Angry Mobs Take to the Streets in Urumqi; Hu Jintao Returns Early from Italy (Updated)

Two days after riots left at least 156 people dead and over a thousand injured, tensions between Han Chinese and Uighurs are still running high in Urumqi and Tuesday saw another surge of violence. The Times reports:

Thousands of Han Chinese roamed the streets of the western city of Urumqi today looking for vengeance after Sunday’s deadly riots as China’s leaders struggled to regain control of the country’s only Muslim-majority region.

Men and women of all ages, girls in high heels and young men in smart white shirts, brandished wooden staves, billiard cues, iron bars and even machetes as they surged towards the main city bazaar.

They were determined to attack the business heart of the Muslim Uighur minority blamed for the carnage in which 156 were killed and more than 800 injured.

The streets were lined with black-clad riot police and thousands of paramilitaries in camouflage and bulletproof vests who barred the mob’s way to the central market. Occasional bursts of tear gas failed to deter the angry crowd.

And from the Sydney Morning Herald:

“The Uighurs came to our area to smash things, now we are going to their area to beat them,” one protester, who was carrying a metal pipe, told AFP.

[…] Police repeatedly fired volleys of tear gas, but many of the demonstrators refused to yield ground despite their eyes streaming and their throats welling with pain, an AFP reporter witnessed.

By late afternoon there were no reports of deaths or injuries in Tuesday’s unrest. But mobs continued to march through the streets.

A large group of mostly Uighur women surrounded foreign journalists brought to Urumqi on a government-arranged reporting trip, demanding the release of their detained husbands. The Telegraph reports:

Perhaps emboldened by the presence of the international media in the western suburb of the city, the group of wives and children suddenly emerged from side streets, many of them waving the identification papers of their absent husbands.

Wailing and crying, they approached journalists and began berating two police officers on the scene, who quickly called for back-up. Almost instantly, a squad of several hundred armed riot police arrived on the scene and began advancing on the women in formation, backed up by three armoured cars equipped with water cannons.

“Give us our men, give us our men,” the women cried out, some of them removing their shoes and throwing them at the police, a calculated insult in the Islamic world. There were small scuffles as women, many of them with small children in their arms, confronted the security forces before they were surrounded by officers carrying shot guns and tear gas canisters.

Watch a video of the protest from AFP, and read and watch reports from The Guardian.

In the Globe and Mail, Wenran Jiang writes about Beijing’s policies toward ethnic minorities in light of this week’s violence and last year’s riots in Lhasa:

Realizing that force alone cannot maintain stability, Beijing has poured in a large amount of economic incentives to the Uyghur region. In the past five years, under the government’s “Western development program,” designed to boost inland economic growth, Xinjiang’s GDP has nearly doubled and most people’s living standards have improved.

But just as in Tibet, the local population has viewed the increasing unequal distribution of wealth and income between China’s coastal and inland regions, and between urban and rural areas, with an additional ethnic dimension. Most are not separatists, but they perceive that most of the economic opportunities in their homeland are taken by the Han Chinese, who are often better educated, better connected and more resourceful. The Uyghurs also resent discrimination against their people by the Han, both in Xinjiang and elsewhere.

Such frustrations and grievances need to be addressed in the long run with innovative policy initiatives if President Hu Jintao and Premier Wen Jiabao are to be true to their words of building a “harmonious society.” The rioters who have committed crimes against the innocent must be punished according to the law, but it will be wise for the Chinese leadership to reflect on the deeper causes of such fierce anger rather than relying on the brutal force of the state alone.

In the Guardian, John Gittings also looks at relations between Uighurs and Han Chinese in Xinjiang:

The core issue – once more as in Tibet – is not so much that the Uighurs want independence. Most say that they are resigned to the reality of Chinese sovereignty, and at best seek a measure of genuine autonomy (Xinjiang is officially an “Autonomous Region” though this means even less than in Tibet). Yet the scenes of Uighur-on-Han violence from Urumqi – allowing for the selective use of images by the Chinese media – suggest that, on the Uighur street, the build-up of ethnic resentment has reached a new and more serious stage. The threat that China half invented may be coming closer to reality.

Watch an interview with China scholar Andrew Nathan about the current situation of the Uighurs:

The Chinese government is continuing to accuse activist Rebiya Kadeer and her World Uyghur Congress of inciting the violence. Al Jazeera interviews Kadeer:

LIsten to an NPR report on ethnic tensions in Xinjiang here.

Imagethief looks at the “two divergent narratives” now emerging of the events in Urumqi:

…To summarize, in the broad Western media narrative, Uighurs ground down by decades of colonial oppression and incited by racism have erupted in rebellion. In the one told by Chinese media, “splittists” let by the Uighur exile Rebiyah Kadeer have engineered an outbreak of groundless violence (中) directed largely at innocent ethnic Han.

Condensing as they must a long and complicated history from different political points of view, both narratives are hobbled. The Western narrative is hobbled by a reflexive sympathy for any group arrayed in opposition to a Chinese state that is well established in the role of bogeyman (although it’s worth reading Adam Minter’s post contrasting the New York Times’ Tibetan “protestors” of 2008 with the Uighur “rioters” of 2009). The Chinese narrative is hobbled by a national myth-making apparatus that allows no room whatsoever for the acnowledgment of Uighur grievances.

Meanwhile, authorities in Urumqi have acknowledged that Internet access in the area has been cut, Xinhua reports:

“We cut Internet connection in some areas of Urumqi in order to quench the riot quickly and prevent violence from spreading to other places,” said Li Zhi, the Communist Party of China (CPC) chief of Urumqi.

Li said Chinese authorities had evidence that separatist World Uyghur Congress leader Rebiya Kadeer used the Internet and other means of communication to mastermind the riot.

He didn’t say when exactly Internet connection would resume.

On his blog, Malcolm Moore of the Telegraph asks some crucial questions about the official reporting on the violence:

So the first thought that crossed my mind when I heard Xinhua had released a shocking death toll of 140 was: Why has Xinhua put out a figure so quickly? Last year, during the Tibet riots, it took weeks for a death toll to emerge. When it did, it was generally agreed to have been significantly played down.

The Urumqi figure, by contrast, is enormous. It contradicts some eyewitnesses who said they didn’t see any bodies in the street and it rose very suddenly, from four casualties on Monday morning, to 129 by lunchtime and then to 140. Was the figure rushed out in order to justify another heavy-handed security operation?

If the death toll is accurate, the next question is how did all these victims die? It seems inconceivable that so many could have been killed without the use of guns. And if there were weapons involved, who fired first?

It’s also interesting that Beijing has not blamed terrorist separatists for the latest attack, choosing to point the finger at Rebiya Kadeer instead.

Authorities just announced arrests made for a brawl at a factory in Guangdong which may have precipitated the violence in Urumqi.


See CDT’s previous coverage of the violence in Urumqi, including video, photos, and translations of Chinese netizens’ comments.
CDT translations of Chinese Twitter comments on this topic can be found here.

Update: For more on the government’s information control, listen to this interview with CDT’s Xiao Qiang on The World. Read also “New Protests in Western China After Deadly Clashes” from the New York Times and a slideshow from the Washington Post. All Getty Images photographs of events in Urumqi and other related protests can be viewed here.

The Chinese government announced on Wednesday morning that Hu Jintao is returning early from Italy, where he planned to attend a G8 summit. From AP:

China says President Hu Jintao has cut short an official trip to Europe to deal with the outbreak of violence in western Xinjiang where at least 156 people have died in rioting.

The Foreign Ministry said on its Web site Wednesday that Hu had left Italy, where he was on a state visit before he was to take part in a Group of Eight meeting with major developing countries.

July 7, 2009 6:35 AM
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Categories: Politics, Society