Saturday, July 11, 2009

Uighurstan Power Plays

The NYT has an excellent piece today on how the hardline policies in Xinjiang relate to the bigger picture political jockeying within China's leadership.  The profile of the notorious Wang Lequan, which also notes his relationship to his protege and equal in nastiness Zhang Qingli - the hardline party secretary in the Tibetan Autonomous Region, is some quality reportage of the kind that is often sorely lacking when it comes to China.  I hope that everyone in the Obama Administration reads this article, as it exposes a number of important currents in Chinese political thought about how to manage the restive minority nationalities.  To whit: 

- Whereas in most other countries, the fact that Xinjiang exploded into violence in the first place would normally be held against Wang and Zhang, their harsh response and their reputation for toughness (which arguably is a leading factor in the initial violence!) will probably result in their continued promotion up the ladder.

- Wang and his ilk are among a minority who believe that inter-ethnic conflict, rather than economic slowdown, has the most potential to upset the Communist Party's apple cart.  This viewpoint may be self-serving, given his position, and is definitely shaped by the fact that he has spent the past 15 years cracking-heads in Uighurland.  Unfortunately, having recognized inter-ethnic conflict as a problem, he has come to the conclusion that the way to resolve the problem is to be as harsh as possible on one hand while maximizing assimilationist policies on the other.

- Hu Jintao, who comes across on the international stage as Mr. Smooth - a polished, modern leader, is thoroughly linked up with this mentality of repression and chauvinism.  He is probably one of its strongest proponents in the system.  

And so it goes.  US and European policymakers continue to pretend that they are dealing with a modern, normal nation, while China continues to act like a 19th century colonial power.  And we are surprised when the mask slips and the true ugliness peeks out from behind the 21st century veneer.
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