From today’s WSJ: China’s Ethnic Tension Isn’t Limited to Tibet
Xinjiang is strategically critical for China. It accounts for a sixth of China’s territory, and is an important oil-producing region and home to China’s nuclear-weapons test sites. It also has more than 5,600 kilometers (3,480 miles) of borders with eight neighboring states.
The cause of Uighur human rights has drawn far less international attention than that of Tibetans. Tibet activists have gained a global following thanks in part to backing by celebrities and the charisma of the Dalai Lama, Tibetan Buddhists’ exiled spiritual leader. Another factor, Uighur human-rights advocates say: Uighurs are predominantly Muslim. Since the September 11, 2001, terror attacks in the U.S., China has sought to portray its battle against Uighur-rights campaigners as a fight against Islamic terrorism.
Now, the Tibetan protests and the pending Beijing Olympics, which are set to begin in August, are spurring Uighurs abroad to speak out — and to explicitly link their aspirations to those of Tibetans. Thursday, hundreds of Uighur demonstrators gathered in Istanbul for an anti-China protest during the Olympic torch relay passed through the city.
In 2004 I traveled to Xinjiang with my friend Kanchan. We spoke to many Uigher people who were eager to practice their English. Despite what would have been ferocious penalties, a few of them were not shy about expressing their hatred towards China and the Han Chinese people who had settled Xinjiang.
I’m posting this only because I feel like I understand what’s happening there. World news becomes a lot less abstract if you’ve been to a place that’s in the news. That’s why I like traveling in China: the country is changing so fast in ways that are affecting everyone in the world. It’s a fascinating place and the best way to gain context for understanding is to visit.