Monday, August 10, 2009

A Discomforting Analogy

Don't hold your breath, but even Greg (Jerusalem Prize) Sheridan, The Australian's foreign editor, may occasionally lapse into lucidity:

"In Dragon Fighter*, [Rebiya Kadeer's] compellingly readable autobiography, and in our long discussion, Kadeer describes a system of pervasive discrimination and sometimes outright persecution, against Uighurs by the Chinese government. The Chinese will never give up control of Xinjiang. It is a vast territory... on China's western border, and it contains much of the country's mineral and energy resources. Kadeer accuses Beijing of flooding the province with ethnic Han Chinese immigrants to make the Uighurs a minority in their own homeland, and to extinguish their cultural distinctiveness. She says it is Beijing's policies that have made it difficult for Uighurs and Han Chinese to live together in harmony. After 6 decades of Chinese rule, it is the Chinese government policy of portraying Uighurs as enemies of the state, and as a threat to the Chinese people, which has destroyed the preconditions of coexistence. The Chinese government rhetoric that Uighurs are all separatists has played a big role in making the minds of Chinese people see the Uighurs as enemies." (Courage of her conviction, 8/8/09)

[*See the extracts in my 5/8/09 post Occupations.]

Discrimination, persecution, settlers, demonisation of the natives - sound familiar? While any attempt to substitute Palestinians for Uighurs and Israel for China, would, of course, be rejected out of hand by Israel apologists such as Sheridan, the Uighur/Palestinian, China/Israel analogy comes naturally to an objective student of Chinese colonialism.

Take Christian Tyler's Wild West China: The Taming of Xinjiang (2003) for example: "Among the pioneers who came to [Xinjiang] after Liberation [1949] were prisoners and soldiers commanded to open up the virgin lands, including many former Guomindang [Nationalist] soldiers. Civilian settlers came after 1954, slowly at first then in ever-increasing numbers. But in that year was created one of the most powerful and unusual entities ever seen, which was to play - as it still does - a controlling part in the sinicization of the Muslim west. The Xinjiang Production and Construction Corps (bingtuan) was the result of a merger of two outfits set up to feed and supply the army, always a problem in the borderlands. Mao transferred to its care about 150,000 Guomindang and Muslim soldiers who had surrendered to the People's Liberation Army [PLA]. They, their families, civil servants and others who had worked for the Nationalists... were impounded in 'regiment farms'. Their task was twofold, to reclaim land for agriculture and to defend the border. Later, they would be charged with domestic riot control as well. The Corps also took in political convicts from China proper - landlords, Nationalist officials and other such 'reactionary elements' - after they had served their sentences. In its early days, the Corps sent recruitment parties to the east to bring back, more or less voluntarily, hundreds of thousands of technicians, engineers, doctors, teachers and tradesmen... Altogether, at least half a million Chinese soldiers and civilians were moved to [Xinjiang] in the first 5 years of the People's Republic." (pp 134-135) "Today [the bingtuan] is the province's biggest economic enterprise and landowner, its largest employer, and a powerful instrument for controlling the Uighurs. It is a state within a state, run by the PLA, independent of the provincial government and reporting directly to Beijing... Like any Western agro-industrial conglomerate, the Corps operates farms, forests, mines, factories, canals, reservoirs and transport. But it is also a welfare state, with its own schools, hospitals, laboratories, pension funds, police force, courts, prisons - and, of course, labour camps. Yet its structure is a military one: it has 14 divisions, each with their own regiments and companies. China makes no secret of the purpose of the Corps. In 1977, the Xinhua news agency described it as 'shock brigade in building socialism' whose workers stand 'with rifle in one hand and hoe in the other'. These days, the hoe has been joined by the engineering lathe, and the rifle that used to be aimed at Soviet border troops is used to shoot down Uighur demonstrators. Like the gun-toting Jewish settlers on the Palestinian West Bank, the role of these workers is politically strategic." (pp 194-195)

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