Wednesday, April 6, 2016

Separatism in Contemporary Xinjiang

What Is The Conflict & Who Are The Contenders?

Picture the aftermath of an attack by five suicide bombers in a street market killing 31 people in a provincial capital.  Now picture the government response a week later conducting a mass trial of 55 people in a sports stadium with just over 7,000 people in attendance as spectators.  This is just one of many methods that characterizes how both the Uighur’s and the Peoples Republic of China (PRC) have used against each other as a means of conflict management.  The conflict has been growing since the annexation of Xinjiang into the Qing Empire to its amalgamation into the People’s Republic of China (PRC) by Mao Zedong in 1949.  Since incorporation into the PRC, there has been an separatist conflict that is ongoing into contemporary Xinjiang.  However, it appears there is space for some conflict management strategies to cease conflict but ultimately, the technique most likely to work is one where both sides fighting it out until one side is victorious over the other in achieving their goals and objectives.

What Are Both Parties Seeking?

From the perspective of the Uighur’s the goal appears to be a continued fight – peaceful and violent – for negotiations and independence from the Chinese state in some form.  The Uighurs in Xinjiang have had independence three times between 1750 and 1949, have been subject to attacks on Uighur culture through means such as language policies, openly advocating for negotiations, refuse conversion and integration into the Chinese state and norms, are joining the Islamic State in opposition to the Chinese state, and are conducting domestic terror attacks throughout China such as in the Kunming attacks in 2014.  The Uighur’s have advocated for negotiations indicating a voiced desire to engage in dialogue and resolve conflict coming from within these communities, it is of equal importance to examine the perspective of the PRC.  Yet, the PRC appears to avoid engaging the Uighur community in any form of dialogue but will engage them through means of violence and repression, some of which are mentioned below.
From the perspective of the PRC it appears the goal has been towards assimilation and maintaining control over the region.  This is evident in numerous instances such as how the Chinese government continues to pursue language policies against the Uighurs Turkic culture and language, criminalizing Uighur cultural practices, labeling the Uighur Community as terrorists, and the continued mobilization of security forces into the province to enforce the state and police Uighur communities.  It is also important to note Xinjiang is seen by Beijing as the most crucial province to maintaining the stability and unity of the Chinese state, how the province is integral to managing national security given how the province borders eight countries, how China’s economy largely depends on this region for trade and natural resources, provides China with access to the rest of Asia.  Furthermore, claims of independence are unacceptable to a government who places so much importance on sovereignty and regime legitimacy while not appearing to be weak domestically and internationally and is arguable therefore more open to the idea of fighting until complete victory.

Techniques To Apply & Prospects For Success Or Failure

Aside from both sides fighting against each other until one is victorious, power-sharing and partition could also be a management technique to end the conflict.  Xinjiang is an autonomous region which means the province and its inhabitants are already decentralized from the PRC and therefore have a potential foundation to build upon.  However, this faces the obstacles of how the Uighur community will not completely assimilate into state-run institutions in addition to having the Chinese government labeling Uighurs as terrorists which has further removed their legitimate political agency to engage with the Chinese government.  Any form of power-sharing and partition would constitute further decentralization from Beijing which would directly challenge and threaten the legitimacy and strength of the Chinese government.  The PRC will arguably do whatever it has to do in order to ensure and enforce its legitimacy and control over its territory and therefore any form of independence or forfeiture of sovereignty is not an option.

Furthermore, it could be possible for both sides to enter into a mutually hurting stalemate that may result in the cessation of conflict.  This will require both the PRC and the Uighur population to resolve their conflict when they are ready and when they are in an intolerable and costly situation in which either side cannot escalate the conflict to victory nor lose to one another and thus increasingly appears both sides will have to fight it out until one is victorious over the other.  However there appears to be little indication that both sides recognize the existence of such conditions given how they continue to engage in violence against each other in which neither side appears to be surrendering to one another.

Conclusively, it appears there is space for some conflict management strategies to cease the ongoing separatist conflict in contemporary Xinjiang however the most plausible technique appears to be leading towards fighting it out until one side emerges victorious.  On a side note, external actors may have a role to play as potential veto players given how the PRC does allow such influence and intervention.  However, the PRC has only allowed support on the side of the Chinese government.  This support comes from the countries of, Egypt, Saudi Arabia, Pakistan, Russia, Kyrgyzstan, Turkey, and the United Arab Emirates. 

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