Monday, September 15, 2008

Beijing's Post Olympic Shakedown in Xinjiang and Tibet

While the catchwords and slogans of the just-ended Beijing Olympics trumpeted “harmony” and “One World, One Dream,” the traditionally tense relations between Han Chinese and ethnic minorities – particularly Uyghurs and Tibetans – could worsen significantly in the foreseeable future. Four quasi-terrorist attacks in the Xinjiang Autonomous Region (XAR) in August resulted in the death of at least 22 People’s Armed Police (PAP) officers and police. This is despite the fact that since the riots that hit Tibet and four neighboring provinces in March, the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) administration has tightened security in the Xinjiang and Tibet autonomous regions. President and Commander-in-chief Hu Jintao, the only member of the Politburo Standing Committee with personal experience in handling ethnic-minority disturbances, has so far said nothing concerning the Xinjiang attacks. Yet indications are that Beijing will amplify its two-pronged approach by employing even tougher strategies to “nip troublemaking in the bud” while at the same time earmarking more funds to win over the support particularly of needy Uyghur and Tibetans.


As for Tibet, whatever enthusiasm that CCP authorities may have in seeking a negotiated settlement with the exiled government seems to have fizzled out with the end of the Summer Games. After two fruitless sessions between the party’s United Front Department and the Dalai Lama’s emissaries, no new meetings have been scheduled. In the meantime, attention has been focused on whether Beijing will speed up so-called Sinicization of the region, mainly through encouraging more Han Chinese to migrate to and work in Tibet. In his meetings with French parliamentarians last month, the Dalai Lama asserted that Beijing would accelerate the process of moving as many as a million Chinese to Tibet after the Olympics (Reuters, August 22). Also in August, the Ministry of Railways announced that six branch lines would be added to the Qinghai-Tibet rail network, which has been criticized by the Tibet exiled government as primarily a vehicle for Sinicization (China Times, August 19).While top leaders such as President Hu and Premier Wen have steered clear of making comments on Beijing’s problematic relations with Uyghurs and Tibetans, it is clear that the CCP leadership has abandoned the conciliatory ethnic policies associated with former party chief Hu Yaobang, who headed the CCP’s liberal wing in the early to mid-1980s. After hitting a brief high note with the string of shuttle talks between Beijing and representatives of the Dalai Lama in the lead up to the Olympics, communications have broken down between Beijing and dissident groups in Xinjiang and Tibet, and the possibilities are high that an exacerbation of Beijing’s hard-line, play-tough tactics in the two autonomous regions could stoke mutual suspicions – and nudge relations between Han Chinese and ethnic minorities into a vicious cycle.

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