July 25th 2009

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Articles from this issue:

AS THE WORLD TURNS: Just some French youths

BOOK REVIEW: THE DARWIN MYTH: The Life and Lies of Charles Darwin, by Benjamin Wiker

FOREIGN INVESTMENT: China businesses 'left and right arms of the state'

ENVIRONMENT: Rudd admits failure of global climate talks

HOMELESSNESS: Families forced to brave the streets

RUSSIA: Moscow unrepentant about Stalin era

CHINA: China unrest a symptom of a diseased system

OPINION: Michael Jackson and popular culture

BOOK REVIEW: D-DAY: The Battle for Normandy, by Antony Beevor

CANBERRA OBSERVED: What Australia can learn from China's behaviour

BANKING: Six economists renew call for a 'people's bank'

GLOBAL FINANCIAL CRISIS: Rebuilding a functioning financial system

FISHING INDUSTRY: Coral Sea marine protected areas: our gift to Asian fishermen

EDUCATION: The war against home-schooling our children

VICTORIA: Religious freedom under threat

NATIONAL AFFAIRS: Aboriginal disadvantage: more than question of money

EDITORIAL: The Middle Kingdom sends us a message ...

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China unrest a symptom of a diseased system

by Ian H. McDougall

News Weekly, July 25, 2009
Unrest in China is endemic. Rarely a week goes by without some report of a major incident or civil disturbance. However, thousands of smaller incidents never reach the attention of the outside world.

Take for example, the incident in Huining, Gansu Province, which borders Tibet, in late May. More than 1,000 people confronted police officers, accusing them of ill-treating a cyclist who had allegedly violated a red light. The stand-off turned violent and left 10 police and officials injured.

"The Huining incident is an example of how a trivial matter can snowball into a mass incident - a situation most feared by Chinese officialdom," the semi-official China Daily editorialised. (China Daily, May 23, 2009).

This is exactly what happened in Xinjiang. Migrant workers from the Uighur (pronounced Weega) ethnic group were murdered by a mob in south China's exporting heartland, spurring a riot in their Xinjiang homeland that spiralled out of control.

The Uighurs are the majority ethnic group in Xinjiang. They are not Chinese. China officially recognises 56 ethnic groups, but the Han Chinese constitute well in excess of 90 per cent of the Chinese population.

The Uighurs are a Turkic people who have more in common with the people of the central Asian "Stans" and, indeed, Turkey, than they have with the Han Chinese. They do not speak Mandarin Chinese; indeed, they do not speak a language which can be described as "Chinese" at all. They speak a Turkic language. Even Chinese are astounded when listening to Uighurs that most Uighurs cannot speak Chinese or, if they do, speak it very badly.

Xinjiang in Chinese means "New Frontier", which gives some indication of its contested history. Modern Xinjiang, which constitutes about one sixth of the total land area of China, was only consolidated into China in the 20th century, having been swapped back and forth between various imperial powers, including Russia, and native regimes for millennia. As a frontier region, with a strategic role in China's western defences and a source of oil and gas, it is a sensitive area.

When Xinjiang was incorporated into China, Han Chinese numbered about six per cent of the population. Now, it's more like 40 per cent, only a small fraction smaller than the Uighur population. The Han Chinese are doing the same thing they have done to other border peoples since they began emerging from the central China heartland around the Yellow River thousands of years ago, that is, to out-breed them, out-compete them and obliterate their culture and language.

Indeed, under the guise of "economic development" the Han Chinese are doing the same in another sensitive border region, Tibet. In Xinjiang and Tibet, the Han Chinese dominate business and commerce, politics and the police and security agencies, with the exception of a few fellow-travelling figureheads. Of course, they aren't so insensitive to public opinion to call it "ethnic cleansing" or something similar, but previous Chinese dynasties have committed genocide in Xinjiang as part of their imperial rule.

Ironically, China is celebrating the first "Serf Liberation Day" this year, to commemorate the day 50 years ago that the People's Liberation Army "liberated" Tibet from the Tibetans.

A backdrop is the profound distrust that the Chinese people, especially the minority groups, feel for the police and Communist Party, manifesting itself in the mixture of fear and contempt in which they hold their masters. Membership of the Communist Party is essential for anyone planning a career in government, education or commerce and it is expected that party members will switch back and forth between these agencies of the state.

Just how much do the Chinese people know about their government and its decision-making processes? Very little. Even the organs of state power recognise this.

Public in the dark

China Daily recently editorialised (June 22, 2009): "True, public oversight is a source of big support. But, ultimately, the effectiveness of the public's role rests on how much they know about the inner workings of public institutions. In spite of the high-profile document on transparency, most government agencies have continued to persist with keeping the public in the dark."

China is profoundly corrupt. Everyone knows it. If the Chinese people don't know how decisions are made, how can we in the West hope to? Chinese decision-making is a black box at the highest levels.

The Australian government is in the dark about the arrest of Stern Hu in Shanghai. And in this case, let's acknowledge the elephant in the room. Hu would not have been arrested in this manner if he wasn't Chinese. The Australian Government can rabbit on about Hu's Australian citizenship as much as it likes; but, as far as the Chinese authorities are concerned, Hu was born Chinese and he is still Chinese. His "citizenship" may be Australian, but his "nationality" is Chinese, which no act of a foreign power can alter.

In all, the situation in Xinjiang is only one obvious symptom of a system which is diseased from top to bottom.

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