Thursday, March 6, 2014

China’s rebellious province (and similarities with the people of West Papua)

The carnage allegedly committed by terrorists of the Uighur minority at Kunming Railway Station in southwest China on Saturday night was a humiliating slap in the face of Chinese President Xi Jinping and Premier Li Keqiang. At least 29 people were killed and 143 wounded in the act of terror, which represents a serious challenge to their leadership.

The bloodshed took place just four days before the opening of China’s annual ceremonial legislature, the first political show for the two new leaders. The barbaric act should be condemned and the perpetrators should face justice. But as apparently realized by President Xi, such terror attacks would continue to proliferate as long as the roots of the people’s grievances and discontents are not rightly addressed.

Beijing has announced a plan to allocate US$10 billion this year to accelerate development in the rebellious Xinjiang province as an effort to win the hearts of the Uighur Muslims in the resource-rich territory. However, as has been historical precedent, the influx of abundant investment in the region will likely be followed by the arrival of migrants from the majority Han ethnicity.

Located close to Central Asia, the Uighurs are hoping — it seems foolishly — to follow in the footsteps of neighbors like Kazakhstan, Uzbekistan and Turkmenistan, which separated from the Soviet Union in the 1990s.

As reported by the Associated Press from Beijing, in his first annual address, Premier Li emphasized that China’s many ethnic groups were all “equal members of the Chinese nation”, an indirect response to minority Uighurs and Tibetans who often complained that they were discriminated against for jobs, passports and bank loans and unfairly subject to intense surveillance.

China has become a global economic superpower, but the rise of the educated middle class and the deeper discrepancies between the poor and the rich have often triggered unrest. The minorities often face bullying by the Han and other larger ethnic groups.

In the eyes of Indonesia, the regional dissent facing China is not new. Indonesia grapples with separatism in Papua and previously did so in Aceh.

There is similarity between the Papuans and Uighurs. Papuans demand independence because they believe separation from Indonesia is the only way to break the shackles of discrimination, human rights abuses and economic exploitation.

Like the Papuans, the Uighurs will continue challenging Beijing as long as their fundamental demands are not met. ‘Jakarta Post’

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