China Faces Shifting Dynamic in Middle East

The Diplomat’s Minxin Pei writes that China faces an uncertain future with a “newly empowered” Middle East, not only diplomatically but also in terms of its domestic policies toward an increasingly dissatisfied Muslim minority:

China’s ethnic and religious policies in its western regions face a peculiar dilemma. If China tries to push economic development and Chinese nationalism too strongly, it inevitably provokes a religious-oriented backlash. Yet if China fails to invest enough resources in areas like development and education, this could give Sunnis and Shias abroad opportunities to exploit, as Chinese Muslims seek opportunities in those countries. China’s west has already become the battleground of overt and covert struggles among various political and religious forces.

China may therefore need to modify its religious and ethnic policies in order to keep up with changing times. If China fails to adjust its policies, the silence or murmurs heard among its Muslim population might gradually begin manifesting themselves in angry protests in the model of the Arab Spring. But another issue arises. Namely, if China carries out large-scale reforms and weakens its authoritarian rule, conflicts in these border regions might escalate with the ensuing instability undermining economic development.

Finding a happy medium is a challenge that the government and indeed every Chinese citizen who puts their nation before other affiliations must grapple with. Happiness cannot just be measured in material goods but should also have a spiritual dimension as well. Perhaps to some extent, and for certain people living in certain regions, spirituality is of paramount importance.

In Xinjiang, where tensions have run high in the three years since deadly riots between Uyghurs and Han Chinese in 2009, Radio Free Asia reports that authorities have restricted the public observance of Ramadan:

The government, which earlier this month stepped up security around the sensitive anniversary of the 2009 ethnic violence between the Uyghurs and the Han Chinese that killed nearly 200 people, has banned any public religious activities by the region’s Muslims, according to a spokesman for the Munich-based World Uyghur Congress.

“They have set up Ramadan stability groups in every official department and organization, and they have to select people to serve on them,” spokesman Dilxat Raxit said. “Officials from these departments have to go and stay in mosques, so as to carry out personal surveillance work in all localities.”

The Muslim holy month devoted to dawn-to-dusk fasting, prayers and good deeds culminates with the three-day holiday of Eid al-Fitr.

Meanwhile, teachers and professors, members of the ruling Chinese Communist Party and other civil servants in Xinjiang are barred from fasting during this year’s Ramadan, which began Thursday and ends on Aug. 18, according to Raxit.


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