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The early July riots in Urumqi, the capital of Xinjiang province in China’s Far West, opposing turcophone Uighurs and Han Chinese, have been spun by Beijing as yet another “foreign interference” conspiracy organized by the Uighur diaspora in exile. Pepe Escobar argues it’s more complicated than that. All the trouble stems from the official Chinese policy of population transfer – enticing millions of Han Chinese to move to the Far West where they find limitless opportunities not available to the local population. And then there’s the key strategic importance of Xinjiang province – immensely rich in natural resources. China’s spin plus heavy handed repression has been met by thundering silence all across the “international community”. What a difference from the recent turmoil in Iran.

Story Transcript

PEPE ESCOBAR, THE REAL NEWS ANALYST: The Chinese government has framed the riots in Urumqi in Xinjiang, western China, in early July that left nearly 160 people dead as an evil plot by the Uighur diaspora via Internet and cell phone. Well, unlike the green wave in Iran, at least this time there were no evil Westerners armed with Twitter. So if Beijing’s intelligence knew it, why didn’t it act beforehand? Well, whenever these things happen in China, Beijing always reacts the same way, as this article in The Apple Daily in Hong Kong argues: first there is an information blackout, then hard-core repression; then, after the repression, the blame game hits the ethnic minorities in exile. That’s what happened in Lhasa in Tibet last year and now in Xinjiang. Before, during, and after, Beijing does not even bother to establish a dialog with the rebels, be they Tibetan Buddhists or Uighur Muslims. They are all branded as evil “splittists”—that’s the official terminology. Here’s the Rénmín Rìbào, The People’s Daily, in a French translation: they say that no separatist conspiracy will triumph, because the popular masses and the party cadres are vigilant, blah blah blah blah blah blah. Okay. But amid all of this patriotic orgy, there is never a discussion, for instance, about race being a key requirement to get a job in China. You’ve got to be Han Chinese to land the better jobs. For Beijing, the evil mastermind of the riots in Xinjiang is this woman, Rebiya Kadeer. We just need to read her book, Dragon Fighter, her extraordinary life story, to see this is all nonsense. She writes, and I quote, “The regions in China have done everything in their power to seal us off hermetically from the outside world … as though we are their colony, and they have declared our entire population terrorists.” The big problem is she’s virtually alone. But at least she has denounced it. Pakistan, Afghanistan, Saudi Arabia (Obama called King Abdullah a wise man), Egypt, Syria, the ‘Stans in Central Asia, from all of them, not a word to defend Uighurs. At least in Qom in Iran, Ayatollah Sanei went right to the point. He said in his website that the Iranian regime simply cannot blame China while it was doing the same thing, repressing its own people, at home. All these state actors, they swallow Chinese propaganda, according to which all Uighurs are pro-West and not real Muslims. They swallow it because they all want a piece of the enormous Chinese investment pie. In the case of Iran, for instance, it’s all about oil and gas contracts. And will the US, the UN, the European Union, the high-minded international community ask for or conduct an international investigation on what happened in Xinjiang? Of course not. Financially and in terms of international trade, China has all of them by the balls. They all swallow Chinese propaganda, and they have been convinced that all independent-minded Turkophone Uighurs from what is in effect eastern Turkestan, they are all terrorists. But why is Xinjiang so important? Just look at the map. This is China’s far west, the closest China gets to Europe. The Chinese call it Xinjiang Uighur Autonomous Region. Look at the strategic borders: Afghanistan; three Central Asian ‘Stans; both sides of Kashmir, India and Pakistan; Mongolia; Russia; and inside China, Tibet. I’ve followed the Silk Road quite a few times and I have seen for myself how the Uighurs are strangers in their own land, just like Tibetans in Tibet. It’s a very, very sorry picture. Ten years ago, I was here in Hong Kong when the Chinese government launched the Go West campaign. What was Go West? Amounts, in fact, to a population transfer of Han Chinese to the Uighur nation while they transfer Uighur men to work in other parts of China. And that’s the origin of the riots in Urumqi in the beginning of July. Along with the Go West campaign came the Hit Hard campaign as well—”Hit Hard” as in any dissent by disgruntled ethnic minorities. Hong Kong, because of its special status, at least resists. The largest three protests in the world for the 20 years of the Tiananmen massacre last month was right here in Hong Kong. To understand the strategic importance of the Uighur nation, we’ve got to follow the money. The Uighur nation is immensely rich in gas reserves. It has 25 percent of China’s oil, almost 50 percent of China’s coal, and a lot of gold, iron ore, and uranium as well. This is a Pipeline-istan thing, of course; it had to be. The West-East Gas Pipeline, 4,000 km long, starts in Xinjiang, crosses China, and goes all the way to Shanghai on the east coast. And they’re already building a second pipeline, 9,000 km long, with lots of interconnections going all the way to Guangzhou here in southern China. In Iran and Pakistan, they’re also building the IP pipeline. India pulled out of the IP completely. China stepped in, of course, and they want to expand IP to a trans-Pakistan pipeline crossing from southern Pakistan, along the Karakoram Highway, all the way up to—where else?—Xinjiang. The two key engines driving China for the next two decades or so will be Xinjiang and Tibet, Xinjiang because of oil, gas, and coal, and Tibet because of minerals. Deng Xiaoping, the little helmsman, the father of the new Chinese revolution, he wrote that to get rich is glorious. China will get rich on the backs of Tibet and Xinjiang, of course, but not necessarily their peoples. We were all Persians a while ago, remember, when the regime in Tehran was beating up people in the streets, but we were not Tibetans when China was beating up Buddhists and we are not Uighurs when China is beating up Muslims. The official Chinese mantra for the 21st century—this is official propaganda, state propaganda—is “Harmonious Society”. That was coined by Chinese President Hu Jintao. For the average Han Chinese, this is what it means, right outside my window: the smooth sailing towards the glitzy, glorious, glamorous, materialistic paradise of which Hong Kong is the ultimate incarnation. So in this glitzy picture, who cares about Tibetans and Uighurs?


Please note that TRNN transcripts are typed from a recording of the program; The Real News Network cannot guarantee their complete accuracy.

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Pepe Escobar, born in Brazil is the roving correspondent for Asia Times and an analyst for The Real News Network. He's been a foreign correspondent since 1985, based in London, Milan, Los Angeles, Paris, Singapore, and Bangkok. Since the late 1990s, he has specialized in covering the arc from the Middle East to Central Asia, including the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq. He has made frequent visits to Iran and is the author of Globalistan and also Red Zone Blues: A Snapshot of Baghdad During the Surge both published by Nimble Books in 2007.