Small Wars Journal

Hard Love and Empty Promises: China’s Domestic Counterinsurgency in Xinjiang

Mon, 06/18/2012 - 6:36am

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Abstract: China’s counterinsurgency campaign in Xinjiang has been effective so far, as its combination of military, economic and social policies have placated a restive population. Chinese officials see the insurgency as an existential threat to the integrity and security of the Chinese state, while the Uyghurs view the Chinese rule as repressive. However, because of a reliance on brutality to achieve its aims and the failure to deliver on many of the promises made to spread wealth more equally and offer more rights to the Uyghurs, calls for secession will not die out. Going forward, the frontlines of the battle will be on the Internet, where the Uyghurs have a strong online presence that helps unite and direct the diaspora. Fundamentally, the Uyghur insurgency relates to state legitimacy and citizenship rights, and to address the insurgency at its root requires the Chinese government to deliver on the promises of autonomy and the benefits of citizenship it has made to the Uyghurs.

On 5 July 2009, Chinese troops descended onto the streets of Urumqi, the capital of Xinjiang, in response to riots sparked by alleged attacks on Uyghur[2] migrant workers in Shaoguan, Guangdong Province by their Han co-workers. The Hans killed two Uyghurs on basis of a prior rumor that the Uyghurs had raped Han girls. Ongoing distrust between the ethnic groups culminated in the July violent demonstration where Uyghurs reportedly wrecked Han businesses and attacked them on the streets. Han Chinese took to the streets on 6 July with crude arms in retaliation, chanting “Smash Uyghurs!” before security forces dispersed the crowds. One hundred eighty four people died and more than 1,000 were injured in the aftermath.[3] The ethnic tension, however, continued to simmer, and in September 2009, Han Chinese launched large-scale protests in Urumqi, this time demanding forceful action against rumors that Uyghurs were attacking Han citizens with HIV-laced syringes.[4]

The CCP’s responded in customary fashion.  Security forces clamped down hard, and officials blamed “hostile external forces”—in this case, exiled Uyghur leader Rebiya Kadeer. Authorities reiterated Xinjiang’s importance to the “motherland”, Beijing sacked the Urumqi CCP secretary and police chief, and compensation was paid to the Han.[5] Given China’s unchallenged sovereignty over Xinjiang, the violence and response demonizing the Uyghur appear unnecessary, but the growing international profile for Uyghur autonomy has raised alarm bells for the CCP on the hitherto localized insurgency. 

The insurgency in Xinjiang centers is a struggle for political legitimacy, which Seymour Martin Lipset defines as “the capacity of a political system to engender and maintain the belief that existing political institutions are the most appropriate and proper ones for the society”.[6] For the modern state to be legitimate, it has to provide its citizens with basic security and a decent standard of living. The Xinjiang insurgency revolves around these concepts of rights and legitimacy. Initially, the Uyghurs accepted CCP rule and promises of autonomy, believing that they could share in the fruits of economic development if they participated in China’s economic reforms.  However, Uyghurs in the region today believe the CCP’s rule over their regions is illegitimate, because it was imposed upon them and the current political administration of their region is oppressive and detrimental to their ethnic and religious identities.

The Chinese government views state power in terms of its ability to exert a “monopoly over the legitimate use of force over a given territory”.[7] Therefore, Xinjiang is important to China’s broader territorial sovereignty. The fear is that if should these secessionist movements succeed it would set a precedent for future secessionist movements among other borderlands in a country that is experiencing growing dissent.[8] More importantly, Xinjiang is critical to China’s economic growth. Xinjiang is one-sixth of China’s total landmass, and contains sizeable energy resources that China requires to fuel its industrialization.[9] For a regime that seeks legitimacy via its economic performance and ability to provide for its population, Xinjiang is a crucial piece in its energy security policy. Its geopolitical location at the center of Eurasia also makes it an important trade passageway linking the countries along the Silk Route and the Islamic circle.[10]

A Historical Pattern of Rebellion

While the CCP has been in power since 1949, a broader view of the entirety of Chinese history shows a picture of cycles of dynastic rule overturned by rebellions. Since the Zhou Dynasty (1046-256 BC), the political legitimacy of the Chinese government derived from the Mandate of Heaven, where the people could overthrow the government if the ruler was deemed unjust (signaled by natural disasters or pervasive poverty).[11] The dynastic history of China was thereby marked with the drastic “role-switching between rebels and rulers, and vice versa. Insurgency, therefore, was but a symptom of a much larger and deeper social illness”. [12] Despite the hold on political power the CCP has today, the regime feels vulnerable to domestic instability because these rebellions have overthrown powerful dynasties in the past.

Following the collapse of the Qing dynasty in the 20th century, rival militias and warlords organized in a struggle to fill the power vacuum. Chiang Kai-Shek’s Kuomintang (KMT) Nationalists pacified most of the territory by 1927, and from 1930-1934, launched five “extermination” COIN campaigns against Chinese Communist Party (CCP) guerillas.[13] Mao’s subsequent “Long March” consolidated and expanded Communist troops, eventually taking power in 1949. To solidify their hold in a society with elements still opposed to their rule, the People’s Liberation Army (PLA) launched two nationwide campaigns between 1950-1952, wiping out 2.4 million insurgents and Nationalist agents.[14]

While the CCP’s rule was strengthened in the surrounding provinces of the capital, Beijing, in the northwestern border regions of China, strong resistance to centralized government persisted. Xinjiang province had always resented and rebelled against Chinese control, and locals managed to establish a short-lived Second East Turkestan Republic during the period of KMT-CCP transition before returning to strong centralized rule.[15] The CCP periodically killed, imprisoned and co-opted the leaders of independence movements, but the Uyghurs continued to organize opposition parties to contest Chinese rule, mostly through peaceful protests.

Xinjiang was initially resigned to Chinese Communist rule, and it was only during the Cultural Revolution, when the state adopted policies that were inimical to Islam, that a national Uyghur consciousness emerged. The uprisings in recent years coincide with China’s move away from communism in the 1990s, towards a more nationalist project. This was accompanied by a large influx of Han Chinese migrants into Xinjiang, which exacerbated existing tensions.

The Tiananmen incident in 1989 reinvigorated rebellions in Xinjiang, which witnessed sporadic terrorist bombings and violent demonstration.  The 1990 Baren uprising was a watershed moment that marked an upsurge in violence. Bus bombings in Urumqi in 1992 and 1997 killed ten, and officials started classifying Uyghur separatists as “terrorists”. Peaceful protests in Hotan in 1995 and Ghulja in 1997 turned violent when police started attacking demonstrators.[16] Protests were met by brutal crackdowns from the government, and for a period of time the situation seems to have stabilized. However, in recent years the unrest has re-emerged, as with the July 2009 riots.[17]

Seen in the broader timeline of Chinese history, insurgency and counterinsurgency are part of a historical pattern of order and disorder within Chinese political life. Yet the contemporary independence struggles of the Uyghurs differ from past movements in terms of cultural identity, organization and information dissemination. Yu Bin writes that today’s insurgency is able to gain momentum more rapidly because of the advances in communications that make it easier to organize:

What separates the past and current insurgencies is perhaps the result of heightened ethnic identity, on a globalized scale, and the fluidity of the situation as a result of the revolution of world-wide transportation and communication technologies. In other words, the speed at which information/disinformation is disseminated and the “virtual” space that insurgency forces can operate in make it much harder for established authorities to maintain security and order.[18]

China’s tendency to use excessive force has also driven a wedge between the state and Uyghurs.[19] Nevertheless, it is important to recognize that its past century of turbulence makes internal stability the primary obsession of its government and citizens.  Hence the tendency has been to use force as a first resort rather than discreetly.

China’s Counterinsurgency: Success (For Now)

Since 1949, there has been no “hot conflict” in Xinjiang, although there have been sporadic bouts of violence, so the counterinsurgency by the CCP can be seen as successful by this measure. Successful counterinsurgency usually involves the adept deployment of cohesive military, political, economic and social policies. By grouping the policies as such, one can discern that the crux of Chinese counterinsurgency is not in the absolute use of military power but the skillful calibration of social and economic policies. The Xinjiang issue is, at its root, a struggle over citizenship rights, and the more successful policies thus far are ones that address the grievances motivating the Uyghur’s questioning of state legitimacy- if counterinsurgency success is seen in the absence of “hot” conflict. However, the CCP’s failure to deliver on many of its promises and the increasing loss of control over information flows as Uyghurs organize through the Internet, are likely to inhibit counterinsurgency going forward.

Military deployment

The CCP has always struggled to consolidate legitimacy in the borderlands because the dynastic system of tributary states left it with few institutions to exert a modern form of political rule on Tibet and Xinjiang. Much of China’s public spending today is therefore on regions with strong separatist tendencies.[20] Their rationale is articulated by the director of the Chinese Communist Party Organization Department in Xinjiang:

The Stability and development of Xinjiang bear on the stability and development of the whole country. We must recognize the importance of maintaining stability in Xinjiang from this standpoint… we must completely isolate and crack down on a handful of ethnic separatists and serious criminals of various kinds [italics added].[21]

The pervasive jailing, summary trials and executions characteristic of the CCP’s counterinsurgency response dates back to the “Strike Hard, Maximum Pressure” doctrine of the early-1990s, which focused on eliminating the “three evils” of instability- separatism, terrorism and religious extremism.  Frederick Starr believes the Chinese government has revived the use of “Strike Hard” tactics to target Uyghur dissidents.[22] In December 2005, the Communist Party Central Committee and State Council ordered stronger controls over society, [23] and a “regularized system to carry out ‘Strike Hard’ campaigns”.[24]

China’s troop deployments demonstrate a ‘division of labor defense management’, with the PLA in charge of external defense and border security, while the paramilitary People’s Armed Police (PAP) responsible for internal security, especially in the border regions. The PAP’s main functions are law enforcement and internal security in the borderlands, counter-intelligence, counter-separatist and counter-terrorist efforts, but assists the PLA in wartime.  There are at least 203,000 armor (45% of total strength) and 239,500 infantry (42%) personnel from the PLA deployed to the borders,[25] and 100,000 public security border defense troops, according to official statistics. Estimates place total PAP strength at 1 million.[26] In the past the PLA was used to contain unrest among Uyghurs, but since the 1990s, the PAP has been deployed instead while the PLA’s function is for force projection.

Another paramilitary arm, the largely-Han Xinjiang Production and Construction Corps (XPCC) was established in October 1954, where PLA troops were ordered to undertake construction and manufacturing projects to develop the Xinjiang economy. Demobilized Han Chinese military elements were switched into paramilitary projects as well, including both policing and production. The XPCC was designed to function as a people’s army by the state should the Soviets have invaded China, but today it guards state land and manages informant reporting.[27] Conservative estimates place 2.5 million people under the XPCC umbrella, of which 933,000 are workers. The XPCC alone comprised 13.3% of Xinjiang’s population in 2004.[28]

As one Chinese scholar, Ma Dazheng, argues, “Hans are the most reliable force for stability in Xinjiang”.[29] Ma added that XPCC sites near Qumul must be strengthened to enable full control of the passage from Xinjiang to the interior, and that those near Kashgar should be beefed up to isolate Xinjiang from turbulence in Central Asia. Further deployments, he said, should “draw a circle” around southern Xinjiang by filling in “blank spaces”—one between Aksu and Korla, and another between Hotan and Ruoqiang.[30] This strategy is reminiscent of the ‘oil spot’ techniques pioneered by Marshall Lyautey in maintaining control over French colonial territory.

Growing reliance on the PAP

Since the 1990s, China has increasingly shifted the onus of controlling unrest from the PLA to the PAP.[31] The first major Uyghur uprising the CCP faced was in Baren on April 2, 1990. Rebels planned a series of synchronized attacks on government buildings all across Kashgar, led by Zeydin Yusuf and the Islamic Party of East Turkistan”, who broadcast the call to arms via mosques and cassette tapes. Chinese sources report that 200 men clashed with police, killing seven.[32] Reporting is patchy, but the PLA either used airpower directly or airlifted forces to quash the rebellion when the rebels fled into the mountains.[33] The police crackdown in southern Xinjiang killed upwards of 3,000 Uyghurs.[34]

Authorities first deployed the PAP as the main response force (and PLA for support) in 1995. On July 7, in Hotan province, local authorities arrested imams for discussion of religiously sensitive topics. When crowds turned up at a Party installation to protest the arrests, riot police trapped demonstrators in the compound, released tear gas, and assaulted many of them.[35] In the same month, Islamic groups in Yining organized a boycott of alcohol that angered the government. When the groups organized a local soccer tournament, local officials cancelled the match and occupied the field with tanks.[36]

On July 5, 2009, Uyghur protestors organized a peaceful protest through online social networks in Urumqi, protesting against discriminatory Chinese policies. The government swarmed the area with large numbers of PAP forces and met protestors with heavy handed policing techniques. Large numbers of Uyghurs were detained after extensive security sweeps of the neighborhood, forcibly disappeared, tortured in detention, faced trials without due process and summarily executed.[37]

Judging by military reports issued by China, PLA counterinsurgency operations are likely to involve greater surveillance and intelligence gathering in the future, alongside the greater use of militias and possibly the deployment of aerial warfare as a tool of control if the unrest escalates and Chinese nationals abroad are increasingly subject to terrorist attacks by insurgent-linked groups.[38] Already, the PLA’s ground and air units have been dispatched to join anti-terror operations in Central Asia and it is likely that greater PLA and PAP coordination for counterinsurgency will occur in the future.[39] However, this will still be used alongside the current strategies of economic development, encouraging migration of Han people and the homogenization of the education system, which will still form the crux of the strategy, given how the PLA is aware that the “information battle” is the more decisive battleground in counterinsurgency operations.

Assessing military uses of force

Brent Hierman’s analysis of protests in Xinjiang showed that the number of violent incidents has declined in frequency and severity since the 1990s, although he concludes that “efforts to repress dissent in Xinjiang are leading Uighurs to discover common grievances and interests”.[40] The lack of violent activity therefore does not necessarily imply that China’s military tactics have been successful, because the Uyghurs’ cause has been gaining increasing international attention and support. If current strategy continues, the tide is likely to turn.

Repression fed the ETIM

Historically, counterinsurgencies have succeeded not on the back of harsh repressive measures but on the government’s ability to address the population’s latent grievances. Ironically, it was the CCP’s founder Mao Tse-Tung who first remarked that the insurgent should persist in protracted war to try to provoke an overreaction from the government, which would turn the population against them.[41] Repressive measures have been able to temporarily provide the stability onto which governments can graft reforms, but if the reforms were not delivered well, or if the response was seen as too hardline, the use of force has the unintended effect of creating more support for the Uyghur cause.

Reed and Raschke document the expansion of the East Turkestan Islamic Movement (ETIM), which began with the failed uprising in Baren. The ETIM was founded in 1940 and engaged in sporadic battles with the Chinese government but did not carry out successful attacks till the 1980s[42] when it ramped up recruitment, training and procurement. It launched the Baren rebellion in 1990 that was met immediately with an aggressive campaign of arrests and imprisonment by the CCP, but this paradoxically allowed ETIM ideology to take root within Xinjiang prisons. Chinese prisons became fertile training and recruiting ground for the organization, as students, criminals, Islamic militants and innocent Uyghurs joined in their mutual opposition to the repressive government.[43] The Baren uprising was hardly successful.  Security forces for a rebellion involving 200 men in Baren killed 3,000 men, but it was the harsh response of the CCP that was the unqualified failure that bolstered support for the ETIM instead.

Political policies

Since September 11, 2001, the CCP has attempted to label all Uyghur secessionist movements as “terrorism”, in a bid to justify its harsh responses as part of the “Global War on Terror”.[44] Ten Uyghur groups are accused of terrorist attacks in Xinjiang, but only the ETIM has demonstrable links with global jihad.[45] Assistance and training was sought by external sources mainly to oppose Chinese rule rather than as part of the global jihad. Many authors like Frederick Starr and Martin Wayne therefore point out that the insurgency in Xinjiang is essentially an indigenous struggle against the central government rather than unrest fomented by global jihadists.[46] The use of the ‘terrorist’ label can be interpreted as attempts to demonize the Uyghur resistance movement and justify any crackdowns that ensue.

Coopting elites

The CCP has also successfully co-opted many Uyghurs into its party, adding substantial numbers to the government without compromising its policymaking autonomy. This is crucial as intellectuals and elites have traditionally spearheaded revolutions in China and bringing them into the government diminishes their will and ability to rally the masses against the CCP. Uyghurs in regional and local government are frequently called upon to announce the party’s unpopular policies, all but guaranteeing those officials will not develop a local power base and blunting the criticism that Hans alone rule the region.[47] Uyghur officials are concentrated at the lowest levels of government with “the key departments and organs of Xinjiang administration…in the hands of Han CCP members”.[48] In October 1995, non-Han cadres made up 55.8% of the total cadre population of 190,000. Deng Xiaoping’s reforms reinstated many cadres accused of crimes during the Cultural Revolution and brought it to 43.1%.

Despite policies to swell Uyghur ranks in the party, they remain underrepresented in the government apparatus, especially at the higher ranks. The predominance of Han Chinese in government has become easier to justify on a representative basis as immigration policies have increased the proportion of Han in Xinjiang. Criticisms of the recruitment policy are rarely reported in the Chinese press, and Uyghurs within the system risk persecution if they oppose. Gardner Bovingdon documents a rare occasion in which a usually CCP-friendly non-Han official complained about official propaganda on China’s ‘equal opportunity’ policy: “Our media say the U.S. discriminates, but even so, a black man can become head of the Defense Department. Of Commerce. Of the Supreme Court [sic]. In China, does the Supreme Court have a single minzu? Does the Military Affairs Commission in Beijing? Damn!”[49] Despite the lack of criticism reported in Xinjiang or national media on the coopting of elites, there is an underlying current of resentment coalescing. If implemented fairly, the counterinsurgency strategy of recruiting Uyghur cadres could be very effective in altering the anti-government discourse, but as it stands, the policy is yet another reason for Uyghurs to challenge unjust rule.

Legal instruments of control

The Chinese government has selectively applied its legislation in justifying the crackdown on dissidents. Since 29 Dec 2001 amendment of the PRC Criminal Law by the 9th National’s People’s Congress of the PRC, the definition of terrorism has been widened—with new provisions to enlarge the scope of application of the death penalty—in order to better “punish the crimes of terrorism, safeguard the security of the State and of people’s lives and property and maintain order”, according to China’s Foreign Ministry.[50] One of these changes is to Article 120, which states that “a person who forms or leads a terrorist organization shall be sentenced to fixed-term imprisonment of not less than 10 years or life imprisonment” and includes those who “actively participate in a terrorist organization”.[51] Because terrorism includes “causing harm to state security, social stability, lives and property” under the amended Criminal Law,[52] Article 120 can be extended to criminalize not just a broad variety of potential “terrorist” crimes but political dissent in general, among groups or religious organizations the state deems to be a threat.[53] The maximum sentence of this amendment is also not stated, so even the “funding of a terrorist organization” can constitute a capital offence.[54] The repercussions of protesting against government policy is so severe, that these harsh laws serve as effective deterrents to insurgents.

Perhaps aware of the record of harsh legal measures undermining successful counterinsurgencies by other great powers, the CCP recently passed (and widely publicized) a landmark Criminal Procedure Law to provide more rights to detainees, including informing relatives of detainees within 24 hours, rendering all evidence collected by torture inadmissible in court and granting suspect immediate access to a lawyer.[55] However, the detention of dissidents traditionally falls outside the purview of the legal system, and extralegal mechanisms like the infamous “black jails” (which the CCP denies the existence of) are still being used to house detainees for indefinite periods of time under harsh conditions. Human Rights Watch also noted that in early 2011, as the CCP was fearing the outbreak of an Arab-spring type “jasmine revolution” in China, state security agencies held 30 of its most outspoken critics, including the artist Ai Weiwei, in these black jails, and interrogated, tortured and coerced them to sign spurious “confessions”; the government also considered adding a provision in the Criminal Procedure Law to legalize enforce disappearances, which it dropped after significant domestic and international criticism.[56] As Tong Zhiwei, a professor of Chinese Constitution with East China University of Political Science and Law expresses in his blog, “If the amendments remain cosmetic changes and do not compel a real change in action nor a genuine revision of the relevant articles, then the changes are but insincere gestures to pacify the public”.[57]  Nevertheless, the policy to amend the Criminal Procedure Law can be seen as a smart public relations move for the CCP in its counterinsurgency, as it is able to promote the impression that it is demonstrably reforming the Chinese legal system in favor of the populace.

Economic development and investment

The counterinsurgency function of economic development in Xinjiang can be summarized as such: By raising the overall standard of living of all Xinjiang inhabitants including the Uyghurs, the CCP can placate them with a more comfortable economic situation than if they enjoyed autonomy. Deng Xiaoping’s push for reforms catalyzed industrialization in Xinjiang and led to increases in GDP, infrastructure development and level of social services. Agricultural production increased as a result of irrigation and mechanization; mining companies helped tapped previously unexplored resources for development; state-owned enterprises created jobs for many locals.[58] From 1950 to 2008, the Chinese government invested 386.23 billion Yuan in Xinjiang, 25.7% of total investment in the region.  Government subsidies of 375.202 billion Yuan were also provided. The total per capita GDP in Xinjiang therefore increased by 28 times from 1978 to 2008.[59]

Further examination of state investment in Xinjiang, however, shows that it is skewed towards cotton and oil.[60] State subsidies have propped up large mechanized XPCC farms where Hans predominate, and policy mandating cotton farming has left small-scale Uyghur cultivators unable to compete with the below-market procurement prices and high sunk costs of the activity. Cotton also requires large amounts of water for cultivation, further depleting water resources in Xinjiang, whose water table has already dropped 60m in 30 years.[61] Uyghurs have also felt excluded from the profitable oil industry, which remains largely Han owned and staffed. The leader of the Uyghurs’ international movement, Rebiya Kadeer, echoes the sentiments of her ethnic brethren, in arguing that Xinjiang’s energy reserves are channeled to the interior for economic growth, but none of the profits are filtering back to the Uyghur population.[62] Even with the subsidies and tax rebates for select Uyghur communities, most of the profits from energy and mineral exploitation enrich Beijing rather than the region.[63]

Employment policies exacerbates inequality and resentment

The minority groups in Xinjiang continue to challenge the legitimacy of the CCP, because they perceive themselves as PRC citizens that contribute to the country but enjoy none of the promised benefits of citizenship. Several scholars have proposed that the discontent arises from a sense of relative deprivation, where despite overall development of the region, the main beneficiaries of economic growth were Han, not Uyghur. In general, Xinjiang consistently ranks first for inequality of income distribution among Chinese cities. [64] As inequality is rising, the CCP’s ability to justify the “rising tide floats all boats” argument is diminishing.

Xinjiang cities with the highest concentration of Han Chinese also tended to have the highest per capital GDP, like Karamay (75.36% Han), Urumqi (73.01% Han) and Shehezi (94.49% Han), as compared to Hotan (96.28% Uyghur) and Kashgar (91.24% Uyghur), the two most impoverished cities.[65] Han Chinese also appear to enjoy better employment prospects. In 2000, 80.51% of Uyghur labor forces were blue-collar agriculture workers and only 5.35% of Uyghurs were white-collar “professional and technical workers”, as compared to 11.12% of Han. The table below illustrates the consistent overrepresentation of Han in better-paid professions and Uyghurs in lower-paid jobs:

Table 1. Ethnic labor force distribution in Xinjiang in 2000 (%)

Source: Population Census Office of Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region, Tabulation on the 2000 Population Census of XUAR (Urumqi: Xinjiang People's Publishing House, 2002), as cited by Yufan Hao and Weihua Liu,  "Xinjiang", p. 216, Table 1.

Promoting development in the region can be detrimental for counterinsurgency in the future as the wealth is not evenly distributed. In the long run, this contributes to greater resentment and adds fuel to the Uyghurs’ belief that the government is actively discriminating against them.

Social policies

Preferential policies

The CCP believes that preferential policies regarding family planning, education, job hiring and cadre recruitment have benefited Uyghurs on the whole more than if they had governed themselves autonomously. In comparison to Han Chinese, Uyghurs are allowed to have more than one child, a luxury in a country where reproductive policy is strictly monitored. Entry qualifications into colleges are also less stringent for Uyghurs, and Uyghurs face less red tape in joining Xinjiang government organizations (as lower level bureaucrats).[66] The overall impact of such policies creates growing middle class of Uyghur professionals.

This policy could address many of the endemic grievances the Uyghur minorities have against the government and are much in the vein of ethnic quotas the governments of Malaysia and Singapore implemented following their acrimonious separation where affirmative action policies for employment and education quotas for Malays to even out their socioeconomic disadvantages helped reduce inequality among the races and promote stability in their post-independence years.[67] The results of affirmative action in Malaysia have also been cast in a positive light in Chinese media reports.[68] In addition, these policies are used as political hedge against Uyghur resentment at times. By highlighting the preferential treatment of Uyghurs to Han, Uyghur secessionism is viewed as ungrateful and disruptive gestures by the broader Han population.

Yet, despite some progress, the broader economic inequalities dividing the Hans and Uyghurs still obscures the minor improvements for a small group of Uyghurs. As Bovingdon observes, in general:

Uyghurs remain poorer, less urban, less likely to go to high school and have fewer job prospects than Hans. Employment disparities between the two groups are particularly acute in the oil industry and in private enterprise, where officials cannot impose quotas. Uyghurs have been all but excluded from the most dynamic and profitable sectors, and thus the gap between them and Xinjiang’s Han population will widen with further economic growth.[69]

Moreover, the popular claim that Uyghurs could have more children is more restrictive than claimed. Since 1988, Uyghurs in urban areas have been limited to two children, and those in the countryside to three. This policy is seen as imperialist, an abrogation of their individual rights and religious beliefs.[70]

Language policy

Arienne Dwyer notes that language and religion are valued most by ordinary Uyghurs as central aspects of their identity.[71] However, Chinese officials tend to portray the Uyghur language and their Islamic faith as impediments to the ‘civilizing’ of Uyghur peoples. Although China is a signatory of the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (ICESCR), International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR) and other related treaties, they have only obeyed the tenets of these agreements in rhetoric. In fact, these treaties have often been used to highlight to Han Chinese populations that ethnic populations enjoy preferential treatment, which in turn creates more anger by the Han against the Uyghurs.[72]

Since 2002, the CCP introduced a “bilingual” language policy in Xinjiang schools which effectively eliminated Uyghur as a language of instruction. The policy has Mandarin Chinese as the language of instruction and strong emphasis is placed on reading and writing Chinese.[73] In 2004, the CCP decided to make compulsory teaching in Chinese in all Xinjiang schools. All other languages, like English, are also taught through the medium of Chinese. Many Uyghur families are now self-selecting to send their children to Han Chinese schools, because fluency in Chinese would improve their employment prospects in a Han dominated economy and help integrate them into Xinjiang society at the expense of reaffirming their traditional ethnic identity.[74] Religious expression is banned in all schools and enforced through surveillance.[75]

The education policy is a crucial long-term strategy in China’s counterinsurgency because language is inextricably tied to nationalism, as Ernest Gellner hypothesized in Nations and Nationalism (1983). Gellner wrote that "[t]he state has not merely the monopoly of legitimate violence, but also of the accreditation of educational qualification. So the marriage of state and culture takes place, and we find ourselves in the Age of Nationalism”.[76] Education was the means by which an industrializing state trained its citizens. A common language and common education would create a common belonging to the central government, and through instruction in Mandarin Chinese, the CCP (not Uyghur) brand of nationalism would be encouraged. This gradually eliminates Uyghur inclinations for their own nation.

Han emigration

One of the most effective tactics for offsetting secessionist pressures from the Uyghurs in Xinjiang has been to sponsor Han migration to the region. Soon after the CCP took power, the State Council prepared plans to transfer two million citizens from China’s interior, and from 1950-1978, three million Hans moved to Xinjiang, many on XPCC farms. [77] The policy was so successful that by 1978, Hans made up 40% of Xinjiang’s total population (from 5% in 1949).[78] This has led Bovingdon to christen the Uyghurs as strangers in their own land.[79]

The efficacy of this strategy is evident in the urbanized epicenters of unrest. The overwhelmingly Han population in the cities limits the effectiveness of Uyghur uprisings, containing the insurgency within urban centers and preventing it from spreading to rural regions. When Uyghurs effectively become ‘strangers in their own land’, the Xinjiang territory no longer belongs to the Uyghur nation, but the broader Han consciousness.[80] The strategy mirrors Mao’s dictum of the guerilla needing to be a fish in friendly waters.[81] Here the government shapes the “waters” (population) of Xinjiang to their cause by crowding out the pro-insurgency Uyghur populace.

The policy also eases unemployment pressures within the interior and creates jobs for Han from the mainland if they migrate to Xinjiang as part of government plans for job generation. Such policies are also consistently opposed by the Uyghurs, who see it as an infringement of their promised autonomy. Uyghur intellectuals had warned that an influx of Han would “diminish their political influence and force cultural assimilation”, deprive Uyghurs of jobs, and see family planning policies extend to Uyghurs in urban areas.[82] This policy also encourages resentment among the Han, who perceive the state as unfairly privileging the Uyghurs.

State propaganda

The state media has tried to portray Uyghurs as troublemakers wreaking general havoc and spreading fear in the country. Following the 2009 Urumqi riots, a barrage of media reports painted Uyghurs as perpetrators of a widespread HIV-laced needle attacks that targeted innocent civilians. Deputy mayor of Urumqi Zhang Hong said in a press conference on September 4 that the attacks were “premeditated and organized to create terror in society” and to “disrupt social order and instigate ethnic hatred”.[83] Officials played up the Uyghur ethnicity of those arrested for needle stabbings, although many of the accusations remain unsubstantiated.[84] Such reports engendered an atmosphere of fear during that period, and at the very least, fuelled anger by Han against the Uyghurs.

The July 2009 protests in Urumqi were coordinated through social networking websites. After the riots, the government shut down the Internet service in Xinjiang for nearly a year, only restoring it the day before the China-US Human Rights Dialogue on May 14. However, internet access still remains limited, and users still cannot access popular instant messaging tools.[85] In the wake of the Arab Spring, such restrictions are likely to remain as the government tries to prevent restive masses from organizing.

Information control will be a key determinant for successful counterinsurgency. In 2008, General Yang Hui, the head of intelligence of the PLA, published a comparative study of Russian and American anti-terror operations, where he favored the high-tech, flexible and highly trained American approach. To General Yang, technological capabilities and the control of information contributed more to the success of the wars than superiority in military doctrine, training or equipment. In particular, he christened the American approach as the “sixth generation” of warfare based on information technology (信息化), reconnaissance and information analysis (以侦为主), as compared to the Russian military, which was still prioritizing its “attacking function” (以打为主).[86]

The Uyghurs have also ramped up their online presence, and Kristian Petersen argues that the global exposure to the Uyghur’s pleas for their own nation through the internet reified the Uyghur identity. The more influential websites dealing with the Uyghur issue are written in English, primarily directed at educated Uyghur émigrés and the West,[87] and they attempt to provide the Uyghur account of the Xinjiang issue. Websites like the World Uyghur Congress document in detail the disappearances of various Uyghur dissidents and violations of human rights by the Chinese government.[88] The cyber-presence of the Uyghurs “embody the notion of Uighurness”,[89] helps Uyghur leaders broadcast their plans and unite a fragmented Uyghur diaspora. The difficulty with controlling Internet sources means the Chinese face an uphill battle in containing secessionism, especially with their record of brutality that will only garner international support for the Uyghur cause. It also suggests that China’s counterinsurgency campaign might employ more “cyberwarfare” tactics to counter the Uyghur’s growing online presence.

Policy Implications

The Chinese government views counterinsurgency success in very inflexible, absolutist terms. The Uyghurs are to submit to the rule of the central government in Beijing and should develop their allegiance to the state, and the corresponding Chinese identity. Chinese governments have always tried to fabricate a concept of “One people, One China, One country”,[90] despite being a conglomeration of ethnic Han, Uyghur, Tibetan, Mongol and other minority tribes. To the CCP, independent autonomous rule is unacceptable because deviation from the national cultural norm threatens the identity and viability of the nation. Aside from security, China’s main interests in Xinjiang revolve around energy resources. The need to retain control over the territory is motivated by the need to continue extracting the oil and gas required for industrialization. It therefore appears unlikely that the government will willingly allow Xinjiang full autonomy.

However, this does not mean the US cannot exert pressure on the Chinese government to deliver on its promises of citizenship rights to the Uyghurs, especially on political and social rights. The Chinese government already has much of the necessary policies on paper for the Uyghurs but has failed to deliver on them. Non-governmental organizations need to campaign for these changes, and major Chinese trading partners like the US can help exert diplomatic pressure to implement them.

The more controversial policy the US has to make is which side it should choose. In some ways, supporting the Uyghur’s call for autonomy would prove its bona fides with the Muslim community, and earn it some bargaining leverage against the global jihad if it can portray itself as protecting disenfranchised Muslims. On the other hand, supporting Uyghur secession would most definitely damage the economic relationship with China and possibly provoke conflict if China views it as a fundamental infringement of sovereignty. The implications of taking sides must be carefully considered for the US, which is why sitting on the fence might be the least risky decision to make now.

Moreover, US involvement in the issue should be delicate. James Millward articulates how foreign participation in Chinese domestic policy has always been viewed with great suspicion:

I think that narrative [of foreign threat] is the framework within which Chinese leaders and thinkers are predisposed to see these events. They remember…that there was a CIA agent, Douglas MacKiernan, on the scene in Urumqi in 1949 who went off to meet Osman Batur among the Kazakhs, fled to Osman’s camp when the PLA took over Urumqi. […] This is a very present part of their historical consciousness, and therefore it is not nearly as unreasonable to Chinese as it seems to us that the United States would use sympathy for Uighurs and support for Uighur human rights as a shield or a cover for nefarious purposes…those who are in the business of expressing concern about human rights in China [should] do it in ways that take into account these Chinese anxieties, to try to assuage those anxieties as much as possible.[91]

Millward’s advice means that attempts to introduce ideas regarding secession and autonomy will be viewed by the CCP as fundamental infringements of Chinese sovereignty and an attempt by the US to destabilize China for its own self-interest. Thus, the process of negotiations must proceed with extreme delicacy.

One of the policies to “assuage those anxieties” is energy security. The US can consider offering incentives and technology to develop renewable energy, as it is one of the key interests China has in Xinjiang. It needs to create the right negotiating environment by addressing the security and economic interests the Chinese government has in Xinjiang to compel China to gradually give up its rule. Xinjiang is fertile ground for the development of renewable energy, and the US can set conditions for transfer of renewable energy technology in Xinjiang to initiate negotiate for human rights and negotiations over the autonomy issue.


The CCP has managed to win the information battle thus far, which accounts for why it has managed to keep secessionist violence and full-blown conflict at bay. Its skillful manipulation of media portrayals of the Uyghur population has swayed the general Han population to the government’s side, and international support for the cause has so far been muted. On many issues, the CCP appears benign on paper, demonstrating liberal legislation, policies of cultural tolerance and affirmative action- but in practice, they have failed to keep these promises. This however, has not backfired on them yet, because counterinsurgency is more about information manipulation, the public relations battle to create a perception of legitimate and fair rule. The Great Firewall of China has so far managed to keep the secessionists in check.

However, China’s repressive military strategy and unfulfilled socioeconomic pledges may cause such resentment that the Uyghurs eventually do resort to violence to contest state power, thus becoming the “terrorists” that the CCP has labeled them to be, as Uyghur leader Rebiya Kadeer has expressed.[92] The government would then be able to justify all necessary force to remove the Uyghur threat- and this can backfire easily. Moreover, Beijing’s handling of the Xinjiang insurgency is contradictory in many ways. Domestically, control in Xinjiang since the 1990s was built on the back of accelerating economic growth and development to placate the Uyghurs, but this can only occur (in the authorities’ view) if security and control is resolute. This circular logic, however, aggravated the Uyghurs’ disenfranchisement, while simultaneously engenders Han resentment for its perceived favoring of ethnic minorities.

In a contemporary age of insurgency, the task of spinning a pro-CCP narrative is becoming increasingly difficult. The Uyghurs’ online presence is becoming more vocal, yet the CCP cannot shut down websites not based in the mainland. Once the government loses control of the flow of information, the other counterinsurgency policies will unravel and grievances from their unfair application will intensify. The Uyghur insurgency continues to garner support from overseas exiles and human rights advocates, and there is likely to be a large-scale protest and bloodshed in time if the central government does not deliver on its paper promises. Delivering what it has enshrined in its policy would mitigate much of traditional Uyghur resentment against the CCP, and restore some legitimacy in the eyes of the Uyghurs.

The calls for autonomy will continue to grow stronger as long as current practices remain, and Uyghur and Chinese leaders need to try and obtain a compromise before tensions escalate into full- blown conflict. The CCP especially should recognize that success in the counterinsurgency campaign does not necessarily entail the projection of power from the barrel of the gun, as Mao famously espoused, but that political compromises or the provision of basic rights also legitimizes a state.

[2] In a 2000 Census, Han Chinese made up 40% of the population, while Uyghurs made up around 45%. “Uyghur” refers to a distinct race of Turkic minorities in China that reside predominantly in Xinjiang. The term “Uyghur”, however, was not used to refer to any existing ethnic group in the 19th century, and reappeared only after the Soviet Union adopted a 9th century ethnonym to apply to all non-nomadic Turkic Muslims of Xinjiang. Most Uyghurs practice a different religion, Islam, and have a separate language from the mainstream mandarin Chinese used in China.
Historically, Uyghurs have coexisted peacefully with their Han Chinese counterparts in neighbouring territories, but in recent years, tension has increased due to migration policies by the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) that brought in Han Chinese in droves to regions once populated mainly by Uyghurs, as well as discriminatory policies against Uyghurs.

[3] Edward Wong, “Clashes in China Shed Light on Ethnic Divide”, New York Times (7 July 2009). Available at:  (accessed 2 May 2012); Edward Wong, “New Protests in Western China after Clashes”, New York Times (July 8 2009); “Is China Fraying?”, The Economist (9 July 2009). Available at: (Accessed 2 May 2012).

[4] “China Threatens Punishment for Rumor-Mongering”, Reuters (7 Sept 2009). Available at: (accessed 2 May 2012).

[5] Michael Clarke, “China’s Xinjiang and the Internationalization of the Uyghur Issue”, Global Change, Peace & Security, Vol. 22, No. 2 (June 2010), p. 214.

[6] Seymour Martin Lipset, Political Man: The Social Bases of Politics, 2nd Ed. (London, Heinemann, 1983), p.64.

[7] This is in accordance to Max Weber’s modern Western conception of the state. China sees internal security threats as existential threats that destabilize the regime, and publicly, has always denounced the Uyghurs as “terrorists”. See: Fei-Ling Wang, “Self-Image and Strategic Intentions: National Confidence and Political Insecurity”, in Yong Deng and Fei-Ling Wang (eds.) In the Eyes of the Dragon: China Views the World (Rowman & Littlefield, 1999), pp. 21-46.

[8] Ibid

[9] Yufan Hao and Weihua Liu, “Xinjiang: Increasing Pain in the Heart of China’s Borderland”, Journal of Contemporary China, Vol 21, No. 74 (Mar 2012), p.208, pp.209-213.

[10] Ibid

[11] Elizabeth Perry, Challenging the Mandate of Heaven: Social Protest and State Power in China (M.E. Sharpe, 2002).

[12] Yu Bin, “Learning from the Neighbors: The People’s Liberation Army Examines the Small Wars and Counterinsurgencies Waged by Russia”, in Andrew Scobell, David Lai and Roy Kaumphausen (eds.), Chinese Lessons From Other People’s Wars, Strategic Studies Institute (November 2011), p. 280.

[13] Ibid, pp. 281-3

[14] Ibid

[15] Qu Deqian, “共和国史册上的大匪患”(“A History of China’s Insurgency Threats”), Institute of Contemporary China, History of the People’s Republic of China, (October 15, 1995). Available at: (accessed 27th April 2012); James A. Millward, Violent Separatism in Xinijang: A Critical Assessment, East-West Centre Washington, Policy Studies 6 (2004), see esp. pp.52-54. Available at: (accessed 27 April 012)

[16] James A. Millward, Violent Separatism in Xinijang: A Critical Assessment, pp. 52-53.

[17] Yufan Hao and Weihua Liu, “Xinjiang: Increasing Pain in the heart of China’s borderland”, p.208.

[18] Ibid, pp. 285-6.

[19] Martin I. Wayne, China’s War on Terrorism: Counterinsurgency, politics and internal security (New York, NY: Routledge, 2008), pp. 41-47, 81.

[20] Human Rights Watch offers an example of security spending in Sichuan, with public spending in Aba and Ganzi prefectures (which are mostly Tibetan regions) far outstripping spending in other majority-Han regions in Sichuan.

[21] Chen Deming, quoted in XJRD (10 May 1998), as cited by James D. Seymour and Richard Anderson, New Ghosts, Old Ghosts: Prisons and Labor Reform Camps in China (Armonk: ME Sharpe, 1998), p.121.

[22] Frederick S. Starr, China’s Changing Strategic Concerns: The Impact on Human Rights in Xinjiang, Statement to the Congressional-Executive Commission on China (Nov 15, 2005). Available at: (Accessed 29 April 2012).

[23] “Government calls for building social stability, security”, Xinhua News (12 April 2005). Available at: (Accessed 29 April 2012).

[24] “Senior Official calls for harsh crackdown on all crimes”, People’s Daily (7 December 2005). Available at: (accessed 29 April 2012)

[25] M. Taylor Fravel, “Securing Borders: Chinas Doctrine and Force Structure for Frontier Defense”, The Journal of Strategic Studies, Vol. 30, No. 4-5, (August-October 2007), pp. 714-717. The translations of Chinese military doctrine are from Fravel. p.725, Table 2.

[26] Ibid, p. 727

[27] Martin I. Wayne, China’s War on Terrorism, pp.78-80.

[28] Stanley W. Toops, “The Demography of Xinjiang, in Frederick S. Starr, Xinjiang: China’s Muslim Borderland (New York, NY: M.E. Sharpe, 2004), p. 248.

[29] As cited by Gardner Bovingdon, Autonomy in Xinjiang: Han Nationalist Imperatives and Uyghur Discontent, East-West Center Washington, Policy Studies 11 (2004), p. 27. Available at: (accessed 29 April 2012)

[30] Ibid, pp. 27-29.

[31] Martin Wayne, China’s War on Terrorism, pp. 71-89

[32] James Millward, Violent Separatism in Xinjiang: A Critical Assessment, East-West Center Washington, p.14

[33] Justin Rudelson and William Jankowiak, “Acculturation and Resistance: Xinjiang Identities in Flux”, in Fredrick Starr, Xinjiang: China’s Muslim Borderland, p. 317.

[34] James Millward, Violent Separatism in Xinjiang, pp. 14-15

[35] Ibid, p. 15

[36] Martin Wayne, China’s War on Terrorism, pp. 82-3.

[37] Uyghur Human Rights Project, A City Ruled By Fear: Urumchi, two years on (UHRP, 2011). Available at: (29 April 2012)

[38] Scobell et al, Chinese Lessons from Other People’s Wars, pp. 306-8, 312.

[39] For example the PAP Snow Leopard Commando Unit (雪豹突击队), participated in bilateral training exercises with units from Russia’s Interior in a 2005 Peace Mission, which involved 10,000 troops, Russian strategic bombers and China’s Submarine-launched missiles. [See: Ibid, footnote 54, p. 319].

[40] Brent Hierman, The Pacification of Xinjiang: Uighur Protest and the Chinese State, 1988-2002”, Problems of Post-Communism, Vol 54, No. 3 (May/June 2007), pp. 48-62. The quote is from p. 48.

[41] Mao believed that guerilla warfare was akin to the war of the flea, where incessant, harassing tactics aimed at wearing down the enemy would cause him to over-extend his lines and eliminate his manpower and support piecemeal. Mao wrote that: “Guerillas… can gain the initiative if they keep in mind the weak points of the enemy. Because of the enemy’s insufficient manpower, guerillas can operate over vast territories; because the enemy is a foreigners and a barbarian, guerillas can gain the confidence of millions of their countrymen”.

[See:Mao Tse-tung, On Guerilla Warfare, translated by Samuel B. Griffith II (University of Chicago Press, 2000), p. 100.]

[42] J. Todd Reed and Diana Raschke, The ETIM: China’s Islamic Militants and the Global Terrorist Threat (Santa Barbara, CA: Praeger Press, 2010), p. 47

[43] Ibid, p. 48.

[44] The CCP has never used the term ‘insurgent’ to describe the Uyghurs, and has only ever used the word ‘terrorist’ to describe them. See: Human Rights Watch, Devastating Blows: Religious Repression of Uighurs in Xinjiang, Vol 17, No. 2 (April 2005), pp. 16-19. Available at: (accessed 29 April 2012).

[45] The ten organizations are the East Turkestan Islamic Movements (ETIM), East Turkestan Liberation Organization (ETLO), the Uyghur Liberation Organization (ULO), the United Revolutionary Front of East Turkestan (URFET), the Wat Turkestan Party of Allah, the Islamic Holy Warriors and the East Turkestan International Brigade of the Islamic Reformist Party. See also: Martin I. Wayne, “Insurgency in Xinjiang”, in China’s War on Terrorism, pp. 44-49.

[46] Ibid.

[47] Gardner Bovingdon, Autonomy in Xinjiang, p.28

[48] Donald McMillen, Chinese Communist Power and Policy in Xinjiang, 1949–77. (Boulder: Westview Press, 1979),  p. 48.

[49] Interview conducted by Bovingdon (1997), as cited in Ibid, p. 30.

[50] Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the PRC (2001), Amendment III to the Criminal Law of the PRC. Adopted at the 25th Meeting of the Standing Committee of the Ninth National People’s Congress (Dec 29, 2001). Available at: (accessed 27th April 2012).

[51] Ibid.

[52] Under the Criminal Law of the PRC, terrorist organizations “… have their headquarters either inside or outside Chinese territory, would be engaged in terrorist activities involving violence and terror and causing harm to state security, social stability, lives and property. Secondly, they would have established leadership and organizational structures with specialized roles within the structures”.

“Terrorists” are defined as “…people who have significant relationship with terrorist organizations engaged in terrorist activities harmful to state security or the lives and property of people inside or outside Chinese territory. This would apply irrespective of whether or not they have become naturalized citizens of foreign countries”.

[53] Michael Clarke, “Widening the net: China’s anti-terror laws and human rights in the Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region”, The International Journal of Human Rights, Vol. 14, No. 4, p. 549.

[54] Ibid; Amnesty International, China’s Anti-Terrorism Legislation and Repression in the Xinjiang Uighur Autonomous Region (March 2002). Available at: (accessed 27th April 2012).

[55] Stanley Lubman, “China’s Criminal Procedure Law: Good, Bad and Ugly”, Wall Street Journal (March 21, 2012). Available at: (accessed 28 April 2012); “Law Amendment to balance human rights protection, penalty in criminal procedure: NPC Spokesman”, Xinhua News (4 Mar 2012). Available at: (accessed 28 April 2012).

[56] Phelim Kine, “Beijing’s Black Jails”, Human Rights Watch (March 15, 2012). Available at: (accessed 28 April 2012).

[57] Tong Zhiwei, “刑诉法草案勉强通过不如暂不交付表决”(“Criminal Procedure Law Bill narrowly passed- but remains an empty promise”), Blogpost at 童之伟 (10 March 2012). Available at: (accessed 28 April 2012).

The quote is the author’s own translation. Tong Zhiwei’s exact words are:


[58] Frederick S. Starr, Xinjiang: China’s Muslim Borderland (New York, NY: M.E. Sharpe, 2004)

[59] The information Office of the State Council, Development and Progress in Xinjiang, White Paper (21 September 2001). Available at: (accessed 28 April 2012)

[60] Gardner Bovingdon, Autonomy in Xinjiang, p. 39.

[61] David Bachman, “Making Xinjiang Safe for the Han? Contradictions and Ironies of Chinese Governance in China’s Northwest”, in M. Rossabi (ed.), Governing China's Multiethnic Frontiers (Seattle: University of Washington Press, 2004), p. 172.

[62] “The 10 Conditions of Love”, directed by Jeff Daniels.

[63] Economic analyses show that the overall economic benefit to Beijing far outweighs their investment in the region. Calla Weimer, “The Economy of Xinjiang.” In Frederick Starr (ed.), Xinjiang: China’s Muslim Borderland (Armonk: M. E. Sharpe, 2004) p. 174.

[64] Tun Lin, Juzhong Zhang, Damaris Yarcia and Fen Lin, “Income Inequality in the People’s Republic of China and Its Decomposition: 1990-2004”, Asian Development Review, Vol. 25, No. 1 and 2, pp. 119-136. See esp. Table 5, p. 130.

[65] Bureau of Statistics of Xinjiang Autonomous Region, Xinjiang Statistical Yearbook 2009, as cited by Ibid, pp.214-215. The author was not able to get hold of the most current statistics, and the statistics cited in the paper will be from secondary sources.

[66] Barry Sautman, “Preferential Policies for Ethnic Minorities in China: the Case of Xinjiang”, Nationalism and Ethnic Politics, Vol. 4, No. 1 &2 (1998), pp. 86-118.

[67] Mah Hui Lim, “Affirmative action, ethnicity and integration: The case of Malaysia”, Ethnic and Racial Studies, Vol 8, No. 2, (1985), pp. 250-276; Harold Crouch, “Managing Ethnic Tensions through Affirmative Action; the Malaysian Experience”, in Nat J. Colletta et al. (eds.) Social Cohesion and Conflict Prevention in Asia: Managing Diversity Through Development (World Bank Publications, 2001), pp. 225-262.

[68] Jeyakumar Devaraj, “Has Malaysia Really Eradicated Poverty?” Aliran Monthly, No. 2 (2004), p. 258; “Mahathir Highlights Equity in Economic Growth,” Xinhua News. (October 5, 2004)

[69] Gardner Bovingdon, Autonomy in Xinjiang, p. 37.

[70] Ibid, p. 26.

[71] Arienne M. Dwyer, The Xinjiang Conflict: Uyghur Identity, Language Policy and Political Discourse, East-West Center Washington, Policy Studies 15, p. 63. Available at: (Accessed 29 April 2012).

[72] Uyghur Human Rights Project, Can Anyone Hear Us? Voices from the 2009 Unrest in Urumchi (2010). Available at: (accessed 29 April 2012)

[73] Arienne Dwyer, The Xinjiang Conflict, pp.34-36.

[74] Ibid, pp. 37-8.

[75] Human Rights Watch, Devastating Blows, pp. 58-65

[76] Ernest Gellner, Conditions of Liberty: Civil Society and its Rivals (London: Hamis Hamilton, 1994), pp. 107.

Gellner’s theory of nationalism was first crystallized in Nations and Nationalism, where he argued that the modern standardized education system functioned as a tool for the state to create the skills and identity required for modernization, with the education system helping create a belonging to the state (as opposed to feudal lords or ethnic groups in general).

[77] Donald McMillen, Chinese Communist Power and Policy in Xinjiang, 1949–77. p. 61.

[78] Bovingdon, Autonomy in Xinjiang, p. 24.

[79] Gardner Bovingdon, The Uyghurs: Strangers in their Own Land (New York, NY: Columbia University Press, 2010).

[80] The policy is similar in Tibet, and as Tibetan writer Lhasang Tsering reasons, the CCP’s Han migration policy encourages a majority Han population because “by then, there will be so many [Han] Chinese in Tibet, it will no longer be realistic for the Tibetan people to regain a Tibet for Tibetans”. [“The Sun Behind the Clouds: Tibet’s Struggle for Freedom”, directed by Ritu Sarin and Tenzing Sonam, 19:34.]

[81] Mao writes that: “Many people think it impossible for guerillas to exist for long in the enemy’s rear. Sucha  belief reveals a lack of comprehension of the relationship that should exist between the people and the troops. The former may be likened to water and the latter to the fish who inhabit it.”

[See: Mao Tse-Tung, On Guerilla Warfare, p. 92-93.]

[82] Bovingdon, Autonomy in Xinjiang, p. 26

[83] “Situation basically under control in Urumqi: Deputy Mayor”, Xinhua News (Sept 4 2009). Available at: (Accessed 29 April 2012).

[84] Tania Branigan, “Drug users accused of syringe attacks in China, The Guardian (6 September 2009). Available at: (Accessed 29 April 2012).

[85] “Personal Communications Still Restricted in China’s Xinjiang Province”, The Epoch Times (22 June 2010). Available at: (accessed 29 April 2012).

[86] Yang Hui, “俄美反恐怖军事行动比较研究”(“A Comparative Study of Russian and American Anti-terror Military Operations”), 外国军事学术(Foreign Military Science), No. 4, 2008, pp. 1-7

[87] Kristian Petersen, “Usurping the nation: Cyber-leadership in the Uighur nationalist movement”, Journal of Muslim Minority Affairs, Vol 26, No. 1 (2006), pp. 63-73.

[88] See the website of the World Uyghur Congress (WUC). Available at: (Accessed 30 April 2012).

[89] Kristian Petersen, “Usurping the Nation”, p. 70

[90] William Callahan mentioned this concept in relation to creating ‘national humiliation’ maps to preserve the idea of a unified China. Furthermore, the concept of oneness and unity pervades Chinese culture, the Mandarin word for China, 中国 (“middle kingdom”), signifies centrality.

See: William Callahan, “Cartography of National Humiliation and the Emergence of China’s Geobody”, Public Culture, Vol. 21, No. 1 (2009), p. 141.

[91] James A. Millward, China’s Changing Strategic Concerns: the Impact on Human Rights in Xinjiang, Statement to the Congressional-Executive Commission on China (Nov 16, 2005). Available at: (accessed 28 April 2012).

[92] “Minority Rights in China: A Spotlight on the Uyghur People”, Keynote Address by Rebiya Kadeer, Uyghur Human Rights Activist, March 19 2012, 12-2pm, Georgetown University, Copley Formal Lounge.


Categories: Uyghurs - Uighurs - COIN - China

About the Author(s)

Brenda Bi Hui Ong is currently reading for an MA in Security Studies program (2012) at Georgetown University, and works for the Singapore Police Force. She also holds a BA (Hons) in Politics, Psychology and Sociology (2011) from the University of Cambridge.