Lama, even though Washington took pains to soft-pedal the event.

Violent attacks should not be rewarded by any government. At the same time, Beijing might try adding dialogue and inclusion to its repertory of means of working with China’s ethnic and religious minorities. It is hard to imagine that the Xi Jinping government in Beijing can believe in 2014 that retaliatory violence and economic submersion can work in the long run in a modern country in dealing with the Uighurs or the Tibetans.

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