Staunton, August 26 – Tibet and Hong Kong attract more attention, but Xinjiang or ‘East Turkestan, call it what you will’ – presents a far more serious problem to Beijing because it combines ethnic and religious issues; and to no one’s surprise, Washington now wants to use it to weaken Beijing or ultimately break up China as it broke up the USSR, Dmitry Bavyrin says.
Reports that the US government will declare China’s actions against the Uyghurs a genocide are still unconfirmed officially, but they are consistent with what the Moscow analyst calls “the Sinophobia” of the Trump Administration and its hopes to weaken China or even split it into pieces (vz.ru/world/2020/8/27/1057060.html).
The reasons Washington is focusing on Xinjiang are not difficult to understand. The conflicts between the Uyghurs and Han Chinese have been going on for millenia. The region is China’s biggest and at the same time poorest, and the two basic ethno-religious groups have mutually exclusive aspirations.
“Under the Xinjiang-Uyghur Autonomous Region have been laid two ‘bombs’ at one, a national one and a religious one;” and as such, “Uyghu4ristan or Xinjiang or Eastern Turkestan, call it what you will, has been for the Chinese government approximately what the North Caucasus has been for the Russian state.”
The ethnic component of this divide is less significant than the religious one, although Washington clearly plans to play on both, Bavyrin argues. And to that end, the US government appears set to play up the story of millions of Uyghurs being confined to what Uyghurs and the West call “concentration camps.”
The Moscow analyst, following the Chinese government, rejects that term; but he does acknowledge that China will do whatever it has to in order to ensure that Xinjiang doesn’t go its own way.
What many Russians don’t know or have forgotten, the Moscow analyst says, is that the problems Beijing is facing in Xinjiang today could very well have become the Russian government’s because there was a real chance that Stalin might have annexed the region in the 1940s. (On that history from a Russian perspective, see vz.ru/world/2020/5/24/1040657.html.)
Stalin gave up on the idea because the Uyghurs who had backed the USSR shifted sides in 1942 when they concluded Hitler would defeat the Soviet Union and because he didn’t want to offend Mao who cared profoundly about keeping the area. At the same time, however, Bavyrin says, some sources say Moscow continued to fish in these troubled waters for a long time.
Now, the Americans are set to try. They do have some resources, but they face two serious obstacles to achieving much anytime soon. On the one hand, the Americans will find it difficult to cooperate with groups for long who care as much about being Muslim as about being members of any particular ethnic group.
And on the other, the Chinese will not sit back and do nothing. They are quite prepared to use any amount of force and any amount of soft power at the same time to ensure that Xinjiang remains Chinese. Efforts to dislodge them there will in the first instance deepen their hostility to those who try rather than have any real chance of succeeding, Bavyrin concludes.