Sunday, April 2, 2017

China's new Hanification measures in the restive Xinjiang province

China has introduced new restrictions in the far western region of Xinjiang in what it describes as a campaign against Islamist extremism. The measures include prohibiting ‘abnormally’ long beards, the wearing of veils in public places and refusing to watch state television. Xinjiang is the homeland of the Uighurs, a traditionally Muslim group who face unbearable persecution and cruel discrimination.

The new legislation, which was published on a regional news portal run by the provincial government, appears to standardize, and expand across the whole province, piecemeal rules and regulations that have been enacted in individual towns and cities.
Specifically, it prohibits:
  • Advocating or propagating extremist thoughts
  • Wearing or forcing others to wear full-face coverings
  • Hyping up religious fanaticism through growing beards or choosing names in an abnormal way
  • Not allowing children to receive state education, interfering with state education;
  • Deliberately interfering or harming the implementation of family planning policies;
  • Publishing, downloading or reading articles, publications and audio-video material containing extremist content;
  • Rejecting or refusing state products and services that include radio and television programming.
The law didn't explain these measures in detail or define abnormal, but the English-language state-run China Daily did say that long beards would be banned "as they are deemed to promote extremism."
 
"We'd be foolish to deny that China has a problem with terrorists," Leibold told CNN.
"But I think the Communist Party is exaggerating the threat of radical Islam and they are turning up the heat in assimilating the Uyghurs into the Chinese nation state."
 

Who are the Uyghurs?

The Uyghurs are largely Muslims, who are the dominant ethnic group in Xinjiang, a large autonomous region that borders Russia, Mongolia, central and south Asia.
Uyghurs regard themselves as linguistically, culturally and ethnically close to central Asia, despite a long history of Chinese rule.
Tensions have arisen between Uyghurs and the Han, the predominant ethnic group in China, who have migrated to Xinjiang in large numbers over the past 60 years.
A 2011 report by the US Congressional-Executive Commission on China said that Han workers have taken most of the new jobs and unemployment among Uyghurs is high. Activists say China has been taking measures to undermine the Uyghur language, culture and religious practices including restrictions on observing Ramadan.
In a response to a question on whether the Chinese government was seeking to repress the Muslim faith in Xinjiang, Lu Kang, China's foreign ministry spokesman said on Wednesday that "the objective fact is that the people of all ethnicities in Xinjiang, just like the people living in other regions of China, are enjoying better lives, working conditions and brighter prospect for development."
"We oppose the approach of linking terrorism with a certain ethnicity or a certain religion," he added.
Leibold said the government has been slowly increasing measures since July 2009, when some 200 people were killed in ethnic riots that were prompted by long-simmering resentment many Uyghurs have for the Han.
 

Are there Uyghur terror groups?

Beijing has blamed the violence on Islamic militants, led by the East Turkestan Islamic Movement (ETIM), which the US State Department listed as a terrorist organization in 2002 a year after the September 11 attacks.
But many analysts dispute its characterization as an Al Qaeda or ISIS-style group.
In February, a 28-minute video analyzed by the SITE Intelligence Group appeared to show Uyghur militants threatening to return to China to "shed blood like rivers." SITE said it was produced by ISIS.
When asked about the video, China's Foreign Ministry spokesman Geng Shuang said he wasn't aware of it, but said: "East Turkestan terrorist forces represented by the East Turkestan Islamic Movement pose a grave threat on security and stability of China and the region."
The China Daily, a state-run newspaper published an editorial that went further: "the video lends further credence to Beijing's claim, especially the oft-ignored assertions of links between domestic and foreign terrorist elements."
China has long asserted Uyghur fighters have joined the ranks of ISIS in Syria and Iraq. New America, a US think tank, estimates that 100 Uyghurs having gone abroad to fight for the ISIS cause, while the state-run Global Times put the figure at about 300.

How do people in Xinjiang feel about this?

The Chinese government tightly controls access to the area.
Journalists are closely monitored when in the province, and sometimes are prohibited from accessing certain parts of the region all together. The same applies for non governmental organizations.
Leibold says the new security measures drive resentment underground and widens the gulf of misunderstanding and between the Chinese state and Uyghurs.
"This is an example of a surveillance society that we've never seen across China," he said.
Dolkun Isa, Secretary General of the World Uyghur Congress (WUC), an exile group based in Germany, said that Chinese news coverage focuses on violence perpetrated by a tiny fraction of the population and "this shapes how some view Uyghurs generally -- though clearly unfairly."

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