Analysis

China's Western Periphery Continues to be Turbulent

Symptomatic of the ethno-separatism challenges that China is likely to face in the years ahead is the continued violent turbulence that continues in the Muslim majority Uighur region of Xingjian. China can be expected to fray at the peripheries in Xingjian and Tibet impacting its Great Power pretensions. The Uighurs have consistently been demanding independence from China which forcibly occupied it in the 1950s along with Tibet. Unlike the Tibetans who under the spiritual influence of His Holiness The Dalai Lama have so far been indulging in peaceful protests for an independent Tibet, the Muslim majority in Xingjian can be expected to mount an armed insurrection against China. The Chinese Government has used massive disproportionate armed force to suppress the Uighur demonstrations twice this year. On the first occasion, the Chinese President had to hurriedly fly back from an international summit, so serious was the threat posed to China’s brutal hold on its western periphery.

The violent anger of the Uighur population arises from the Chinese Government policy of changing the demographic profile of Xingjian from a Uighur majority province to a Chinese Han majority province by Government sponsored wholesale migration of Han Chinese from Mainland China. This has resulted in the Han Chinese very nearly catching up with the Uighur Muslim majority in terms of numbers.

This year’s clashes have witnessed that in clashes between the Uighurs and the Chinese security forces the local Han Chinese migrants turned out in large armed vigilante mobs to battle the Uighurs in whose land they have been forcibly transplanted by the Chinese Government.

This trend carries within it the dangers of a civil war between the Uighurs and the Han Chinese migrants. The Chinese Government believes that it’s use of brutal armed force by it security forces could quell any armed insurrection by the Uighur independence movement.

Lying at the extreme Western periphery of China, thousands of miles from the Chinese Mainland no amount of brutal Chinese state-power can ever hope to quell the independence movement.

Unlike the peaceful Tibetans, the Uighur independence freedom fighters can resort to terrorism in the very heart of Beijing and Shanghai and other major urban centers in China with devastating results.

China cannot be expected to release its brutal hold over Xingjian because this region houses large potential deposits of oil and gas reserves. It also is reputed to have large deposits of strategic raw materials essential for China’s defense industry. Xingjian also lies on the route of China’s planned alignment of energy pipelines from Central Asia to the Chinese Mainland.

In addition Chinese hold over Xingjian region provides it with a springboard to exercise greater influence in Central Asia and proximate regions.. It is therefore of greater strategic influence to China than other peripheries.

China is therefore likely to fight every inch in its fight to retain control over Xingjian region notwithstanding the armed intensity of future Uighur insurrection or international condemnation.

Unlike the Tibetan independence movement which gets stymied because India in its strategic timidity fights shy of supporting them, the Uighur independence movement can be expected to receive widespread support from the Islamic World and even from right wing elements within China’s strategic ally, namely Pakistan.

Xingjian stands ripe for being used as a counter-strategic pressure point against China by countries like the United States and India if it has the political will and guts. China would then get the taste of its own medicine. 

06-Sep-2009

More by :  Dr. Subhash Kapila

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