sexta-feira, 16 de outubro de 2015

Crackdown breeds Uighur resentment of China’s deserving Han heroes

The streets of Aksu are decorated with posters lauding the heroes of “national reunification” — the Chinese Communist party’s preferred term for its conquest of the vast northwestern territory of Xinjiang in 1949.

Residents of the small city on the fringes of the Taklamakan desert stroll under the watchful gaze of personages including Ban Chao, an accomplished Chinese general of the Eastern Han dynasty (25 – 220 AD), and the founding “ten marshals” of the People’s Liberation Army. For Aksu’s native Muslim Uighurs, an ethnically Turkish community, the lionisation of Chinese conquering heroes is at best insensitive.

Once an entirely Uighur city, Aksu is now split roughly 50-50 between Uighurs and Han Chinese migrants. Prior to the PLA’s arrival, Uighurs accounted for more than 90 per cent of Xinjiang’s population.

Today they still rank as the region’s largest ethnic group but only just. In a country that is home to 11.5m Uighurs and 1.2bn Han, the former are destined to become a minority in what the Communist party officially refers to as the “Xinjiang Uighur Autonomous Region” — if they are not already.

In the centuries following Ban Chao’s military campaigns in Xinjiang, imperial China’s control of the region would wax and wane. The decisive demographic shift wrought by the ongoing influx of Han migrants has finally consolidated Beijing’s grip on Xinjiang, without which President Xi Jinping’s efforts to build a “New Silk Road” across the Eurasian land mass would founder.

In recognition of this fact, the party could arguably have chosen a humbler set of heroes for its propaganda barrage in Aksu — people such as Gong Shixiang, 21, and Wang Yongjun, 65.

Ms Gong moved to Aksu from Shanxi province because she can earn Rmb2,700 ($425) a month as a noodle shop cashier, compared to Rmb2,000 back home. Mr Wang, originally from Shandong province, sells flat breads at a market popular with his fellow Han migrants. He moved to Aksu five years ago after realising he could clear Rmb10,000 a month in China’s Wild West – twice what he was making in Shandong.

Neither Ms Shi nor Mr Wang seem concerned by the now frequent knife and bomb attacks on Xinjiang’s Han Chinese community, which are allegedly perpetrated by Uighur “separatists” fighting for an independent homeland. Mr Wang’s market is protected by a high fence and guards wielding maces. Should those defences fail, Mr Wang says “they wouldn’t stab me, they just want to kill young Hans”.

Mr Wang is badly mistaken about that. In May 2014, five assailants descended on a morning market in Xinjiang’s capital, Urumqi. At least 31 people were killed. One of the most arresting photos of that carnage showed a little old Chinese lady sitting in shock, her head covered with blood.

Not surprisingly, most of Xinjiang’s Han residents welcome the overt police and military presence across the region, which was beefed up after a deadly race riot erupted in Urumqi in 2009.

Uighurs tend to have a different reaction.

“Seeing armed police everywhere, ready to shoot, doesn’t make me feel safe. It scares me,” said a young Uighur professional in Urumqi, a city with the feel of Istanbul in some neighbourhoods with its cafés and mosques. “It’s also not working. Much more shit happened after 2009 than before.”

His concern that the security-led response only invites more violence is shared by Wang Lixiong, a Han critic of the party’s policies towards ethnic minorities. For Mr Wang, Xinjiang’s current crisis represents a potential future dystopia for the entire country if the party does not grant real autonomy to the Uighurs and also implement political reforms nationwide. “China’s ethnic issues can only be solved with a political transformation involving gradual democracy and grassroots, bottom-up elections,” he says.

Mr Wang draws a parallel between the violence in Xinjiang and unrest elsewhere, such as a recent “Unabomber” attack in which more than a dozen parcel bombs killed at least seven people in Guangxi province. In the absence of a more tolerant and representative political system, he argues, “the economic prosperity we see in front of our eyes could suddenly turn into a nightmare”.

Tom Mitchell

Fonte: FT