The main objective of this paper is to discuss the role of the Uyghur minority in the development of the Xinjiang region. I have chosen this particular region and minority because at the first point, Xinjiang is the largest province of China and it’s a home for approximately 8 million of the Turkic minority. Since the Chinese government has introduced “Open up to West” policy, the engagement of Uyghur’s in the regional development has gained a lot of importance. In this long-term strategy, the Xinjiang region has been going through “staged development” from the integration period towards the stage of consolidation of advantages created during the previous phase.
The main argument for the paper is the fact that provincial development of Xinjiang initiated by “Open up to West” policy brings many positive economic results, although along with the increased Han migration to the region it may result in the ethno-nationalism of Uyghurs, and various problems for the indigenous community. That’s why the paper will consist of sections that will relate to this argument. First of all, the paper will give the short background to the Uyghur minority that lives in China, mostly concentrated in the Xinjiang province. What’s more, it will take an attempt to identify the current challenges that Uyghur’s faces in the 21st century which should be developed in the next parts of the essay. The next section will concentrate on the role of “Open up to West” policy propagated by the Chinese government in 1999, and started in 2000. After general analysis of the objectives of the strategy, I will focus on the provincial role for Xinjiang. The third section will take an attempt to analyse the role of Uyghurs in the regional development, their contribution to the economic development, but also will show off the different economic opportunities that are created for Han Chinese and minorities. The fourth paragraph will try to analyse the recent migration of Han Chinese to Xinjiang, and the potential effects that it may cause to the province. Finally, the last section will provide the conclusions that come out of the paper with the summarisation of the discussion.
The “Open up to West” campaign, and its characteristics
In 1999, the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) has announced officially the “Open Up the West” campaign. The main objective was to increase the development of the western and interior regions of People’s Republic of China (PRC). Until then, since 1978 the strategy of the China’s development was concentrated on the eastern and south parts of the country. That’s why we may think about another objective that aimed to increase equality between Chinese provinces (Goodman, 2004). In the provincial perspective, there was a huge expectation from the government amount of work to be fulfilled in the upcoming years. The least developed province Guizhou had a twelfth of GDP per capita comparing with the richest Shanghai. To compare, in 1999, in Xinjiang province GDP per capita accounted for 6470 yuan, with 30805 yuan in Shanghai (NBS of China, 2017). What’s important about “Open up to West” strategy is that there was never any produced document that would summarize the intentions of central government about the policy. That’s why we may conclude that the initiative is rather general and driven by aspirations than a detailed plan. It can be observed even in the process of defining what does mean west, were at the first there was nine chosen provinces, what has changed after a few years, and the another several were added to the strategy (Goodman, 2004) Although, in spite of a detailed clarification of the policy there were four different fields agreed by the “State Council Leading Group for Western Region Development” that required improvement in terms of development. First of them were infrastructure constructions, secondly, ecological protection, thirdly industrial restructuring, and the last area were the development of science and technology, education, and human resources (S&T) (Holbig, 2004). For the regions like Xinjiang, it is really important to dismantle the social and economic disadvantages. From the social perspective, the creation of a “new” region in Chinese development suggest that the whole strategy would be based on the minority nationality populations. However, what might surprise is the role of these minorities in the catch-up process with the richer provinces (Goodman, 2004). Coming back to the characteristics of the policy the term of “nation-building” could be interpreted as the most accurate. The conception of “nation-building” could be seen as a part of the “Open Up to West” strategy in terms of a paradigm shift in the minority nationalities policies of CCP. According to Nicolas Becquelin, there is “insurmountable internal contradiction that lies in the foundations of the PRC nationality system: the autonomy of minority areas and the development of “national characteristics” that will ultimately result in their assimilation” (Becquelin, 2004). In fact, the autonomy of minorities is only theoretical, and the political system has nevertheless generated the ethno-national consciousness. On the other hand, the process of integration from the economic perspective could be also seen as the removal of barriers that helps to boost economic development. What’s special about integration is the fact that this process must consider the ways how locality is integrated itself. Regarding specifically to Xinjiang we may describe the nation-building process as something related to the colonisation project. Internal colonialism like has happened in the United States’ westward movement has affected this province heavily, and ignited the undergoing changes that affect the life of the Uyghur and other living minorities in this province. However, this subject will be discuss in the next sections.
To sum up, the Western Development Project aims to alleviate a regional inequality, and should increase the social and national stability in the embraced provinces that could be interpreted as a reference to minority-populated areas. On the other hand, as mentioned above it has the objective to implement nation-building process that should reintegrate ethnic communities into a better functioning political system (Jeong, 2015).
Economic objectives of the policy in Xinjiang province
Even if the main goals of the “Open Up the West” strategy aren’t mainly economic ones, the economic development of the Xinjiang and other provinces are still the crucial part of the strategy and compensation of the inequalities. The Xinjiang’s industry is heavily dependent on the central government because most of the companies are state-owned (Becquelin, 2004). The economic role of the province is still considered as a peripheral one, with the aim to supply raw materials to the more developed regions, whereas manufacturing almost doesn’t exist. Two-thirds of the whole economy relies on the heavy industry, and more than 80% of industrial assets belongs to the state (Becquelin, 2004). Going further, foreign direct investment in this province in 2002 was one of the lowest in the whole country and accounted for US$42.3 million (to make a comparison in 2012, it reached the level of US$396 million) (Global Times, 2012). In the 2017, the gross domestic product has reached 543.7 billion RMB which gives us 25057 RMB per capita. The growth is at 10.6% level.
For the areas that had to be improved through the policy, the infrastructural projects are considered as a long-term task, and the government has put the most important projects in the Tenth Five Year Plan. The Planning Committee has claimed 900 billion of yuan to be invested into transportation, and massive conservancy projects to “recover” billions of cubic metres of water. The Tenth Five-year Plan has announced 70 key investments in the key regional industries (Becquelio, 2004). Xinjiang heavily relies on the production of raw materials such as oil, and gas and that’s why the central government has also planned to build a gas pipeline from to west to the east that is worth of US$20 billion and will stretch for 8,400 kilometers from the Xinjiang to Guangdong. It is a recent deal confirmed by the government, where China Petrochemical Corporation, Asia’s biggest refiner will take responsibility for this project (Bloomberg, 2015). The another crucial investment is “Tarim Basin Project” with the assistance of the World Bank. It has the objective to improve the livelihood of rural citizens through irrigation of the land, and also according to World Bank website “establish mechanisms for sustainable use, development, and management of water resources and land in Tarim Basin, as well as, partial restoration and preservation of the “green corridor” in the lower reaches of the Tarim River” (World Bank, 2017). This project relates to the area of ecological protection which is part of the “Open up to West” strategy. Going further, the another economic objective is to focus on the development of three municipalities that recently has become a city. These municipalities are Player, Wujiaqu in the north, and Tumusuke. Apart from the initial list of projects that aimed to improve the economic development of the Xinjiang province, we can observe an increased recent governmental activity that plans to invest US$ 24.8 billion in another infrastructural projects in the region. The state is planning to build a new roads, railways, and airports that lack of it is considered as the largest obstacle for Xinjiang to boost its development. What’s important, there is a project that aims to link China with Kyrgyzstan and Uzbekistan through railway (China Daily, 2017). These huge investments are motivated by the “One Belt One Road” initiative that was created by the Chinese government in 2013 and has to improve the connectivity and cooperation between China and the rest of Eurasia. It is worth to concentrate on the importance of the 21st century Silk Road project in terms of the regional development of Xinjiang. The numerous investments, these planned or already undergoing can efficiently contribute to the economic growth of the province that is considered as the one of the most troubled for the central government. The best example seems to be Horgos project. The Chinese government has decided to establish a new city on the border between Kazakhstan and China with the goal to transform it into a future transportation and commercial hub on the line of the new Silk Road. In 2014, the previously small town that accounted for 85,000 inhabitants was already sending the trains with cargo as far as to Germany (Tiezzi, 2014). What’s more, the city has become the first ever trans-border free trade development zone.
Han migration to the region – results and problems
Xinjiang province with its largest concentration of ethnic minorities in whole China is considered as one of the most affected regions by the massive migration of Han Chinese. Officially state praise the unity among Uyghurs and Han using the terms of hexie, guanxi, and (harmonious relations) minzu tuanjie (ethnic unity) (Caprioni, 2011). Although the differences between these two large social groups starts even with the naming of the region. For Han and local community of Uyghurs the province is called Xinjiang, but for Uyhgurs intellectuals and ethnic members living abroad it’s considered as the East Turkistan. Going further, there are two different time zones, where Hans are adjusted to the China’s official time, but Uyghurs live adjusted to the local time that is based on topographical position of the province (Caprioni, 2011). However these two differences are not that important as the history of the region is. For ethnic Chinese, this province is an inseparable part of China since the ancient times, although Uyghurs perceive their territory and themselves as the rightful native residents (Caprioni, 2011). It is also worth to mention that Uyghurs are a Muslim religious minority that tries to preserve their faith, whereas Hans are mostly atheists.
In spite of the fundamental conflicts between these ethnicities, forced coexistence has taken different forms of conflict. Nowadays, Xinjiang is considered as the most violent region of China, where only in the period of two years from 2013 until 2015, more than 700 hundred people died because of the political violence (RFA, 2015). It may be considered as the indirect result of the “nation-building” process because of an increased central state interference in to the issues of the region. On the other hand, it may be also the effect of increased sinicization of the local communities that comes along with the larger flow of Han into the region with the main purpose of settlement. The whole development plan is rather seen by Uyghurs as an attack on their existence than improvement of lives(Economist, 2014).
In spite of repressions imposed on Uyghur minority by the Chinese central government that will be discussed later, we may consider the increased flow of Han migrants into the region as a partial answer for the Uyghur’s resistance in the gradual process of re-integration. Starting with the historical fact that before 1949 when Chinese Communist Party has taken power, the Han population in the Xinjiang province accounted for less than 6% of entire population. To compare, Uyghurs constituted 76% (Rahman, 2005). According to census conducted in 2010, Xinjiang had 21.82 million of citizens, where Uyghur minority accounted only for 45.84%, and Han 40.48% (CPI, 2016). What caused this rapid growth of Han population? The answer can be referred to the extensive economic development of the region. The acceleration of Han migration has begun in the 1990s. The first motive behind this might be an improved transport infrastructure between Xinjiang and other inland provinces. On the other hand, an increased exploitation of natural resources can be considered as another motive that led that millions of Han to settle down in the West of China. This massive influx of Chinese has caused many positive economic developments, such as mentioned in the previous section, creation of new satellite towns that are inhabited in majority only by Han, and expansion of already existing cities. Good example is Shihanza, the capital of XPCC that inhabits more or less 600,000 people, and only this city welcomes each year at least 10,000 new Han settlers (Rahman, 2005). Even if Han brings with them “money”, without political stability the whole West Development project may be at least slowed down, or even become unsuccessful if indigenous population won’t accept the far-reaching changes. The government has taken the forceful policy of sinicization that so far couldn’t be considered as the successful one, and we may assume that the WDP project is just a tool in hands of the government to fulfil long-term political strategy of CCP. Uyghur’s that currently are becoming the minority in their own region where they lost their political and economic dominance in 1949, may loose in an effective way their social dominance as well (Rahman, 2005). Han migration to Xinjiang is crucial for the role of Uyghurs in the development of the region, because official version of Beijing that declares the WDP as the aim to lessen the economic gap between the West and East in fact has under-cover agenda. The region has become mostly used for the exploitation of oil that is badly needed by the Chinese government to secure energy security of the country, and going further the whole project of redevelopment of the Xinjiang with huge migration might be interpreted “as the ideal place to transfer the surplus population from its inland provinces” (Rahman, 2005). The influence of government that has also the objective to improve the people and the society may bring many negative effects on Uyghur’s minority. One of them is the language of the minority that with the Mandarin is the official language of the province. The government has been trying to reform the Uyghur alphabet and its vocabulary. The central authorities want to transform the indigenous language into the form which is much closer of the Han language. That clearly shows the political role of the modernisation of the province. Another issue is the educational system of Uyghur’s. Financial deficiency, less and less qualified teachers, and lack of good teaching materials are one of many challenges faced by the Uyghur intellectuals. That might show that Uyghur’s are discriminated not only culturally but also economically, and that’s why we might assume, that most of the economic benefits are finding the way only, or mostly to newly inhabited Han population (Rahman, 2005).
Negative effects of West Development Program on Uyghur minority
Undoubtedly, since the introduction of the “Open up to West” policy, and especially in recent years, the economic performance in Xinjiang has improved. Although, what share of this developmental issues refers to the Uyghur minority? To find the answer, we should start with the reported racial discrimination cases that prevent Uyghurs from an access to the employment opportunities. Most of the jobs are allocated to the newly coming Han Chinese, specifically in the sectors like construction or infrastructure projects (Demick, Pierson, 2009). What’s more, the local farmers in many situation are losing land in favour of Han farmers who are heavily subsidised by the government. We may say the same with the incomes of ethnic minorities that live in Xinjiang that compared to Han are considerably lower. These disparities altogether are creating ethnic unrest, and it contributes to the higher activity of the resistance movements established by Uyghur communities (Jeong, 2015). The fundamental issues such like expression of the religion, cultivation of their own language and “educational dominance of centre-driven Chinese-Language education in schools” are the subject of repressions imposed on Uyghur minority (Jeong, 2015). We may assume that the WDP project brought into the province a new challenges for the minority, and their preservence can be put into a danger, if not after a couple of decades total sinicization of the region.
To understand the problems that Uyghur’s suffer from it is good to examine the case of the cultivation of their language. The PRC’s policy that officially could be described as a pluralistic, in fact has been changing into increasingly assimilative. For the language, monolingual education has becoming a real issue where instructions at school are swiftly changing into only Mandarin, and it can be observed at all levels of education. Enrolment of children into the “nationalist” schools, where Uyghur children can learn how to read and write in Uyghur poses a threat for the future opportunities of those who haven’t chosen Han Chinese schools (Dwyer, 2005). What’s interesting, is the fact that children who are enrolled to the Han classrooms are more likely “tend to speak, dress, and act like Chinese students, which was both a source of prestige (vis-a-vis Han society) and embarrassment (vis-a-vis local ethnic identity, especially when their Uyghur skills slipped) (Dwyer, 2005). We may assume that monolingual education is marginalising the Uyghur culture, what in response creates a tensions among local intelligentsia in the region. The educational system has to pursue “patriotic education” that as the end result should create a totally assimilated Chinese. To do that, central government is using an omnipresent propaganda, such like posters in the kindergartens that claims “I am Chinese. Beijing is my country’s capital, I love China. I love the motherland, I love the Great Wall (…)” (Economist, 2015). Another problem is inefficient number of Uyghurs to teach Mandarin. Even if two-thirds of minority children currently receive Mandarin-language teaching, it is really difficult to attract ethnic Han to teach in this poor region. Because of increased sinicization of the minority, many parents decides to send their children to illegal religious schools, and people even protest against Mandarin instructions (Economist, 2015).
The another issue that causes unrest among the minority are unequal job opportunities that are created along with the economic development of the region. In general Uyghur people struggle to reach a higher status, receive better paid jobs, what only leads to deepening divisions between locals and Han Chinese (Phys, 2012). Employment discrimination exists, and with the ongoing demographic shift it’s fuelling animosity that evolves in the violent attacks against the Han Chinese ( Reuters, 2014). The region which is resource-rich, has a great importance for the Chinese government. Although, the required workforce in the oil industry is heavily imported from the inland, and the number of Uyghurs with engineering skills is very small. That means, that most of the positions are held by Han Chinese. The opportunities that are created only for the newly coming settlers are grist to the mill for the Uyghur separatist movements (Reuters, 2014). According to the article written by The Economist, a better educated minority candidates than Han counterparts still receive worse-paying jobs. What’s more, the study mentioned in the article clearly shows that CVs sent by Uyghurs and other minorities, where ethnicity can be identified by their names are less likely to be responded (Economist, 2015). The job discrimination occurs also in the civil service and various industry jobs as mentioned above oil sector. In 2011, the Congressional – Executive Commission on China has reported a numerous positions exclusively reserved for the Han Chinese. They comprised of county-level discipline inspection and supervision offices, jobs in public health, energy and mining sectors, where the majority of positions were given to the Han (CECC, 2011).
These few mentioned issues that affects daily lives of the indigenous communities are only worsening the situation of Uyghur’s in Xinjiang province. This only leads to the intensified separatist movements that as the main objective want to preserve their own culture and language. The unrests has started in the 1990s, when there was an armed uprising in Baren and spread over Xinjiang region. Uyghur’s that are almost 100% Muslim, are also forbidden from religious expression, and more commonly are deprived of their cultural heritage what partially was mentioned in the previous sections. That only intensifies the willingness to become independent (APCSS, 2008).
To discuss the role of Uyghur minority in the development of Xinjiang province, I’ve decided to start with the “Open up to West” policy introduced in 2000 by Chinese government. The main objective which is to dismantle social and economic disadvantages in the region brought varying results. From the one perspective, Chinese government has improved the economic performance of the province, has invested billions of US dollars into the development of infrastructure and better standards of life. On the other hand, all of the changes that were followed by various policies like “nation-building” have badly affected the indigenous Uyghur minority. The first problem in the developmental process in the province is a huge influx of Han Chinese into the Xinjiang. The gradual sinicization of the Turkic people has been the cause of separatist tensions between Uyghurs and Han Chinese. Members of the minority are usually discriminated and treated by double-standards. Because of that, the role of this ethnic minority in the development of the region is very limited, and in spite of lesser economic benefits, the minority has been put in danger in terms of continuation of their culture, and the language. The increased Han migration has made Uyghurs population a minority in the province. The job opportunitiess created for both groups are not equal, and it is shown in the paper that ethnicity can be obstacle to get a better paid job, or it is even nearly impossible to work in various parts of the province in the civil service. From the cultural point of view, monolingual education of Uyghur children might result in the end of cultural legacy that belongs to this minority. That leads to the strengthening of separatists movements not only across the Xinjiang, but also in different parts of the country. The very recent ban of naming Uyghur children with the Muslim names, and the ban of having a beard among adults can cause another violent responses from the separatists. Overall, the role of Uyghurs in the development of their used to be province has been minor, and as we may conclude, an increased economic activity of the government might possibly even worsen the situation of this minority.
[This article was originally written for a seminar held at King’s College London]
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