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China's Uighur Muslims Say Feel Alienated - Reuters

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  • Zafar Khan
    China s Uighur Muslims Say Feel Alienated Fri September 26, 2003 08:03 AM ET By Godwin Chellam
    Message 1 of 1 , Sep 27 12:29 PM
      China's Uighur Muslims Say Feel Alienated
      Fri September 26, 2003 08:03 AM ET
      By Godwin Chellam


      KASHGAR (Reuters) - The shops and cafes in front of
      the centuries-old Id Kah mosque in the ancient Chinese
      Silk Road city of Kashgar were once a gathering point
      for many of the city's Muslim Uighurs.

      Until three months ago that is. In their place now
      stands a swathe of broken land the size of two
      football fields that is dotted with piles of refuse
      and designated as the future site of a vast square, a
      shopping mall and a highway.

      Progress? Not for some.

      "Look! Look what they've done to our holy place. Every
      day we are losing a bit of our culture, and people
      wonder why there are tensions between Hans and
      Uighurs," flatbread hawker Nizilghur, 29, shouted over
      the din of a nearby bazaar.

      His outburst captures the frustration of Uighurs in
      China's westernmost Xinjiang region after five decades
      of communist rule and resentment over what is seen as
      discrimination by Han Chinese and a widening wealth
      gap that sparked riots, bombings and assassinations in
      the 1990s.

      The worst rioting left nine dead and more than 200
      wounded in Yining near the border with Kazakhstan in
      February 1997.

      China has been hoping to allay mutual distrust by
      pushing what it sees as the magic pill of economic
      development, most recently with its "Go West"
      masterplan to bring the fruits of economic progress to
      the remote hinterland.

      It is also working closely with Russia and its
      neighbors in the former Soviet Muslim republics in
      central Asia, with whom it held a meeting in Beijing
      this week, to meet the challenge of radical Islam in
      the region.

      Money is indeed evident in Xinjiang, from glitzy new
      high-rises in the capital, Urumqi, to motorways
      clogged with Honda Accords and Volkswagen Passats.


      The question is who, and how many, actually get their
      hands on the wealth.

      "The kind of industries set up there benefit either
      Han Chinese coming in from the east or Uighurs who
      have been educated in Chinese," said Michael Dillon,
      director of the Center for Contemporary Chinese
      Studies at Britain's University of Durham.

      Xinjiang's highest-ranking official defended Beijing's

      "Economic disparity stems from your abilities. Incomes
      are ... not judged by ethnic groupings," Wang Lequan,
      Xinjiang's party boss and a Han Chinese, told visiting

      But even the Shandong native, who has lived in
      Xinjiang for 13 years, conceded: "The central
      government has invested in the West for three years,
      but because conditions in the region are less than
      favorable, there are many constraints."

      In a white paper released last year, Beijing said
      fixed asset investments in Xinjiang totaled 501.5
      billion yuan ($60.6 billion) from 1950 to 2001, while
      government subsidies rose to 18.38 billion yuan in
      2001 from 11.9 billion in 2000.

      But many Uighurs feel left out -- and not only

      "How many Uighurs do you see in top business or
      government posts? There may be a handful, but it's a
      tiny percentage," said Manzana, a petite Uighur
      teacher from Aksu.

      "They talk about integration and development. They
      talk about raising our standard of living. How come I
      don't see it?"

      Xinjiang separatists have been fighting for the last
      150 years for an independent East Turkestan homeland,
      claiming a region they have inhabited for more than
      1,250 years.

      Formally incorporated as a province of China in 1884,
      Xinjiang saw a brief period of virtual independence
      from 1938 when it sought aid from the Soviet Union.
      China regained control after the Communists swept to
      power in 1949.

      That began a tide of transmigration. That year, the
      United Nations estimates that ethnic Han Chinese made
      up just seven percent of Xinjiang's population. That
      figure has now risen to 40 percent.


      Today, Turkic-speaking Uighurs and Mandarin-speaking
      Han live side-by-side in a sparsely populated region
      rich with oil and minerals. Few dare to talk openly
      about the tensions simmering only just below the

      The crackdown on Uighur separatists has gained
      momentum since the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks on New York
      and Washington, although Washington has urged Beijing
      not to use the war on terror as a pretext to crack
      down on political dissent.

      Indeed, the Han and Uighur cultures differ greatly.
      Many Uighurs live by Xinjiang time -- two hours behind
      the official Beijing time that is imposed China-wide.

      "The Han and us Uighurs never mix. We are as different
      as night and day. They don't understand our language,
      our religion and our culture," said Abdeluky, a
      sprightly 79-year-old. ($1=8.277 Yuan)

      To know more about Muslims in CHina see:

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