If you are a supporter of liberal democracy, you will probably also be sympathetic to regional calls for genuine autonomy and self government. That is why, for example, we recognise the right of Bangladesh to secede from Pakistan, or East Timor from Indonesia. Similarly, this is why the writers on this website support the goal of a secure and viable Palestinian state which is a national home for the Palestinian people alongside an Israel state which is a secure and viable national home for the Jewish people.
My hope, for all regions, is that strong independent nations come together to create regional federations, voluntarily pooling their sovereignty to the extent that they choose, lowering barriers to trade and the free movement of persons, and raising a common standard of social and civil rights. This is, more or less, what we have achieved within the European Union.
China is not such a state. It is a totalitarian and repressive empire, in which personal freedom is treated as a gift from the state, rather than a right.
Information on the riots in Urumqi is hard to come by and more difficult to analyse. There are, however, some terrible accounts coming out of that conflict:
As The Times stood outside what is left of No 447 Zhongwan Street, a Han neighbour approached. She had watched the killings from her home in an apartment block overlooking the store.
“We saw hundreds of Uighurs running down the street on the afternoon of July 5. About ten suddenly rushed into the store. They began to hit the people inside, even the old mother, with bricks and stones. They tried to run outside. Then they were dragged back inside.
“There were terrible screams. Just wordless screams. But then very quickly they fell silent.”
She said that the son tried to hide in a chicken coop but was dragged out and his head was cut off. All the victims were left to burn inside the building. The corpses of the boy and his father were found beheaded. Mr Yu said: “Even the 84-year-old mother was stoned and then burnt. It was terrible, terrible. So cruel.”
The terrible story of the deaths of this family certainly recall similar accounts from other conflicts in which Islamists are active. However, I just do not know whether this story is typical of the event in Urumqi over the last week . I don’t know very much about Uighur nationalist politics, and whether it is Islamist led – although it is plausible that it has some Islamist elements within it.
Because Islamists will often regard themselves as theologically prohibited from reaching a settlement which leaves “Muslim land” in the hands of non Muslims, and will use states they control as jihadist bases from which to launch attacks on their neighbours, indepdendence movements with Islamist leadership are often incapable of compromising and embracing a solution which brings peace and stability to a region. Whatever the case in Xinjiang, the presence of Islamist elements within any particular regional conflict does not alter the basic justice of the case for autonomy and self government.
At the start of the conflict in Xinjiang, I speculated as follows:
Andy Newman’s Socialist Unity has run out of disk space, and so we don’t know what he thinks – although I can guess.
Well, my guess was most certainly right.
You really do have to read Andy Newman’s remarkable piece on Xinjiang, entitled China’s Battle With Terrorism to believe it. I am not quite sure what to make of it. I don’t really know why he has written it. Perhaps he is motivated by a sort of retro-Stalinism. Perhaps he thinks it will impress the lovely Anna Chen. Perhaps he thinks China is an important counterweight to the wicked U.S.A., and must therefore be defended. I don’t know.
What I do know is that this will not impress the rank and file of the Islamist-dominated RESPECT party. Both FOSIS and the IHRC have decided that the Uighurs are the next Bosniaks, and so a crisis is brewing. Andy will have to leave his party. And what of George Galloway who also prefers authoritarian and nominally Left wing regimes to Islamist ones?
Let us look at the more surreal parts of Andy’s piece:
One of the excellent points that Jenny [Clegg] makes is that the absence of substantive discussion in the West about China’s historical background, its concrete level of development, and the difficulties of ruling such a vast country, then Sinophobic mythology has built up that draws more heavily on “Yellow Peril” images from the colonial era than it does on the reality of modern China. What is more, many from the Western left either do not counter this Sinophobia, or actually collude in it.
Louis Proyect’s recent article is a frankly disgraceful example, but rather than exchange a polemic with Louis, let us refute his arguments by looking at the concrete situation today in Xinjiang province.
The Sinophobic reading of the situation there seems to be that the Chinese government are Han chauvinists, suppressing national minorities, persecuting the Islamic religion, and seeking to swamp Xinjiang with Han settlers. But this analysis simply doesn’t accord with the facts.
Were the reporting of this conflict “Sinophobic”, it would play upon racist stereotypes of Chinese people. It would be claimed that the Uighurs were being killed with ‘characteristic Oriental cruelty’, that the Chinese state was behaving in a ‘wily’ and ‘inscrutable’ manner. Or the Chinese would be taunted with their own darkest moments of national grief. For example, commentators would be claiming that the Han Chinese are “reenacting the Rape of Nanking, only this time as perpetrators”. There would be cartoons and cartoons at the Royal Court in which the Han Chinese would be depicted as slitty eyed demons slaughtering saintly and defenceless Uighurs.
None of this is happening. The reporting is factual and as temperate as possible. There is no a general vilification of Chinese people, or even of the People’s Republic of China. Simply a criticism of its general authoritarianism, lack of democracy, and disdain for human rights: for all of its citizens and in particular for those at its peripheries.
Then there is this:
Islam is not in any way persecuted or repressed in modern China. Nowadays in China there are ten national minorities, including the Hui and Uyghur, with a total population of 18 million, whose faith is Islam. There are some 30,000 mosques served by 40,000 Imams and Akhunds. Islamic Association of China is an independent organisation promoting the interests of Muslims. Islamic organisations in China run their own affairs independently and can set up religious schools, publish religious texts and periodicals, and run social and welfare services.
Article 36 of the Constitution of the People’s Republic of China protects freedom of religious belief as a basic right enjoyed by all citizens, and religious institutions enjoy the rights to own and dispose of property, and to proselytise
For fuck’s sake Andy! In China, any religious structure is strictly controlled by the State. There is some form of Communist Party appointed Catholic Church. The party has also chosen an alternative Lama for the Tibetan Buddhists.
China is also, apparently, deeply threatened by the existence of the Falung Gong, a stupid new age cult whose followers wave their arms around slowly. That is how fragile Chinese communism is!
In Urumqi today, all the mosques are closed.
Then we get this:
We need to be very cautious of Uyghur nationalist organisations mythologizing a fictitious pseudo-history of themselves as an oppressed nation.
It doesn’t matter whether there ever was an “Uighur nation”, any more than there was a distinct Palestinian national group prior to 1948. What matters is whether or not there is now, in a particular region, a group of people who define themselves in this manner.
Are any regional minority in China entitled to self determine Andy? Apparently not:
The division of China is simply non-negotiable for the government in Beijing, and they are correct in seeing the unity of the republic as an important precondition for their economic and political independence, which is itself necessary for developing and improving the living standards of their 1.3 billion population.
This is just remarkable. Every empire says this about its regions. The argument is never a good one, because it is predicated on the notion that the desire for self-government is wrong, and should therefore be repressed. Such a policy can never succeed.
The response to Andy’s piece has not been universally positive. He gets some plaudits from John Wight though:
Andy should be commended for providing an analysis which doesn’t fall into line with the ‘yellow peril’ hysteria that dominates the subject of China among liberal commentators in the West.
And also from the commentator who calls himself “Jock McTrousers”:
Very sensible piece Andy…