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One Year after the Xinjiang Work Conference: Ethnic Division and Inequality Remain Unchanged in East Turkestan

Press Release – For immediate release
20 May 2011
Contact:  World Uyghur Congress
0049 (0) 89 5432 1999 or [email protected]

One year ago, from 17 to 19 May 2010, the Xinjiang Work Conference, a joint conference of the Chinese Communist Party’s central committee and the State Council, China’s cabinet, was held in Beijing. The conference ended with an agreement on a new economic and development strategy for East Turkestan to prevent social and ethnic tensions and achieve “long-term stability.” The conference concluded with a budget of hundreds of billions of yuan to be spent in East Turkestan until 2020. In addition Kashgar, a Uyghur-concentrated city, was assigned to be established as a Special Economic Zone and to become the economic engine for East Turkestan´s growth. However, during the first year after the conference and the first millions of yuan pumped into the region, the situation in East Turkestan remains tense.

The conference was a response to the protest and following ethnic unrest of 5 July 2009 in Urumqi, East Turkestan´s regional capital, which left hundreds of people dead. While the protest was sparked by Chinese government’s inaction on the killing of at least two, but possibly several dozen, Uyghur migrant workers by Han Chinese workers, at a toy factory in the city of Shaoguan, in the southern province of Guangdong, the root causes lie in the longstanding discriminatory policies of the Chinese government towards the Uyghurs and the egregious repression of Uyghurs’ religious, political, educational, linguistic, and economic rights. Also the UN Commissioner on Human Rights stated that “discrimination and the failure to protect minority rights” were the “underlying causes” of the protests.

Despite the huge amounts spent so far on the region, these root causes have not yet been addressed by the Chinese authorities, because the Han Chinese are still the main beneficiaries of the development policies. The Chinese government continues to follow a strategy of economic marginalization of the Uyghur people in East Turkestan. The region’s exceptional economic and strategic value has amplified the Chinese government’s motivation to exclude Uyghurs from economic benefits. Most of the employees in the important oil, coal, and gas industries in the Uyghur region appear to be Han Chinese and Han-dominated companies are controlling much of the best farmland in the region.

For several decades the Chinese government has been trying to consolidate its control over East Turkestan and the Uyghurs through the mass resettlement of Han Chinese from inner China to East Turkestan. The migration policies have not only produced a dramatic demographic shift in the region, but also made the Han Chinese primary beneficiaries of development in that area. According to latest Chinese census in 2010, the current population of East Turkestan is 21.81 million including 8.75 million ethnic Han Chinese illegal settled in East Turkestan after 1949 (the ethnic Chinese numbered 200.000 in 1949). The Uyghurs make up around 10.2 million Uyghurs (according to the 2000 census; the numbers for 2010 have not been published yet) and constitute still the majority of East Turkestan. However, the population shifts more and more in favor of the Han Chinese and make the Uyghurs strangers in their own land.

At the same time, Uyghurs, especially young, marriage-aged women and girls, are forced by authorities to participate in labor transfer programs to urban factories in eastern China. Since 2006, many thousands of female Uyghurs have been removed from East Turkestan and placed into abusive and oppressive working and living conditions. In addition, official Chinese sources reported in March 2011 on the plan to transfer 280,000 Uyghur students from Xinjiang to inner China until the end of this month for “training purposes”. The World Uyghur Congress (WUC) believes that these measures are part of a larger plan to dilute Uyghurs´ culture and identity.  A part from that, in East Turkestan – as the only region in China – authorities are subjecting non-prisoners to forced labor, referred to as “hashar”. Families are even fined if they fail to send a family member to work on agricultural, infrastructural and other public works.

As a result of the ongoing exclusion of Uyghurs from economy, official statistics for East Turkestan indicate higher unemployment and poverty rates among Uyghurs than among Han Chinese. China’s preferential policies in East Turkestan have also sharpened the ethnic divide, since they enlarged the income gap between Han and Uyghurs.

The WUC urges the Chinese government to address the root causes of social instability in East Turkestan and to stop using economic development together with cultural, social, religious, and political discrimination as another false pretense to marginalize and assimilate the Uyghur people into Han culture.

The WUC calls on the Chinese authorities to end the systematic economic discrimination of Uyghurs and include the Uyghur population in the regional development plans and make them beneficiaries of the region´s wealth. The existing economic disparities between Uyghur and Han Chinese are not only violating the Uyghurs´ right to development, but are also increasing social tensions. If the Chinese authorities are really interested in the stability of the region, they must redefine their social and economic policies towards East Turkestan from the very basis.