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Urumqi riots and ethnic issues in China

Comments on Anthony Garnaut “Urumqi ethnic conflict and failure of the Chinese justice system”, 12/07/2009, http://www.eastasiaforum.org/2009/07/12/urumqi-ethnic-conflict-and-failure-of-the-chinese-justice-system/

Ethnic issues have been problems in China for many centuries, ever since probably the Qin dynasty unified China and brought national system of many things, such as measurement. Han generally dominated China, with some noticeable exceptions such as the Yuan and Qing dynasties when "minorities" ruled China.

I am not a historian, but only an ordinary Han if in Chinese ethnic terms, so I may subject some natural biases. My understanding is that the history of ethnic issues in China has generally been better since the establishment of the People's Republic of China.

While the Chinese Communists, like most communists, may have had strong ideological background in the past in terms of capitalism and socialism/communism systems or "classes", they have not been racists, at least inside China. To the contrary, they have treated ethnic minorities more favourably, given them special privileges.

For example, the Chinese family planning system has allowed only one child for Han people, but this one child policy has not applied to most ethnic minority groups. Just think about how important family continuation is for anyone, especially the Chinese, one would come to realise how special and favourable the policy has been to ethnic minorities in China.

Problems like inequality and conflicts exist in every societies and countries. The main differences are how they manifest themselves. For example, in Australia the Indigenous people suffer great disadvantages, as the recent report from the Productivity Commission shows. They not only range from extremely low income, but also to low life expectancy, dozens times of imprison rates compared to other Australians. This inequality should be much worse than the inequality in China between different ethnic groups.

China’s inequality is largely of a regional nature, as compared to ethnic nature. China has stated itself that there are three broad regions, the Eastern, the Middle and the Western regions in terms of development, with the Eastern region the most relatively developed and the Western the least. It happens that most ethnic Uyghurs live in Xinjiang and most ethnic Tibetans live in Tibet and those two regions are all in the Western region and are relatively poor among many provinces in China, although my understanding is that the situations in Xinjiang are certainly better than those in Tibet.

People can fight even among own families, like between brothers and sisters, parents and children. They can fight between different families of the same ethnic group. They may fight between different local regions. Anything can happen there.

The situation can be very different if potential separation of regions is involved. Most Chinese naturally don’t like the idea to give away any territories. For example, many people resent the fact that Mongolia (Chinese say the Outer Mongolia, because there is an Inner Mongolia in China) was allowed to be independent and the Chinese Communists accepted that.

Others may like to see it in ethnic terms. But mostly, seeing it in ethnic terms is likely to beat up the matter and distort the fact.

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