Historical Narratives and Uyghur Marginalization in China’s Development of Xinjiang

In the aftermath of the 2009 ethnic riots in Urumqi, the capital of the far western Chinese province of Xinjiang, journalist John Pomfret made a striking comment on National Public Radio’s Diane Rehm Show, “In the early years of this century they [China] launched a program called the Great Western Development Scheme, and in justifying a need for such a program which involved the massive influx of investment into Xinjiang and other provinces in the west, they’ve used direct quotes from Manifest Destiny texts from the 19th century in the United States.” The implication here is that the central government’s effort to develop Xinjiang is not only a part of its economic growth policy, but also a nation-building process that draws upon the American model. Applying this logic, the exclusion of the Uyghur people native to Xinjiang in modern development is treated as a naturally occurring symptom of progress rather than a barrier to it.

The idea that ethnic marginalization plays a role in consolidating the nation state is well grounded in history. Influenced by Social Darwinian thought that promulgated race-specific characteristics, nationalist intellectuals in the late 19th and early 20th centuries equated Chinese identity to Han ethnicity as a way to counter the weakness of the ruling Manchu elite in face of Western encroachment. This was reflected in the progressive movements of early Republican China that bundled racial purity with national strength. For example, a poster (see page 89) distributed in 1928 by the National Anti-Opium Association depicted, young, strong Han citizens wielding patriotic slogans and beating a “white” morphine demon and a “black” opium demon.

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President Obama’s Pivot Policy

The Pivot Policy of President Obama’s administration is a significant foreign policy initiative that sets a firm tone for the future of Obama’s presidential term. Enacted in 2010, the Pivot Policy seeks to rebalance the United States towards Asia, through increased diplomatic, economic, and strategic investment. In a Foreign Policy piece from November 2011, former Secretary of State Hilary Clinton writes that pivoting towards Asia will be “one of the most important tasks of American statecraft over the next decade”.

The Pivot Policy calls for “forward-deployed” diplomacy, or, the continued efforts to dispatch all units of US diplomatic force. These include highest-ranking officials, development experts, interagency teams, and permanent assets placed in all corners of the Asia- Pacific region in an effort to keep up with the ever-shifting power dynamics present in Asia. The Obama administration will implement this plan for intensified diplomatic presence through six lines of action: strengthening bilateral security alliances, deepening working relationships with emerging powers, including China, engaging with regional multilateral institutions, expanding trade and investment, forging a broad-based military presence, and advancing democracy and human rights.

US treaty alliances with Japan, South Korea, Austria, the Philippines, and Thailand all have gained increased importance in the age of the Pivot Policy. The Obama administration hopes to sustain these long-held alliances, while making them strong enough to withstand the pressures of a changing geopolitical climate. In addition, former secretary Clinton’s “pivot” article explicitly references China and US-Chinese relations. She writes that China represents “one of the most challenging and consequential bilateral relationships the United States has ever had to manage”. Nevertheless, Clinton explains that the US hopes to ameliorate and strengthen its partnership with China through increased involvement in the region. For example, the two countries now conduct a Strategic and Economic dialogue, talks bringing together dozens of agencies from both sides to discuss our most pressing bilateral issues, from security to energy to human rights. A main priority has been to identify and expand areas of common interest. The Obama administration hopes the talks will allow the US to work with China to build mutual trust, and to encourage China’s active efforts in global problem-solving.

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Breaching the “Great Firewall of China”

Internet users in China temporarily slipped passed web censorship via Google+ and performed a mass spamming of President Obama’s wall, showering it with Chinese characters. Despite the hilarity of this situation, the posts themselves make an important statement. According to MSNBC, the posters made comments critical of China’s internet controls. One poster went all out against the government, “It is important to persistently let the world know about CCP’s evil deeds against China and Chinese people”. Global awareness of discontent within China is exactly what the Chinese censors fear.  Continue reading “Breaching the “Great Firewall of China””