Flare-Ups of Ethnic Unrest Shake China’s Self-Image

The Washington Post reports on a violent land dispute between Vietnamese Chinese farmers and local officials in Yingde, Guangdong and other cases of unrest by minority groups in China:

The violence in Guangdong was echoed in the far western city of Urumqi, when clashes between ethnic Uighurs and Han Chinese on July 5 killed 192 people and injured about 1,700. Both incidents have shaken China’s view of itself as a country that celebrates diversity and treats its minority populations better than its counterparts in the West do.

The incidents in Guangdong and Urumqi fit a pattern of ethnic unrest that includes the Tibetan uprising in March 2008, followed by bombings at police stations and government offices in the majority Uighur province of Xinjiang that left 16 officers dead shortly before the August Olympics.

Each conflict has had specific causes, including high unemployment, continued allegations of corruption involving public officials and charges of excessive force by police. But for the Chinese government, they add up to a major concern: Friction among the nation’s 56 officially recognized ethnic groups is considered one of the most explosive potential triggers for social instability. Much of the unrest stems from a sense among some minority populations that the justice system in China is stacked against them. In March, hundreds of Tibetans, including monks, clashed with police in the northwestern province of Qinghai. The fight was apparently triggered by the disappearance of a Tibetan independence activist who unfurled a Tibetan flag while in police custody. Some said he committed suicide, but others said he died while trying to escape.

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