Commentary Magazine


The “Other Tibet”

“We are now engaged in a fierce blood-and-fire battle with the Dalai clique, a life-and-death battle between us and the enemy,” said Zhang Qingli, the Communist Party boss in Tibet, in the middle of last week. That sounds a little dramatic, especially because no one thinks the Tibetans can gain independence, much less bring down the one-party state. Nonetheless, the mighty Communist Party is rightly concerned. The Tibetans aren’t the only restive minority group the Chinese rule.

Welcome to the Xinjiang Uygur Autonomous Region, the “other Tibet.” It is three times the size of France, a sixth of China’s landmass, and China’s largest province. This region is inhabited by Turkic Muslims who believe they should govern themselves in an independent state. The Uighurs, by all accounts, hate the Chinese more than the Tibetans do, if that is possible. Throughout history, these Muslims have managed to free themselves periodically from Chinese rule. Now, however, they live in the Autonomous Region, which for more than five decades has been tightly governed from a thousand miles away. In the wake of the Tibetan disturbances, Chinese authorities have tightened surveillance of Uighurs and have stepped up their national campaign against “splittists” of all types. On Saturday, People’s Daily, without evidence, accused the Dalai Lama of colluding with the country’s Muslims to plan attacks.

The People’s Republic of China is a vast multicultural empire. Unfortunately for the so-called Han, the dominant ethnic grouping in the country, most minority “citizens” do not think of themselves as “Chinese” and want no part of Beijing’s rule. Therefore, it is not surprising that the Uighurs, like the Tibetans, have periodically erupted in violence. The last major Muslim revolt occurred in 1997 and was centered in Yining, a remote city near the border with Kazakhstan. The Uighurs, at times, resort to terrorism and violence in large part because Beijing has attempted to control their homeland by importing Han settlers, just as it does in Tibet. The Dalai Lama rightly calls the tactic “cultural genocide.”

In 2002, the Bush administration, at the behest of Beijing, designated the East Turkistan Islamic Movement a terrorist organization. Many dispute the characterization. But, whatever the facts, the United States should not help autocrats suppress ethnically distinct peoples. Due to their abhorrent policies, the Han Chinese will continue to suffer from minority revolts. The United States, however, need not be a part of this continuous dynamic of suppression and insurrection.