The Chinese government’s difficulties with the Uighur minority in its westernmost region are increasing, despite Beijing’s efforts to integrate Uighurs with the country’s Han-speaking majority.
Uighurs make up 10 million of China’s 1.3 billion people. Mostly Muslim, they came under Beijing’s control in 1949, when communists began to rule China.
Uighurs have consistently resented Han Chinese efforts to control their region, which Beijing has flooded with Han-speaking immigrants. Uighurs see this government effort as aimed not only at reducing their economic and political prospects, but also at obliterating their culture and religion.
They have become increasingly violent in their resistance. This month, a knife attack, apparently carried out by Uighurs at a railroad station outside their region, killed 29 people and wounded 143 others. Previous violent Uighur resistance had occurred within areas of strength.
Beijing has not shown particular aptitude at dealing with its minorities. In recent months, Tibetans have increased self-immolations. Beijing took offense at President Obama’s meeting at the White House last month with Tibetans’ spiritual leader, the Dalai Lama, even though Washington soft-pedaled the event.
No government should reward violent attacks. Yet Beijing might try adding dialogue and inclusion to its repertoire of means of working with China’s ethnic and religious minorities.
It is hard to imagine that the Beijing government can believe in 2014 that retaliatory violence and economic submersion can work as ways of dealing with minority populations.