China finds scapegoat for bloody unrest

By Lincoln Tan

In remote western China last month, the lid blew on decades of distrust.

Two days of rioting in Urumqi, the provincial capital of Xinjiang region, left nearly 200 people dead and more than 1600 injured.

Urumqi is home to 2.3 million people. A majority of them are Han Chinese, many of whom have lived there for generations. Uighurs, Xinjiang's mostly Muslim indigenous Turkic population, make up the minority.

The Beijing regime claims an ancient stake in the land and insists the Uighurs have gained from its benevolent rule since the Communists took over in 1949, integrating the East Turkestan Republic into China.

The Uighurs have a different story: they believe their land, traditions and religion are being swamped by decades of Han immigration, which has seen the proportion of Uighurs in Xinjiang shrink from about 75 per cent in 1949 to 45 per cent.

They are less likely to advance in the civil service, and many feel that Han Chinese do better in business too. They are fed up with their lot as despised, second-class citizens.

Like Tibetans, Uighurs feel colonised, as Xinjiang's natural resources - it is rich in oil and gas - benefit the rich coastal regions.

Meanwhile, for some Han Chinese, the Uighurs seem ungrateful and backward, pampered by the state with preferential policies, such as being allowed to have more children.

China has focused on a scapegoat for the bloody unrest - a 62-year-old exile named Rebiya Kadeer.

Once celebrated as an astute businesswoman, she was accorded high political office by China's Communist Party rulers who distrusted her but hoped to co-opt her.

But then she fell from grace. Stripped of her titles and wealth in the 1990s, she spent six years in prison until her release in 2005 on medical grounds. She lives in the United States, from where China claims she orchestrated last month's riots.

Beijing is anxious to squash her message. On September 1, Maori Television is screening her film, The 10 Conditions of Love, in the face of clumsy attempts by Chinese diplomats to cancel the broadcast.

It has also responded by its own version of the Urumqi uprising. The Herald's ethnic affairs reporter, Lincoln Tan, has watched both accounts and here presents his view.

Unconditional enemies

THE producers of The 10 Conditions of Love thought the outbreak of one of the worst episodes of ethnic violence in China's Xinjiang region would make the documentary more relevant, but they could not have anticipated the controversy their invitation to the star of their film, Rebiya Kadeer, to attend the film's launch at the Melbourne Film Festival would create.

Beijing's attempts to stop the screening of the film, and the woman it labels a terrorist from setting foot in Australia and addressing the Australian National Press Club, not only attracted more attention to the film - but also to the plight of the Uighur people and events in East Turkestan.

The Chinese Government requested that the film be withdrawn; festival director Richard Moore declined. The festival's communication systems - phone, fax, email and website - were hacked and blocked by overuse.

It was believed Beijing then pressured Chinese film-makers into withdrawing their films from the festival programme.

Moore told Reuters the intensity of the attacks from the Chinese only strengthened his desire to screen the film by Australian film-maker Jeff Daniels.

Until now, the Uighur had not had anyone who could trumpet their cause to the world like Tibet's charismatic Dalai Lama, but the events following last month's unrest, and this film, could have produced that person - Rebiya Kadeer.

The film reveals Kadeer's life of adversity: separated from her children, and being an outcast as a capitalist, she worked her way from poverty to becoming one of China's richest.

Determined to get what she wanted in life, she searched for her life-partner, Sidik Rouzi, and proposed to him by saying their union would be good for them and for the Uighur people, and he responded by writing a book of 106 poems as his acceptance - and escaped to America to avoid arrest.

Kadeer was imprisoned, but released after six years on condition she remained silent on the Uighur issue - she immediately broke that condition, and as retribution, her children were arrested.

Within the bigger story of a national conflict, the film also portrays the personal conflict between Kadeer and her eldest daughter, who didn't share her idealism and grand vision.

In several scenes, the daughter voices her disagreement with her mother's placing of the needs of the Uighur people before the needs of her own family.

It also talks about an alleged assassination attempt on Kadeer in America, where she now lives, and leaves the viewer wondering if the attempt was made by the Chinese.

Besides Beijing's religious and political oppression, Uighurs complain of an influx of Han migrants, whom they accuse of taking their jobs and destroying their culture.

Producer John Lewis told the Herald the Chinese response was a "dream come true" and the "global media storm" from the controversy has generated international interest in the film.

Maori Television, which has bought the rights to the film, is also facing Chinese pressure not to screen the documentary on September 1.

Officials from the Chinese Embassy have met the station's representatives asking them to cancel the show, but Maori TV chief executive Jim Mather said it will not bow to the Chinese pressure.

Since September 11, 2001, the Chinese Government has labelled Kadeer a Muslim terrorist - but the China's latest attempts to block this documentary and silence Kadeer may have backfired.

As Lewis points out, few would even have noticed the documentary had it not been for the Chinese Government "telling everyone it doesn't want them to watch".

Cinematography and voiceovers aren't to Peter Jackson standards, and it would have been better if all of what Kadeer says in Uighur was subtitled.

But despite its shortcomings, Kadeer's commanding presence in this tale of her David and Goliath battle with Beijing will keep you engaged.

AFTER failing to stop the screening of The 10 Conditions of Love outside China, Beijing embarked on a propaganda blitz - producing a film with its version of the "truth", and circulating books on Xinjiang "facts" and the history of the region.

The Herald was sent a copy of Beijing's film, Xinjiang Urumqi July 5 Riot: Truth, but the Chinese Embassy would not say where else it had been distributed to - other than having initially said it had requested Maori TV to screen this, instead of the independently produced Australian documentary.

"The film is a realistic recording of the incident for people to have a comprehensive and better understanding of what happened on July 5 in Urumqi," a Chinese Embassy spokeswoman said.

"You will know what kind of person Rebiya Kadeer actually is after watching the film. We are firmly opposed to any foreign countries providing a platform for her anti-China separatist activities."

Beijing's Truth starts almost like a tourist video, showing landscape and cultural aspects of the 47 ethnic communities that call Xinjiang home.

It claims the region has excelled economically under Chinese rule.

"Xinjiang has enjoyed fast economic development and political stability since the founding of the People's Republic of China in 1949, in particular since the introduction of the reform in opening up programme."

But it soon moves into a graphic, bloodied account of the riots - and an all-out attack on Rabiya Kadeer, repeatedly referred to as a terrorist.

Kadeer is accused of instigating and orchestrating the violence which saw 197 people killed and more than 1600 wounded, mostly Han Chinese. Rioters are referred to as "criminals" and the police and military portrayed as heroes.

"Signs point to the fact that the July 5 riot was politically motivated. It was a violent crime and incited by separatists, terrorists and extremists within and outside China," it says.

"It was incited, controlled and directed by Rabiya Kadeer."

Beijing has also used the film to counter some of Kadeer's claims made in media interviews overseas, including Al Jazeera Television.

The Truth concludes as it started with scenes of Xinjiang - saying the Government's "swift handling" of the riots has resulted in restoring peace and stability to the region.

"People have gained a better understanding that stability brings happiness, and riot, suffering... united, they will bring prosperity to the region."

Beijing is accusing Kadeer and her World Uighur Congress of being a front for extremist militants pushing for a separate East Turkestan homeland.

But being resource-rich, and strategically located makes Xinjiang a territory Beijing cannot afford to lose.

Xinjiang makes up one sixth of China's land mass and borders eight countries; Russia, Kazakhstan, Mongolia, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, Afghanistan, Pakistan and India - making it vital to China's security.

Xinjiang is also China's largest natural gas-producing region, has abundant oil reserves and has been China's nuclear testing ground and host of its strategic missile base.

The region is home to eight million Uighurs - although native to Xinjiang, the Uighurs are culturally tied to Central Asia.

The Turkic-speaking, mainly Muslim people have long complained of repression and discrimination under Chinese rule, but Beijing says it is bringing economic development to the region.

The territory has developed rapidly under Chinese rule, especially since the 1980s, with its economy based on mining, agriculture and energy attracting a wave of Han Chinese migrants - but which the local Muslim Uighurs say have left them on the sidelines.

This has made the region a hotbed of ethnic tensions, fuelled by the vast economic gap between many Uighurs and Han Chinese.

According to Beijing figures, Xinjiang last year overtook Shandong province to become China's second largest producer of oil (27.4 million tonnes) after Heilongjiang (north east, 40.2 million tonnes).

- NZ Herald

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