Louis Proyect: The Unrepentant Marxist

September 25, 2018

China and the Uyghurs

Filed under: Counterpunch,Uyghur — louisproyect @ 10:09 pm

An Uyghur man in Kashkar, Xinjiang

Yesterday an article appeared on CounterPunch that basically made the Chinese government’s case against the Uyghurs. Co-written by Thomas Hon Wing Polin and Gerry Brown, it is an Islamophobic screed that identifies Uyghur activism as a CIA plot to encroach upon Chinese national sovereignty and defends repressive measures as necessary to protect Xinjiang’s silent majority from fiendish Salafists. It is the sort of propaganda you hear about the Syrian rebels and the Rohingya people. To give you an idea of where China stands on such questions, it has suggested the possibility of sending troops to take part in the final assault on Idlib and has China has sided with Myanmar’s refusal to allow a United Nations fact-finding mission to investigate human rights violations.

Thomas Hon Wing Polin is a journalist and an academic. He was the founding managing editor of Asiaweek, a subsidiary of Time Magazine that ceased publication in 2001. On Facebook, he describes himself as a Global Investor. As for Brown, nothing turned up on him after a brief search except for his own articles on CounterPunch. Between the two, either separately or together, there are over 20. To summarize their approach, it is sufficient to say that they don’t make any pretensions that China is building socialism and only hail it as a kinder and gentler capitalist behemoth as Polin put it in this article on the government’s partnership with Goldman-Sachs: “So the door of Chinese finance has opened another significant notch to global capital. In the past week, Beijing has concurrently introduced other sweeping measures, largely to enhance its ability to oversee domestic financial markets and minimize abuses.”

So obviously anything that gets in the way of China’s way of becoming the biggest player in global capital has to be shoved aside. Since the man making such an argument describes himself as a global investor, clearly he knows what he is talking about.

The article was obviously a reaction to wide-spread media reports that about a million Uyghurs are confined in concentration camps where Islam and other particularly national identity markers such as their own Turkic language are being beaten out of them. Hilton and Brown dismiss these claims:

The recent spate of Western media reports alleging brutal repression of Uighurs in Xinjiang marks a new phase of a propaganda drive to demonize China and destabilize its periphery. Highlighted by screaming headlines in Western corporate media are accounts of a million Uighur Muslims (or 2 in 5 Uighur male adults!) being interned in concentration camps and subject to torture, such as waterboarding. The suggestion or assertion is that Xinjiang has become an open-air prison (which actually reminds one of the real one operated by Washington’s ally Israel in Palestine).

Against the Chinese government’s denials, you have a number of Uyghurs who have been interned in such places describing what happened to them there, including the people interviewed here.

The problem, however, is that these camps or prisons or training centers—whatever they are—are kept in secret locations. Additionally, reporters trying to get the story in Xinjiang are either harassed or expelled from the country.

The authors describe a Great Game in which the USA is using Uyghur militants to create a beachhead in Xinjiang, even to the point of having the CIA train them in guerrilla tactics. If you try to find some documentation on this, a search for “CIA Uyghur training” in Nexis turns up nothing. However, since you can’t trust the mainstream media, you might as well go to a reliable source that is like the source of Polin and Brown’s claim: Infowars.

In 2009, Uyghur riots broke out in Urumqi, Xinjiang’s largest city, over the killing of two of their countrymen working in southern China. This led to martial law and the imposition of repressive measures that have continued unabated. Polin and Brown justify keeping a lid on the unruly natives:

Even peninsular Malaya’s British colonial rulers imposed emergency rule from 1945 to 1957 when confronted with a communist insurgency. And post-9/11, US authorities enacted a draconian security law (the Patriot Act) and implemented other measures that stripped away civil liberties in the name of anti-terrorism.

So if the British and the Americans do it, so can the Chinese? That’s quite a mouthful.

If you read between the lines in this paragraph, it is not too difficult to see how the Chinese authorities have been up to forced assimilation. Obviously, a system that keeps its how Han dissidents under tight control will be even more brutal with a subjugated people who are ethnically distinct. I have added italics that will help you get a handle on the population control measures:

Almost a decade after the Urumqi riots, China has turned its anti-terrorism focus to undoing the toxic brainwashing of ordinary Uighurs by extremists. Neighborhood religious institutes have been set up to educate citizens on the perils of religious extremism (these community centres where classes are held to detoxify radical Wahhabism were labelled “re-education camps” or concentration camps by the western press, and those attending the classes claimed to be “incarcerated”!) Programs to eradicate poverty are implemented to train and prepare Uighurs for jobs in towns and cities. Some 600,000 Uighurs were lifted out of poverty in 2016, and another 312,000 in 2017. More than 400,000 have been relocated from remote villages to places where they are gainfully employed.

Basically, the italicized words describe a process in which religiously observant rural people are being pressured into forsaking Islam and becoming proletarianized. Everybody knows that factory workers in China are much easier to keep leashed up. I have to laugh at the sentence that begins the next paragraph following the one above: “The Chinese government, through various programs, has been winning the hearts and minds of ordinary Uighurs.”

Winning the hearts and minds? Where have I heard that before? Oh, I remember. That is what Lyndon Johnston said the USA had to do in Vietnam in order to win the war: “get the gospel of pacification carved into the hearts and minds of all concerned.”

I have a special interest in Uyghur oppression for a couple of reasons. To start with, they are a Turkic people whose language my wife and in-laws can practically understand. Secondly, they are just another example of how people living under Stalinist rule can suffer the same kind of injustices as they suffered under pre-Communist colonial rule.

During the rise of the Mongols, the Turks, who were also a nomadic people historically, settled into the region that became known as Turkestan. As such, it was a key element in the Silk Road that facilitated trade between Europe and Asia until the end of the 15th century.

This area languished for centuries until competition between China, Russia, and European powers during the 19th century prompted an invasion by the Manchus into East Turkestan with the encouragement of British banks who were participating in the “Great Game”. “Xinjiang” or “Sinkiang”, which means “New Dominion” or “New Territory”, was annexed by the Manchu empire on November 18, 1884.

Meanwhile, Czarist Russia was seizing control over West Turkestan in its own expansionist bid. In their victory over the old regime, the Bolsheviks had to contend with the problem of oppressed nationalities, in particular the Muslim peoples to the south in what had been known as West Turkestan. In a fascinating debate between Lenin and Bukharin in 1919, there are some issues that are relevant to today’s struggles. Bukharin questions the need for self-determination of such peoples, using arguments similar to that of Rosa Luxemburg. Responding to Bukharin’s assertion that “I want to recognise only the right of the working classes to self-determination,” Lenin refers to the Bashkirs, a Turkic people who had petitioned the Soviet government for the right to form an autonomous Soviet Republic.

What, then, can we do in relation to such peoples as the Kirghiz, the Uzbeks, the Tajiks, the Turkmen, who to this day are under the influence of their mullahs? Here, in Russia, the population, having had a long experience of the priests, helped us to overthrow them. But you know how badly the decree on civil marriage is still being put into effect. Can we approach these peoples and tell them that we shall overthrow their exploiters? We cannot do this, because they are entirely subordinated to their mullahs. In such cases we have to wait until the given nation develops, until the differentiation of the proletariat from the bourgeois elements, which is inevitable, has taken place.

Our programme must not speak of the self-determination of the working people, because that would be wrong. It must speak of what actually exists. Since nations are at different stages on the road from medievalism to bourgeois democracy and from bourgeois democracy to proletarian democracy, this thesis of our programme is absolutely correct. With us there have been very many zigzags on this road. Every nation must obtain the right to self-determination, and that will make the self-determination of the working people easier.

As most of you probably know, this policy was reversed within two or three years as Stalin consolidated power and reintroduced the Great Russian chauvinism that made people such as the Bashkirs miserable. Just before his death, he wrote an article that has been described as his testament. It included the following warning:

It is quite natural that in such circumstances the “freedom to secede from the union” by which we justify ourselves will be a mere scrap of paper, unable to defend the non-Russians from the onslaught of that really Russian man, the Great-Russian chauvinist, in substance a rascal and a tyrant, such as the typical Russian bureaucrat is. There is no doubt that the infinitesimal percentage of Soviet and sovietised workers will drown in that tide of chauvinistic Great-Russian riffraff like a fly in milk.

Probably no Turkic people had it worse under Stalinist rule than the Crimean Tatars who were exiled from their homeland as a measure intended supposedly to help the USSR defend itself from the Nazis. Since there was a Tatar Legion in the Nazi army and since some of the Tatar clerics were sympathetic to the Nazis, Stalin decided upon collective punishment. The Soviet government described the forced migration as “humane” but the Wiki on the Tatars claims that 46.3% of the resettled population died of diseases and malnutrition. In other words, they suffered the same fate as Cherokees or Armenians.

In 1967, when I joined the Trotskyist movement, the party press, especially Intercontinental Press that was edited by Joe Hansen (one of Trotsky’s body guards), was taking up the cause of Soviet dissidents, including General Pyotr Grigorenko who was such a forceful defender of Crimean Tatar demands for justice that he had been put in a mental hospital in 1964. You can judge his mental status based on a speech he gave to the Tatars in 1968:

After having lost forty-six percent of their numbers in the forced exile disaster, they began to gather strength and to enter into battle for their own national and human rights. This struggle led to certain successes: the status of exiled deportees was lifted and a political rehabilitation of the people was achieved. True, this rehabilitation was carried out quietly … which in significant degree rendered it valueless. The majority of the Soviet people, who previously had been widely informed that the Crimean Tatars had sold the Crimea, never did learn that this ’sale’ was transparent fabrication. But worst of all, the decree on political rehabilitation… legalized the liquidation of the Crimean Tatar nationality. Now, it appears, there are no Crimean Tatars, there are just Tatars who formerly lived in Crimea.

Some would say—and they did—that the SWP was in a united front with the imperialists since the United States Information Agency had decided to publish a collection of documents written by the dissidents, including Grigorenko. Interestingly enough, they appeared in the journal Problems of Communism that was edited by Abraham Brumberg. Brumberg, who had impeccable anti-Communist credentials, developed some sympathies for the Sandinista revolution and defended Nicaragua against Reagan’s counter-revolutionary intervention throughout the 1980s. For those who think in terms of black-and-white, Brumberg would be too hard to figure out.

As might be expected, the people of East Turkestan were treated just as badly as their brethren under Soviet rule since Mao, for the most part, agreed with Stalin on how to build socialism. Although China had fewer nationalities to forcefully assimilate, it did so with little regard to Lenin’s warnings about avoiding national chauvinism. In China, this was essentially expressed as Han nationalism that was intended to serve as a battering ram against non-Han peoples, first and foremost the Tibetans and the Uyghurs.

China decided to swamp the Xinjiang province, the homeland of the Uyghurs, with the dominant Han nationality not long after Mao took power. Between 1949 and the mid-80s, more than 5 million Chinese were sent to Xinjiang from eastern China in order to help assimilate the Uyghurs, as well as other Turkic peoples including the Kazakhs, Kirghiz and Mongols.

In utter disregard of Lenin’s comment about having patience with people who still follow the lead of their mullahs, China organized a campaign against Islam under the rubric of combating a desire to restore “the old rule by capitalists, feudal lords, slave-owners” in the words of Liu Ke-ping, the Chairman of the Committee of Nationalities of the National People’s Congress. This included a ban on teaching Arabic in Xinjiang schools, a measure that would undercut the study of the Koran but likely to have little effect on the development of communism.

On January 14, 1985 the Washington Post reported:

The assimilation effort reached its peak during the Cultural Revolution from 1966 to 1976 when the Arabic alphabet was outlawed in favor of the Latin alphabet, mosques were closed and turned into workshops, Moslem classics were burned, restrictions were imposed on the number of sheep minority peasants could raise, and Han officials delivered speeches in Chinese without providing interpreters.

So much for the Cultural Revolution as returning China to the communist road, unless of course your idea of communism is inspired by Stalin rather than Lenin.

The Post article continues:

In 1981, ethnic tension flared in Kashgar when a young Uighur peasant who was digging a ditch got into a fight with a Han Chinese. Neither was able to speak the other’s language. In a fistfight the Han was beaten by the stronger and bigger Uighur. Angered, the Han went into his store, took out his hunting gun and shot the Uighur.

As is so often the case today, oppression of Muslim peoples seems to go hand in hand with the need to control petroleum resources. On August 28, 2008 the Financial Times reported:

The increasing importance of the Muslim-dominated Xinjiang autonomous region as a source of the energy and minerals needed to fuel China’s booming eastern cities is raising the stakes for Beijing in its battle against separatists agitating for an independent state.

“The Chinese didn’t want to let Xinjiang be independent before, but after they built all the oilfields, it became absolutely impossible,” said one Muslim resident in Korla, who asked not to be named for fear of retribution by government security agents.

The desert around the city is punctuated every kilometre or two by oil and gas derricks, each of them topped with the red Chinese national flag, an assertion of sovereignty over every inch of the energy-rich ground.

In 2005, Xinjiang’s local government was allotted only Rmb240m ($35m, €24m, £19m) out of the Rmb14.8bn in tax revenue from the petrochemical industries that are based in the region.

In Korla, the oil industry is under the control of a subsidiary of PetroChina, the state-owned energy giant, which answers directly to its head office in Beijing.

“We don’t have the power to tell them to do anything – they only listen to their bosses in Beijing,” said one local government official who asked not to be named.

Many of Korla’s original Uighur residents feel they have missed out altogether on the few benefits that have trickled down to the region from the rapid extraction of its energy resources.

It is no wonder that China put so much pressure on the U.S. government not to release the Uyghur men who were kept in Guantanamo after being falsely accused of being Al Qaeda operatives. In the war on terror, which is really after all a war to control oil resources, the U.S. and China clearly see eye to eye.

 

 

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