The Socialist 7 July 2009 |
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Police trigger ethnic clashes in Xinjiang
Chinese authorities impose martial law
A PEACEFUL sit-down protest in the capital city Ürümqi by around 300 Uighurs, the Turkic-speaking minority that is the dominant population group in Xinjiang, was transformed by trigger-happy police into perhaps the most serious ethnic clashes seen in decades.
Vincent Kolo, chinaworker.info
Xinjiang, known as East Turkestan to many Uighurs, has seen ethnic tensions rise as a result of Chinese state repression that went into overdrive after '9/11' and the global 'war on terror', discrimination of non-Chinese speakers, and a yawning wealth gap that puts the indigenous population at the bottom.
The anger boiled over on Sunday 5 July as hundreds of riot police waded into what had been a peaceful protest by Uighurs, mostly youth. Xinhua News Agency report that around 1,000 Uighurs rioted, overturning police barriers, attacking bystanders and smashing vehicles.
Witnesses quoted in Western media said that up to 3,000 rioters faced around 1,000 police and paramilitary police. Chinese media gave the figure of at least 140 people killed and 816 injured, warning that the death toll could rise. Over 1,400 people were arrested and further protests have been reported.
This represents the most serious outbreak of violence in Xinjiang since 1997 and threatens to eclipse the horrific death toll in Tibetan areas last year. A total clampdown is now in force in Ürümqi with martial law declared and telephone and internet services cut. Dozens of casualties, from both Han and Uighur communities, have been taken to city hospitals.
China Central Television (CCTV) showed footage of Uighur protesters attacking and kicking people on the ground. As with the rioting in Lhasa, the Tibetan capital, in March 2008, such images will inflame anti-Uighur sentiment among sections of the Han Chinese who make up 92% of China's population.
Typically, the central thrust of official propaganda is that the violence in Xinjiang is fomented from outside by exile groups - the message being that all Chinese should unite behind "their" government to protest against "foreign interference".
The protest was held to demand answers from officialdom over an incident in Guangdong, southern China, on 26 June. A horrendous communal (ethnic) clash between Han Chinese and Uighur migrant workers at a toy factory in the city of Shaoguan resulted in two Uighurs being killed (although there are reports the number could be higher) and 118 injured from both ethnic groups.
The incident was started by a Han Chinese worker who had lost his job at Early Light, a private company, that until recently employed over 50,000 workers in southern China. Rather than blaming the boss - Hong Kong's 'toy billionaire' Francis Choi - this worker vented his anger on the 600 Uighur workers brought to the province as cheap labour.
This worker, who has since been arrested, circulated a false story on the internet claiming six Uighur men had raped two Han women at the factory. Gangs of Han workers attacked the Uighur dormitories with knives and metal bars and the Uighurs defended themselves with the same means - a bloodbath ensued.
This incident is highly symptomatic of processes in China, as tensions reach breaking point over unemployment (at a post-1949 record), pay cuts (200 million migrants have been pitched into a new 'race to the bottom' competing for fewer and fewer factory jobs) and official corruption that penetrates almost every sphere of human activity.
With all protest channels closed down and workers' self-organisation outlawed, anger against the state is rising but so too is racism, crime, drug abuse, suicide, and other expressions of hopelessness.
Having spread from Guangdong to Xinjiang, there is now a very real danger - aggravated by chauvinistic government propaganda to justify the crackdown - of racist revenge attacks on Uighurs in other parts of China. Because of their Muslim traditions and dress code, Uighurs are an easily recognisable group and have settled in all major cities as migrant workers, vendors or traders.
On 7 July, ethnic Han Chinese in Ürümqi attacked shops and stalls belonging to Uighurs.
The responsibility for what happened in Ürümqi lies with the Beijing regime and its security forces, whose zero-tolerance towards public protests and any form of independent action and thought is creating social explosions all over China.
Socialists are completely opposed to the Chinese regime's policies in Xinjiang and the repression now underway in Ürümqi. The Chinese state acts in Xinjiang in the same way it acts over incidents of unrest elsewhere: to defend the interests of the moneyed elite and the untrammelled rule of the current dictatorship.
Working class unity over religious and ethnic lines represents the only way out of this crisis. Full democratic rights, including an end to linguistic and ethnic discrimination at school and work, and the right of self-determination for national minorities, are an indispensable part of this struggle.
A new, socialist, labour movement, based upon the bedrock of independent trade unions that organise all workers regardless of nationality, sex, religious beliefs, and hukou [residency] status, is the urgent task of our time.