Open

Coming up

Don't miss

Replay


LATEST SHOWS

MEDIAWATCH

Netanyahu deletes tweet featuring photo of James Foley

Read more

THE WORLD THIS WEEK

The World This Week - 22 August 2014 (part 2)

Read more

THE WORLD THIS WEEK

The World This Week - 22 August 2014

Read more

FRANCE IN FOCUS

FRANCE IN FOCUS

Read more

FOCUS

Lifting the veil over China's air pollution

Read more

ENCORE!

Tango Takeover in Paris

Read more

WEB NEWS

Calls for ISIS media blackout after execution of James Foley

Read more

IN THE PAPERS

'Steely resolve of reporters exploited by pared-down employers'

Read more

BUSINESS DAILY

US judge calls Argentina bond swap offer illegal

Read more

  • Europe launches navigation satellites to rival GPS

    Read more

  • Besieged by problems, Hollande faces unhappy return from summer holidays

    Read more

  • Iraqi Sunnis quit govt talks after mosque massacre

    Read more

  • US demands Russia withdraw aid convoy from Ukraine

    Read more

  • Rights group sues US government over ‘deportation mill’

    Read more

  • Colombian army and FARC rebels begin work on ceasefire

    Read more

  • US National Guard starts to pull out of embattled Missouri town

    Read more

  • PSG fall flat once more against Evian

    Read more

  • Fed Chair says US job market still hampered by Great Recession

    Read more

  • August 22, 1914: The bloodiest day in French military history

    Read more

  • Central African Republic announces coalition cabinet

    Read more

  • Hamas publicly executes "informers"

    Read more

  • French firebrand leftist to quit party presidency, but not politics

    Read more

  • Fear of Ebola sky-high among Air France workers

    Read more

  • US says Islamic State threat 'beyond anything we've seen'

    Read more

  • Malaysia mourns as remains of MH17 victims arrive home

    Read more

  • Turkish Foreign Minister Davutoglu set to be Erdogan's new PM

    Read more

  • Interactive: Relive the Liberation of Paris in WWII

    Read more

Asia-pacific

'China will never let go' of Xinjiang

Text by FRANCE 24

Latest update : 2009-07-08

Asia expert Jacques de Goldfiem, a professor at the La Rochelle university, discusses the ethnic riots that have left more than a hundred dead in China’s Xinjiang province.

Asia expert Jacques de Goldfiem is a professor at the La Rochelle university and active on asiaobserver.com, a website on Asian geopolitics.

France 24: What’s behind the ethnic riots that have left more than a hundred dead in China’s Xinjiang province?

Jacques de Goldfiem: Even though the region is affected by strong separatist movements, Xinjiang is worth a great deal to Beijing.

Firstly, it’s strategic because of the frontier with Russia and Kazakhstan. It’s in the latter country that the minority Muslim Uighurs separatists place their rear bases. Then there’s the future of oil in China. Finally the region is full of mineral resources. For these reasons, China will never let go of this region.

What is troubling in Sunday’s events is that they grew to a level we haven’t seen before. These riots underscore a deep malaise among the Chinese Muslim population of Xinjiang, which was independent until 1949. Since then, this region has always been turbulent, with a separatist movement similar to the ETA in Spain or the IRA in Northern Ireland. Urumqi, the city of these events, is predominantly Han — people of Chinese origin.

This current of independence movements is fed by three phenomena. First, the proximity to neighbouring countries, independent and often close in history and culture.

Then there is a social phenomenon: this rich region is exploited by Hans, who come from elsewhere. The Uighurs, descendants of shepherds who represent 47% of the population, are limited to second-class jobs, thus creating a feeling of social frustration. Finally there is a strong sense of identity, with a marked return of Islam.

Beijing points the finger at Rebiya Kadeer, a rich Uighurs businesswoman from Xinjiang who had to flee to the United States. Contrary to the authorities, I don’t think she could have coordinated these riots. People have simply expressed their anger. These eruptions of popular unhappiness are current in China.

How can we compare these troubles in Xinjiang with the riots in Tibet in 2008?

The name Xinjiang signifies “new frontier of the empire”. The Chinese had invaded a region inhabited by Turkic-speaking Muslims in the 18th century.

We’ve been seeing very targeted attacks there since the 90s, but tourists are never troubled. This mode of operation is very different from what we see in Tibet.

Xinjiang was long occupied by the army, with many camps where those in opposition to the regime were held.

Also, the term "autonomous", given to this region and four others in China, is not quite true. All it really means is that they have a different ethnic majority than the rest of the country. Moreover, even though these regions are not predominantly Han, the head of the region is Han.

By comparison, there aren't any such armed attacks in Tibet.

These are two large peripheral regions of China, both representing a strategic point. Both have a strong sense of independence, but this does not manifest itself in the same way. Compared to the rest of China, the people are physically very different.

As for the blocking of the Internet and particularly Twitter, which also happened in 2008, this is a practice now common in China. Under the guise of fighting pornography, they’re looking at installing spy and filter software on all computers sold. Before the Olympics they had blocked a large number of websites. All this doesn’t surprise me at all.

What role did religion play in the events?

The People's Republic of China is secular, and the Chinese central government is very suspicious [of religion]. For example, it permanently monitors all Koranic schools in fear of insurrection.

China is populated by two kinds of Muslims. There are Muslims of foreign origin, like the Uighurs, but also Han who were "Islamized" at the time of the Silk Road. During the Cultural Revolution, between 1965 and 1969, all religions were banned, which frustrated the Muslims. After the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991, the five Chinese Muslim regions became separatists.

Minorities have a special status in China, where they represent only 8% of the population. They differ notably administratively, by being exempted from the one-child rule. But this hasn’t provoked any jealousy [among the Han].

Date created : 2009-07-06

COMMENT(S)