Thursday, July 09, 2009

Behind the Riots in Xinjiang: China's Changing Economy Fueling Ethnic Tensions

The Dramatic Explosion of Ethnic Violence Pitting the Dominant Han Chinese Against the Mostly Muslim Uyghurs in Xinjiang Province -- The Worst Unrest in China in 30 Years -- May Be Only the Beginning, as China's Rapid Economic Growth is Fueling Greater Inequality and Resentment

Chinese police in riot gear form a barricade in Urumqi, capital of the restive Xinjiang Province, in a show of force to prevent further violent clashes between the city's mostly-Muslim Uyghur minority and the Han Chinese majority. Although Han Chinese dominate the capital, the Uyghurs are the majority in the rest of the oil-rich province. Ethnic tensions between the two groups have been simmering for years and erupted in a wave of violence that has racked the city since Sunday and has spread to other cities across the province. (Photo: David Gray/Reuters)

(Posted 5:00 a.m. EDT Thursday, July 9, 2009)


Asia Times Online

SHANGHAI, China -- The weekend violence that has left 156 people dead and more than 816 injured in Urumqi, capital of the northwestern Xinjiang Province, is the latest example of growing ethnic conflicts between China's majority Han and the country's minority Uyghurs.

At the heart of the escalating problem are China's antiquated policies towards its ethnic minorities -- a raft of Marxist measures that are now pleasing neither the majority Han Chinese, nor the country's minorities. As China's gargantuan economy has advanced, former leader Mao Zedong's vision of political and economic equality between Han and non-Han has gradually been undermined.

The end result could be seen on the bloody streets of Urumqi.

[Armored vehicles and trucks carrying thousands of Chinese troops rumbled through the riot-torn streets of the provincial capital early Thursday morning, blaring out propaganda urging ethnic unity, Reuters reported.

But some residents of the city, where at least 156 people were killed and 1,080 wounded on Sunday when minority Muslim Uighurs went on the rampage against Han Chinese, openly worry whether the two sides can ever peacefully co-exist again.]

On Sunday, more than 300 ethnic Uyghurs -- mostly Sunni Muslims -- staged a protest in Urumqi's People's Square to demand an investigation into a June 26 brawl at a toy factory in Shaoguan, Guangdong Province. Riots began when police began to disperse protesters, soon spreading across the remote, yet massive city of 2.3 million people.

Groups of rioters broke down guardrails on roads, torched automobiles and beat Han pedestrians. The mob attacked buses and set fire to a hotel near the office building of the Xinjiang Regional Foreign Trade Commission, according to the state-run Xinhua news agency. Hundreds of cars, shops and homes were smashed and burned during the violence, Xinhua said.

China Central Television on Monday aired images of Uyghur protesters attacking Han men and women, kicking them on the ground and leaving them dazed and bloodied. Images were shown of smoke billowing from vehicles as rioters overturned police cars and smashed buses.


As of Monday evening, at least 156 people were found dead and more than 800 others injured, including armed police officers, the Xinjiang Public Security Department said. More than 50 bodies were found in back streets and alleys, officials said, adding grimly that the death toll will likely rise.

Official statistics did not give any breakdowns to show how many Uyghur protesters were killed. A spokesperson for the World Uyghur Congress (WUC), a United States-based organization of pro-independence Uyghurs in exile, told Voice of America Radio that police opened fire on protesters. The Chinese government has blamed the WUC for masterminding the violence.

Xinhua said "the situation was under control" by Monday morning; police had shut down traffic in parts of the city and arrested over 1,000 protesters. Among those detained were at least 10 of the most prominent figures who fanned the unrest on Sunday, the Xinjiang Public Security Department said.


But on Tuesday, over 200 Uyghurs, mostly women, staged a new protest in Urumqi in front of foreign reporters and it was reported that in the afternoon Urumqi Han residents has launched counterattacks on Uyghurs. The women demanded the release of their families arrested during Sunday's violence. The foreign reporters had been organized by authorities to visit post-violence scenes, where protesters engaged in a tense stand-off with police, Hong Kong media said.

[The scope of the violence -- the worst outbreak of ethnic unrest in China in more than 30 years -- appears to be far greater than that which erupted in Tibet last summer, forcing China's president, Hu Jintao, to abruptly cancel his scheduled appearance at the G-8 Summit in Italy and return home to deal with the crisis, The Associated Press reported.

[A grim-faced Hu briefly told reporters in Rome that he was "with regret" returning to Beijing "due to the situation" in Xinjiang Province, which has seen ethnic violence between Han Chinese and Uyghurs escalate dramatically since Sunday. At least 1,080 were people have been injured and 1,434 arrested in the unrest].

The Xinjiang provincial government Tuesday evening warned that "hostile elements" were plotting to stir up violence in other cities in the oil-rich province, such as Yining and Kashgar.


"We deeply regret the loss of life" in Urumqui, U.S. State Department spokesman Ian Kelly said Tuesday. "We call on all sides for calm and restraint."

United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon also called for restraint. He told a press conference on Monday: "Wherever it is happening or has happened, the position of the United Nations and the secretary-general has been consistent and clear: that all the differences of opinion, whether domestic or international, must be resolved peacefully through dialogue."

According to Xinhua, a government statement claimed the violence was "a pre-empted, organized violent crime. It is instigated and directed from abroad and carried out by outlaws in the country."

In a televised address on Monday morning, Xinjiang governor Nur Bekri accused the WUC led by Rebiya Kadeer -- a former businesswoman now living in the United States -- of fomenting the violence via telephone and the Internet. "Rebiya had phone conversations with people in China on July 5 in order to incite ... and the Internet was used to orchestrate the incitement," read the statement.

Kadeer's spokesman, Alim Seytoff, told the Associated Press from Washington that the accusations were baseless.

"It's common practice for the Chinese government to accuse Ms Kadeer for any unrest in East Turkestan and His Holiness the Dalai Lama for any unrest in Tibet," he said. East Turkestan is the name of the state Uyghur pro-independence groups and militants wish to create in Xinjiang.

One the exile groups, the East Turkestan Islamic Movement, is listed by the Chinese government and the UN as a terrorist organization. The WUC denies any connection with the East Turkestan Islamic Movement.

The violence in Urumqi echoed last year's unrest in Tibet. In March 2008, a peaceful demonstration of monks in the capital of Lhasa erupted into riots that spread to surrounding areas, leaving at least 22 dead. The Chinese government accused the Dalai Lama of orchestrating the violence. The Dalai Lama denied the charge.


Whether the riots were instigated by pro-independence activists or not, the fact remains that violent conflicts are easily stirred up by the mutual distrust between the Han people and ethnic minorities. Internet rumors were also involved.

The brawl in the Shaoguan factory on June 26 was started by a post on a web site that claimed at least two female Han workers were raped by Uyghur migrant workers, many of whom work at the factory.

In response to the allegation, a mob of Han Chinese workers stormed into dormitories of the Uyghur workers. In the ensuing battle, two Uyghurs were killed and many workers from both sides were injured, according to local police. Authorities later arrested a Han Chinese worker for uploading the rape rumor to stir up trouble.

The increasingly frequent conflicts between Han Chinese and other ethnic groups indicate the Chinese Communist Party's policy toward ethnic minorities has become ineffective in maintaining harmonious relations between peoples.

For the past 60 years, the stated aim of the Communist Party's policy has been to maintain national unity and stabilize civil society. The Beijing government considers all ethnic groups to be Chinese, but encourages all ethnic groups, especially minorities, to keep and develop their traditional cultures. The government has even helped minorities with only a spoken language create their own writing system.


The idea that all people in China belong to the "great family of Chinese" is not the invention of the communists. This attitude began with the founding father of modern China, Dr. Sun Yat-sen, and was supported by early Chinese enlightenment thinkers such as Liang Qichao and Hu Shih.

In the era of chairman Mao Zedong, the ethnic policy was dictated by his class-struggle doctrine, by which all Han and non-Han working people shared one common identity -- socialist labor. The term "labor" meant they were also the owners of the country, both constitutionally and ideologically. Capitalists, land owners, serf owners and other "exploiters" -- regardless of their ethnic origins -- were the enemies.

This policy successfully surpassed ethnic differences and constructed a shared identity for all working people. To an extent, this policy under Mao united all ethnic groups in the "class struggle" against the "oppressors." It also made the former elites of ethnic minorities die-hard enemies of the Communist Party.

The working poor of China's ethnic groups gave much support to the Communist government and accepted their new socialist identity. Han and non-Han people became equal economically and politically, and the idea of ethnicity was gradually faded out by the idea of class.

The concept of a common class, which gave equality to all people in the same class regardless of their ethnicity, surpassed the idea of ethnic identity and forestalled ethnic conflict.


But when the class-struggle doctrine was practiced to the extreme -- particularly during the Cultural Revolution between 1966 and 1976 -- it gave Mao's Red Guards, consisting of mostly Han Chinese, the grounds to attack China's cultural and historical heritage -- Han as well as non-Han -- in the name of the revolution. These attacks tremendously hurt the feelings of ethnic minorities.

After the Cultural Revolution, apparently as some form of compensation, the Chinese government began to award some privileges and preferences to ethnic minorities.

For example, Beijing's tough one-child policy applies only to Han Chinese couples. Accordingly, the birth rate and population proportion of the Han are decreasing, compared to other ethnic groups. Meanwhile, privileges have been granted to ethnic minorities for employment and education opportunities. To boost economic growth, the government in recent years has poured much money into ethnic minority areas.

Many Han Chinese are upset at what they see as discrimination. In the aftermath of the Shaoguan brawl, Guangdong Communist Party secretary Wang Yang visited and consoled the injured Uyghur workers, but allegedly ignored the injured Han workers. This angered the Han workers and increased their suspicion of the government's policy.


Even as ethnic groups, such as the Uyghurs, complain they are being exploited or discriminated by the Han, many Han Chinese accuse the government of doing the same. In the end, as China's economy advances, political and economic equality between Han and non-Han is being undermined.

The wealth gap is expanding between the Han, who in general live in rich areas, and those ethnic minorities who live in relatively poorer areas. The economic inequality between different regions is also a case between Han and non-Hans. Although this imbalance of economic development is due to many factors, it's easy for minorities to feel exploited by the Han.

As the influence of Marxism as the dominant ideology is diminishing in China, the sense of political equality is also abating. Today, common people aren't really considered the owners of the country, and laborers are no longer a respected class. Capitalists have become the government's guests of honor.

In China, political equality based on class equality has collapsed. For the past 60 years, this idea of class equality was a basis on which all common people, including minorities, could maintain an identity as one member of the Chinese political community.

Now, the economic and political marginalization of ethnic minorities is destroying the foundation of some ethnic groups' Chinese identity. At the same time, this marginalization is deeply misunderstood by many of the majority Han ethnic group.

The shared identity of the Chinese -- as socialist labor -- is gradually falling to pieces. The resulting riots in Urumqi may be just the start of something much, much bigger.

# # #

(Jian Junbo is assistant professor of the Institute of International Studies at Fudan University in Shanghai. Reuters and The Associated Press contributed to this report.)

# # #

Volume IV, Number 54
Special Report Copyright 2009, Asia Times Online Holdings, Ltd.
The 'Skeeter Bites Report Copyright 2009, Skeeter Sanders. All rights reserved.


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Monday, July 06, 2009

Why She Suddenly Quit: Palin's Dealings With Building Firm Under Scrutiny

Despite FBI's Denial That It's investigating Her, Questions Remain Over Whether Alaska Governor and Her Husband Steered Lucrative Contracts to Construction Company That Built the Palins' Home While She Was Mayor of Wasilla in Exchange for Political and Business Favors

Alaska -- and the rest of the nation -- remain abuzz over the abrupt resignation Friday of Governor Sarah Palin (at podium) with just 18 months remaining in her tenure. While some of her hard-line conservative supporters believe that she's "clearing the decks" for a run for the 2012 Republican presidential nomination, her political star may instead be about to burn out: Federal investigators were reportedly probing alleged favoritism by the governor and her husband Todd (right) toward a construction firm that built their home in 2002 while she was mayor of her hometown of Wasilla. The FBI denied that it's conducting such an investigation, but questions about the Palins' dealings with the company remain. (Photo courtesy KTVA-TV, Anchorage)

(Posted 5:00 a.m. EDT Monday, July 6, 2009)
(Updated 10:30 a.m. EDT Monday, July 6, 2009)


How many more damaging political earthquakes can the Republican Party sustain?

That's the question uppermost in the minds of many of the party faithful in the wake of Alaska Governor Sarah Palin's bombshell announcement on Friday that she is resigning with 18 months remaining in her term.

Lieutenant Governor Sean Parnell will take over as governor on July 26.

Palin's announcement came just two days after her political arch-nemesis in the "Troopergate" scandal that has dogged her administration for more than a year filed papers with the state elections board that he plans to run for governor next year.

After getting swept away by a Democratic tsunami last November, the Republicans have been rocked by one political disaster after another. Already reeling from scandals that have taken down two other potential 2012 presidential hopefuls, the news of Palin's sudden departure hit the GOP with the force of an 8.0-magnitude earthquake -- after getting slammed by temblors of 5.8 and 6.2 on the Richter scale, in the form of infidelity scandals that took down Senator John Ensign of Nevada and Governor Mark Sanford of North Carolina.

Palin made the stunning announcement at a hastily called press conference at her Wasilla home as the Independence Day weekend began. During her announcement, Palin cited a rash of new ethics complaints filed against her and public ridicule of her family -- particularly her unwed teenaged-mom daughter, Bristol, who broke off her engagement with her longtime boyfriend, Levi Johnston, the father of her baby -- among her reasons for stepping down.

She also blamed the national media. "You are naïve if you don't see a full-court press on the national level, picking apart a good point guard," she declared, using a basketball metaphor to refer to the flood of negative publicity about her and her family since she was catapaulted into the national spotlight last summer as GOP presidential nominee John McCain's vice-presidential running mate.

Palin's remarks on the media follows a devastating profile of the soon-to-be-former governor in the August issue of Vanity Fair magazine, in which Palin’s closest colleagues ridiculed her with nicknames like “Little Shop of Horrors” and accused her of incompetence and of having a personality disorder.


Only hours earlier, Palin announced that she would not seek re-election as governor next year, fueling immediate speculation in Republican circles that she was "clearing the decks" for a shot at the Republican presidential nomination in 2012 the same way as Minnesota Governor Tim Pawlenty -- another possible GOP presidential contender -- who announced in June that he, too, would not seek re-election.

But Palin's announcement of her abrupt resignation caught everyone by surprise -- and touched off fears among Republicans that yet another one of their party's 2012 White House hopefuls is about to be taken down by the same kind of scandal that took down Ensign and Sanford.

However, the Alaska governor is stepping down under a cloud, as questions continue to swirl over allegations of improper -- and perhaps illegal -- dealings between Palin and an Anchorage-based construction company while she was mayor of her hometown of Wasilla.

According to the online news journal The Daily Beast, federal investigators are probing whether the Palins steered lucrative contracts to Spenard Builders Supply (SBS), a company with close personal and business ties to the couple.

SBS was allegedly awarded several construction contracts by Palin while she was mayor of her hometown of Wasilla in exchange for gifts -- including the construction of the Palins' home on the shores of Lake Lucille in 2002, just months before she launched her unsuccessful run for lieutenant governor.

The Daily Beast reported that federal investigators "have been seizing paperwork from SBS in recent months, searching for evidence" of improper -- and possibly illegal -- dealings between the company and the Palins.

An FBI spokesman denied, however, that the bureau was conducting any investigation of the Palins. "There is absolutely no truth to those rumors that we're investigating her or getting ready to indict her," Special Agent Eric Gonzalez told the Los Angels Times on Saturday. "It's just not true." He added that there was "no wiggle room" in his comments for any kind of inquiry.

Gonzalez would not comment, however, on whether other federal agencies were conducting similar probes.


Public records revealed that SBS supplied the materials for the Palins' house. "While serving as mayor of Wasilla, Sarah Palin blocked an initiative that would have required the public filing of building permits -- thus momentarily preventing the revelation of such suspicious information," The Daily Beast's Max Blumenthal reported.

In a highly-publicized, 2,400-word e-mail she wrote shortly after Palin became McCain's running mate last August, Ann Kilkenny, a longtime civic leader and observer of local politics in Wasilla who has known Palin for 16 years, wrote that a $12 million contract then-Mayor Palin awarded to SBS in 2002 to build the town's sports complex ended up blowing the small city's budget by over $3 million.

Wasilla's population was just over 5,400 during Palin's six-year tenure as mayor, according to the Census Bureau, which now estimates it at just over 9,700. The most expensive building project in Wasilla's history, the sports complex ran up huge cost overruns, including $1.3 million in legal fees, plunging the small city into severe long-term debt.

"Fifteen million dollars-plus for construction of a multi-use sports complex which she [Palin] rushed through to build on a piece of property that the city didn't even have clear title to, that was still in litigation seven years later -- to the delight of the lawyers involved!" Kilkenny wrote.

"The sports complex itself is a nice addition to the community, but it's a huge money pit, not the profit generator Palin claimed it would be," she continued.


The timing of Palin's resignation announcement is even more shocking in that it came just two days after her arch-nemesis in the "Troopergate" scandal, state Senator Hollis French (D-Anchorage), filed papers with the Alaska Public Offices Commission that he intends to run for governor next year.

French was incredulous with Palin's decision to step down. "She's my governor just like she's every Alaskan's governor and to have her quit midstream is kind of un-Alaskan," he told the Anchorage Daily News.

French, who chaired a joint legislative committee investigating the governor's controversial firing of the state's top cop, said his filing was merely "a technicality" and that he had not yet reached a final decision to seek the Democratic gubernatorial nomination. and doesn't mean he will run for sure next year.

"It's just simply a preliminary step towards making a final decision but also keeping the dialogue going ... continuing the conversation I've been having with a lot of people about what sort of governor they want to have in the next election," he said.

French's filing -- similar to that of a potential presidential candidate forming an exploratory committee -- enables him to legally start raising funds for a future campaign. But French said he doesn't intend to raise any money until he makes a final decision on his possible candidacy, which he said he would make "sooner rather than later."


French drew national attention for his leadership in the Alaska Legislature's probe into whether Palin abused her authority as governor in dismissing Public Safety Commissioner Walter Monegan after Monegan refused to fire Michael Wooten from his job as a state trooper. The Palin family had been pressuring Monegan to dismiss Wooten, the govenror's former brother-in-law, because they saw him as a threat to the Palin family following Wooten's bitter divorce from Palin's sister.

The final report by the Legislature's chief investigator, Stephen Branchflower, concluded that Palin wrongfully allowed her husband to use state resources to pursue having Wooten fired, stating that "Palin knowingly permitted a situation to continue where impermissible pressure was placed on several subordinates in order to advance a personal agenda..."

The report also recommended some clarifications of ethics statutes for the future.

However, a separate investigation by the Alaska Personnel Board -- whose three members are appointed by the governor -- determined that Palin had not violated ethics laws, contrary to the Legislature's investigation. The board's chief investigator, Tim Petumenos, concluded in his final report that "There is no probable cause to believe that the governor, or any other state official, violated the Alaska Executive Ethics Act in connection with these matters."


Palin's sudden resignation also follow new tabloid allegations that the governor engaged in an extramarital affair while she was mayor of Wasilla in 1996 with her husband Todd's former business partner.

The National Enquirer claims that it obtained three sworn affidavits from relatives of Brad Hanson -- who co-owned a snowmobile dealership with Todd Palin -- that Hanson had an affair with Palin for several months and that Todd Palin severed his business partnership with Hanson when he learned of the affair.

Both Governor Palin and Hanson have vehemently denied the alleged affair. For his part, Todd Palin has refused to comment about it. But Jim Burdett, a Hanson family spokesman, insists the affair did take place, according to the Enquirer. “I’ve known about Brad having had an affair for a long time, but it wasn’t until just recently that I learned his affair was with Sarah Palin,” the tabloid quotes Burdett as saying.


With a major scandal likely to explode any day now, Palin's sudden departure from politics has sent the GOP's already-murky 2012 presidential prospects into even murkier waters. According to NBC’s Andrea Mitchell, Palin "has told some of her biggest backers in the national Republican Party that they are free to choose other candidates for 2012." But those choices are dwindling at a surprisingly rapid pace."

Palin's sudden departure from politics did nothing to shake what GOP pollster Whit Ayers called "the 'lightweight' monkey on her back." Ayres told the Anchorage Daily News that quitting the governorship was the worst thing Palin could have done if she was serious about running for president in 2012.

"If you're a serious politician and you're seriously interested in higher office, the best thing you can do is as good a job as possible in the current office," Ayers said. "I suppose it frees her from the responsibility of a full-time job. It does nothing to enhance the image she has that she's not material for the president of the United States."

Perhaps Palin is no longer interested in seeking the presidency, suggested Fred Malek, a prominent Republican fundraiser and an adviser to the governor.

"I did have the impression she was not happy in the role in she was in," Malek told the Daily News. "We see her through a political prism, but I think we sometimes forget she's a wife and mother of five kids and has responsibilities that are very dear to her."

Palin's resignation was Topic A on the Sunday TV talks shows. One of Palin's potential presidential rivals, former Arkansas Governor Mike Huckabee, said resigning form the governor's office won't help her dodge scrutiny -- and that, to the contrary, would likely increase it.

Appearing on "Fox News Sunday," Huckabee said that for Palin to not seek a second term as governor was one thing, but to step down with 18 months remaining in her first term "simply doesn't make sense in a conventional political setting."

On the same program, Karl Rove, former President George W. Bush's chief political adviser and a Fox News Channel political analyst, said if Palin's aim by resigning as governor was to "clear the decks" for a presidential run in 2012, then he called it "a risky strategy" -- even as Rove acknowledged that Palin "has never been a conventional candidate."


McCain expressed support for his former vice presidential running mate.
"I have the greatest respect and affection for Sarah, Todd, and their family," McCain wrote in a statement e-mailed Saturday to the Reuters news agency. "I was deeply honored to have her as my running mate and believe she will continue to play an important leadership role in the Republican Party and our nation."

For their part, Democrats could barely hide their glee with Palin's resignation.

"It continues a pattern of bizarre behavior," said Hari Sevugan, a spokesman for the Democratic National Committee. "Either Sarah Palin is leaving the people of Alaska high and dry to pursue her long-shot national political ambitions, or she simply can't handle the job now that her popularity has dimmed and oil revenues are down."

Lanny Davis, a Democratic consultant and a former Clinton White House adviser, said, "The problem that Sarah Palin has with her resignation is the credibility that she can do more as a non-governor than as a governor. That simply makes no sense."

David added that Palin's main problem as a potential presidential candidate "is not her intellect. I think her problem is most Americans, including a lot of Republicans, do not believe she is qualified to be president."

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Volume IV, Number 53
Copyright 2009, Skeeter Sanders. All rights reserved.


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