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Economic, cultural support will mend ethnic rifts (Source: Global Times)

Editor's Note:
Tension between Uygur and the Han people still plagues the Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region in the aftermath of the July 5 riots. Jiang Zhaoyong (Jiang), a Beijing-based current affairs commentator, has been doing research on social conflicts. He has conducted extensive investigations in the southern part of Xinjiang, including interviewing many local Uygur people. The following is an interview conducted by the Global Time (GT) reporter Chen Chenchen with Jiang.

GT: How do you view the relationship between the two ethnic groups now?

Jiang: I appreciate your usage of "groups" here. It's important to distinguish between "ethnic groups" "nations" and "states."

Undoubtedly, tensions and grudges exist between the two ethnic groups. Each has its own internal identity, and there is an division between the two ethnic groups.

In 1965 when the central government changed the "Xinjiang Province" into the "Xinjiang Uygur Autonomous Region," the new name actually further strengthened the shared identity of Uygurs.

Previously, when conflicts took place between the two ethnic groups, the Han people often pursued a policy of compromise, and let both sides have peace.

That has something to do with the different characters of the two groups. In the Han group, individuals feel restrained, whereas the entire group has a sense of superiority. On the contrary, in the Uygur group, individuals are often indulged, whereas the entire group feels constrained.

After the Uygur mobs killed many Han people, the Han people were both irritated and frightened. They gathered together and organized counterattack to embolden themselves.

Some Han women carried sticks when going to the street – like whistling when walking at midnight, a totemic gesture against fear. That's why they felt so grateful when the police arrived in force.

The police remained neutral between the two groups – they used tear gas to disperse the Han people who sought counterattack of Uygurs.

However, the police's patrolling and searching for the mob somehow enhanced the fear of Uygurs. Some Uygur women began carrying sticks when going out, raising their arms, shouted slogans and wrathfully protested when seeing journalists. The psychology was the same – to repel their fear and settle their own minds.

Once violence breaks out between two groups, both sides are cautious and anxious toward an unknown future.

GT: How did the violent riot start? Was it due to accumulated grudges, or was it purposely manipulated?

Jiang: Structural hatred is often the background to any large-scale violent activities. It's natural that conflicts and frictions exist between two different ethnic groups having different languages and habits.

However, in recent decades, the sense of frustration, deprivation and hatred among Uygur is actually caused by China's development mode, characterized by an overly rapid modernization process and pace of social change. The central government's policy toward ethnic minority groups itself has no discrimination or oppression.

This sense of frustration, deprivation, and hatred also exists in other places in the inner parts of China. The difference is, mass disturbance incidents in the inland are often attributed to the framework of conflicts between officials and citizens, whereas in Xinjiang, the framework of conflicts between Uygurs and Han people is easily used.

Such incidents cause a crisis of political identity in China's inland, but may lead to a crisis of national identification in border areas.

Nevertheless, the grudges and gulf between the two ethnic groups are not as severe as they could be. Most Uygurs are not interested in politics. The riot was actually carefully planned and manipulated.

GT: Was it related to the armed clash between the Han People and Uygurs in Shaoguang, Guangdong Province on June 25?

Jiang: The Shaoguang incident triggered the Xinjiang riot. Just like the World War I was triggered by an assassination, the Shaoguang incident was taken advantage of for political ends, to create a popular narrative of ethnic oppression.

Compared with Tibet secessionists, those seeking the independence of Xinjiang have a more concealed, but more violent system that creates terror. With the prevalence of pan-Turkicism and pan-Islamism, three forces in Xinjiang, separatists, Islamic fundamentalists and terrorists, have been coordinating with each other, and used the Shaoguang incident as an outlet to mobilize. One should always distinguish relatively small violent factions from the rest of the Uygur.

GT: Should the central government reconsider its policy in ethnic minority areas?

Jiang: Ethnic issues are complicated and tricky. If the central government doesn't change its existing thinking to address urgent conflicts, problems may accumulate and threaten overall stability and fast economic growth.

First, emphasis should be laid on economic construction, especially economic support for border regions inhabited by ethnic minority groups, when cracking down on terrorists.

The level of economic development in most ethnic minority areas is approximate to that of the inland in 1980s. In the rural areas of Kashgar, the annual income of some people is lower than 1,000 yuan ($146.40). Terrorist groups hire some poor Uygurs as mercenaries. The central government should stress both material and cultural input. It should emphasize the overall economic and social development, rather than merely focusing on a few development projects. Public services, such as healthcare and social insurance, should be further improved in ethnic minority areas.

Second, always distinguish those three forces from the entire ethnic group. General social problems and criminal cases should not be raised to the political level. Mass disturbance incidents in minority area should be handled flexibly. The political wisdom of officials sent to ethnic minority areas should also be improved.

Last but not least, the central government should encourage the Han people to take the initiative in honestly engaging with minorities. After the violence, both Han and Uygur people need to work together to heal the damage done. Since the two still need to live and merge together, the government should help eliminate ethnic rivalries in minority area.

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