Monday, 29 September 2014

Establishing 'Correct Views': Beijing's Response to Uighur Violence & Identity

While the West and the world's media attention has been focused on the rise of ISIS in Iraq and Syria, China has been gripped by a wave of violence perpetuated by homegrown Muslim terrorists. Last week fifty people were killed (including forty suspected assailants) and more injured as multiple explosions shook Luntai County, Xinjiang. In the past eighteen months, over 300 people have been killed by aggressors with links to Xinjiang, the autonomous region in western China. Xinjiang is home to the Uighurs, a minority numbering some ten million, scattered across China's far western expanse and bordering several Central Asian countries. The Uighurs are a Turko-Islamic people who long lived on the periphery of Qing China, in an atmosphere of semi-independence as a tributary state to Beijing. Following the fall of imperial China in 1912, Xinjiang enjoyed de facto independence during the mid to late 1940s as the East Turkestan Republic, before being reincorporated into the People's Republic of China in 1949.

Uighur Unrest tops Beijing's Domestic Security Concerns

The Han dominated central government in Beijing has long viewed Xinjiang as a restive frontier, inhabited by troublesome minorities who refuse to assimilate and adopt the majoritarian norms promoted by the government. This tension has increased in recent decades for several reasons. Firstly, Central Asian nations each inhabited by Turkic peoples which emerged on to the world stage after the collapse of the Soviet Union, spurred similar separatist sentiments in Xinjiang. More recently the rapid industrialization of China and corresponding need for resources has seen large scale Han migration (actively encouraged by Beijing) into Xinjiang, lured by construction, resource extraction and defence related projects. This demographic pressure combined with Beijing's emphasis on a Han-dominated, unified national identity has led to the increasing marginalization of the Uighurs. Unequal access to jobs, government services as well as prejudicial sentiments within the migrant Han population has also led to growing discontent and radicalization.

Photo Credit: Wall Street Journal
The explosions in Luntai County are merely the latest in a recent upsurge in Uighur/Xinjiang linked violence. In March a knife attack in the southern city of Kunming left twenty-nine dead and 143 injured. Two months later in May 2014, Uighur extremists detonated explosives in and drove off-road vehicles through a crowded market in Xinjiang's capital Urumqi, killing thirty-nine and injuring more than ninety. In response the government executed thirteen individuals linked to Xinjiang attacks in June, and on September 24th executed eight others implicated in five separate acts, including suicide car crashes in Tiananmen Square which killed the attackers and two tourists.

Even moderate Uighur voices are falling victim of Beijing's crackdown, which has been paying extra attention to Xinjiang since the 2009 Urumqi uprising which left hundreds dead and injured. On September 17th the Urumqi Intermediate People's Court began the trial of Uighur activist Ilham Tohti, who has been accused of separatism. Tohti is a moderate Uighur voice, who while advocating to the Uighur cause has repeatedly sought to mend Han-Uighur relations by campaigning against ethnic intolerance and anti-Han sentiments within the Uighur community. Tohti ran afoul of the central government after creating Uighurbiz in 2006, a Chinese language website fostering Han-Uighur understanding. Tohti has repeatedly been subject to house arrest, and only four days after his trial began, on September 21st was sentenced to life in prison.

Moderate Man, Harsh Sentence: Ilham Tohti Recieves Life in Prison
Photo Credit: AFP

Alongside a predictable security crackdown in the region, Beijing has increasingly been implementing policies which seek to undermine Uighur identity, and which many critics characterize as efforts to “Sinify the Uighurs.” These efforts tout the promotion of secularism and community (read Han) values, by delegitimizing Uighur values, often surrounding Islamic pratices. For instance, during his incarceration, Tohti went on a ten day hunger strike because the guards refused to give him halal food. Such actions are in line with Beijing's larger goal of stamping out the Muslim identities of Uighurs. The government has recently banned young Uighur from growing beards or wearing Muslim garb. Similarly in April 2014, Shayar County introduced a program which offers rewards to people who informed the local government about individuals under the age of 18 who are suspected of growing a beard or attending a mosque.

Recently President Xi Jinping suggested that more Uighurs should be moved to Han dominated areas for education and employment. Furthermore, in recent weeks, Chinese officials in Xinjiang have begun offering various incentives to encourage Han-Uighur intermarriage. Cherchen County in southern Xinjiang is offering 10,000 renminbi ($1600) a year for five years to Han who marry one of China's fifty-five minorities. The government is also offering inter-married couples priority consideration for housing and government jobs, as well as up to $3200 a year in health benefits. Moreover the government is also promising free K-12 education for children of mixed parentage, and tuition subsidies for technical school or university. Cherchen County director, Yasen Nasi’er, said that inter-ethnic marriages were “an important step in the harmonious integration and development of all ethnicities.” Yasen went on to characterize such marriages as positive energy contributing to the realization of the “Chinese Dream,” a concept popularized by President Xi Jinping.

The Chinese Dream: Xi Meets Uighur Community Leaders in Urumqi

These restriction have been put in place because the central government sees the expression of Uighur identity as a threat. The position of Uighurs as Turkic Muslim non-Mandarin speakers who agitate against the status quo undermines the efforts of Beijing to mold a unified modern Chinese identity. The government is pushing strongly to instil the image of 21st century China as Mandarin, Han and secular. These efforts are driven by the desire to prevent another Tibet situation in Xinjiang and other minority areas. Specifically, this means preventing the establishment of a robust non-Han identity which challenges the official discourse emanating from Beijing.

Beijing Fears Spillover: Uighur protesters in Ankara, 2012
Photo Credit: Reuters

At a meeting discussing recent Uighur violence, Xi called on the government to "establish correct views about the motherland and the nation" among China's minorities. The greatest fear for the central government is an internationalization of the Uighur cause. The proliferation of international sympathies for Tibetan independence haunt the Chinese leadership. Consequently their chief priority is preventing the situation in Xinjiang from attracting foreign attention and creating unrest, either from the West, but more importantly from pan-Turkic sympathizes and the greater Muslim world.

Monday, 8 September 2014

The Last Lama? The Dalai Lama on China and Not Wanting a Successor

Following their victory over the Kuomintang Nationalists in 1949, the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) sought to re-establish direct control over the traditional periphery of Qing China. Areas such as Tibet and Xinjiang had, following the fall of the Qing dynasty in 1911, drifted out of Beijing's orbit, achieving de facto independence. In 1950 the People's Liberation Army (PLA) retook Tibet for the new central government in Beijing. This move led to ethnic and religious conflict as tensions rose between the Buddhist Tibetans and the Han dominated, officially atheist CCP government. At the centre of Tibetan resistance was the centuries old link between the people and Tibetan Buddhism, as personified by the Dalai Lama. The 14th and current Dalai Lama resisted the Chinese occupation of Tibet, yet following a failed uprising was forced to flee to India in 1959.

Coronation of the Dalai Lama, March 17th 1950
Photo Credit:

The Tibetan government in exile still resides in India as does a large Tibetan diaspora. Since 1959 the Dalai Lama has become globally renowned, earning the Nobel Peace Prize in 1989 – much to the chagrin of Beijing – especially given the timing of the award which was most likely heavily influenced by China's actions during the Tiananmen Square protests in the same year. Having defied every leader of modern China since Mao, the Dalai Lama has in sense become China's Castro: an initially threatening, later perennially just out of reach, half-century old thorn-in-the-side, frustratingly enjoying international support, and achieving mythic levels of intransigence thanks primarily to China's hyperbolic rhetoric. Just switch out Beijing for Washington, and you have the Castro regime: both even came to international attention in 1959.

Amusing digressions aside, the Dalai Lama continues to head China's dissident list, with Beijing regularly exercising pressure at the international level to inhibit his movements and counter his popularity. If not acceding to China's 'One China' rule is the paramount deal breaker when engaging with the regime in Beijing; a 'One Tibet' – not parlaying with the Dalai Lama – rule is not far behind. While countries such as the United States publicly embrace the Dalai Lama at regular intervals whenever they need to tweak China' nose, smaller nations with less geo-political clout often cannot. For instance, on September 4th South Africa denied the Dalai Lama a visa to visit the country. This was the third such denial in five years, with this most recent refusal preventing the Dalai Lama from attending the 14th world summit of Nobel Peace Prize laureates. The level of irony inherent in South Africa's actions is almost farcical, especially given the recent passing of Nelson Mandela: the country's own Nobel Prize winning leader who fought for an oppressed people, and was repeatedly denied entry into various countries.

The Dalai Lama Arrives in India
Photo Credit: Indian Defence Review

While the actions of the South African government seem arbitrary, Pretoria has more to lose from angering China than from being a hypocrite. South Africa is China's largest trade partner in Africa, with trade increasing by thirty-two percent since 2012, reaching $25 billion in 2013.  Furthermore, while trade with South Africa only equals four percent of China's trade with the EU, China is South Africa's biggest export and import partner, comprising 14.5 and 14.9 percent of Pretoria's trade, respectively. Consequently, South Africa needs to placate China via acts such as denying entry to the Dalai Lama; a move that did not go unnoticed. According to Xinhua, the Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesperson Qin Gang stated that China “greatly appreciates” South Africa's efforts, in preventing access to a dangerous separatist.

Interestingly, Xinhua goes on to state that the Dalai was simply prevented from attending a meeting in South Africa. By excluding any mention of the nature of said meeting – an assemblage of Peace Prize winners – Xinhua seeks to erode any moral high ground that the Dalai Lama could occupy as a result of South Africa's actions. Excising mention of the Nobel Peace Prize firstly seek to downplay the international recognition of the Tibetan cause, and secondly sow confusion and suspicion among Xinhua's readership as to the nature and intent of said meeting.

China's efforts to curtail the Dalai Lama's freedom of movement and international support is premised on the assertion that he embodies a dangerous separatist movement as well as heading a government in exile. Not only is the Dalai Lama not the head of the government, having fostered the creation of a democratic regime in exile since the 1960s, he also officially devolved himself from the political leadership in 2011, claiming the time for a new leader. Paradoxically it is the Chinese government that has become the chief voice emphasizing the importance of the Dalai Lama on the world stage.

No Successor Needed, Position of Dalai Lama has Served Its Purpose
Photo Credit: Die Welt am Sonntag

While he is revered and respected by many Tibetans and non-Tibetans alike, efforts to re-establish Tibetan self-rule are focused on achieving democratic, not theocratic governance. The Dalai Lama himself acknowledges this and in a recent interview in German newspaper Die Welt am Sonntag, stated that he does not wish for a successor. Officially retired since 2011, the Dalai Lama stated that he did not want officials to appoint a successor after his death, arguing that the 450 year old tradition had served its purpose. Furthermore, during the interview he highlighted the large and effective network of Buddhist monks and scholars, stating that Tibetan Buddhism was not dependent on or dictated by one person. This statement is primarily a simple acknowledgment of the work of the Tibetan community, as well as characteristic humility, yet it also sends a strong message to China that the struggle over Tibet does not start or end with the Dalai Lama.

Xi Jinping Speaks in Paris, March 2014

The seventy-nine year old Lama also expressed his firm belief that he will eventually be able to return to Tibet. According to assessments of the Dalai Lama's health, doctors have stated that he will likely live to be one hundred, with the Dalai Lama himself stating that in his dreams he sees himself dying at the age of 113. Such potential longevity adds two to three decades onto the Dalai Lama's perspective, in turn making him confident about not only his chances of returning to Tibet, but of China's gradual democratization. If such a perspective seems naïve, one need only look at the difference that 20-30 years has already made in China with regards to civil society and personal freedoms. The Dalai Lama told Die Welt am Sonntag that China must and will democratize as it can no longer choose isolation nor inoculate itself against globalizing influences.

Interestingly, despite continuing opposition from Beijing, the Dalai Lama expressed his admiration for current Chinese President Xi Jinping, citing Xi's efforts to continue along the path of Hu Jintao's harmonious society, as well as his anti-corruption stance which has caused Xi to make many enemies among the CCP's old guard. Lastly, the Dalai Lama argued that he sees these actions as indicative of China's progress toward slowly becoming more open and inclusive; a view buttressed by Xi's March 2014 statement in Paris crediting Buddhism with playing an important part in the development of Chinese civilization.

Thursday, 4 September 2014

Tokyo Courts the Tiger: Why Japan Needs India

Recently, Japan has been increasingly emphasizing its ties with India, efforts which have been highlighted by newly elected Indian Prime Minister Modi's recent trip to Japan. This was Modi's first major foreign visit since assuming office, and he was lauded for his efforts by Cabinet upon his return. This renewed engagement with India is in large part due to Tokyo's efforts to engage with Asian countries to at least implicitly, if not overtly hedge against China. Modi reaffirmed the importance of cooperation with Tokyo, by stating that "the 21st century belongs to Asia...but how the 21st century will be depends on how strong India-Japan ties are." Currently both sides appear to be cementing said ties, with Japan agreeing to $35 billion in investment in India over the next five years. 

Prime Minister Modi (left), meets with Prime Minister Shinzo Abe in Japan.
Photo Credit: Reuters

India represents a great economic opportunity for Japanese business, but it is India's potential as a bulwark against China that most entices Japan. China represents a serious concern for the Japanese government, as tensions have remained high due to unsettled disputes over the Senkaku/Diaoyu islands. The clashes over these islands have bolstered Shinzo Abe's conservative government and its efforts to increase defence spending and reinterpret the country's pacifist constitution. Despite the measure of security afforded by the U.S.-Japan Mutual Defence Treaty, the United States has a complicated relationship with Beijing, with increasing Sino-American economic ties stoking Japanese abandonment fears. Japan's ties to the United States in turn stokes Chinese paranoia concerning American hegemony in Asia, as well as accusations of foreign meddling. Japan needs to diversify its foreign relations portfolio, and a promising candidate for regional cooperation is India.

In some ways India is the default partner for Japan in Asia, as it constitutes one of the few approachable large powers. Japan and Russia have yet to sign a peace treaty from WWII due to a territorial dispute over the Kurile Islands, and in any case Japan's treaty with America dissuades Moscow from seeing Tokyo as a strategic ally. Japan has strong ties with Taiwan, yet Taipei does not have the geo-political latitude to meaningfully confront China. South Korea is an economic power and a democracy, yet Seoul and Tokyo are fighting over exclusive economic zones and ownership over Dokdo/Takeshima island. South Korea also needs to keep China in a good mood in return for Beijing's cooperation in dealing with North Korea. Indonesia has the demographic but not (yet) the economic or political clout to be an effective ally, and while the rest of ASEAN worries about China's ambitions in the South China Sea, it lacks cohesion and cannot risk openly defying Beijing to any serious degree.

Photo Credit: Wall Street Journal

India's democratic government, in a region which normally abounds with authoritarian regimes, makes it a palatable partner for the Japanese public. India has the demographic power to rival China, and the economic and military potential to be a superpower. Indian natural resources pair well with Japanese foreign direct investment and technological prowess. Moreover, India also has territorial disputes with China, and even fought a war in the 1960s over the borders of Tibet. By supporting India's growing military might, Japan benefits from Beijing's divided attention and resources. Similarly, cooperation with Japan allows India to counter Chinese support for Pakistan and Myanmar, which can be seen as part of Chinese efforts at Indian containment.

Perhaps most importantly is the strategic location of India and specifically its navy which is perfectly positioned to protect the trade routes and sea lanes of communication (SLOC) upon which Japan relies. The vast majority of Japan's oil and gas crosses the Indian Ocean and is funneled through the Straits of Malacca and past the Chinese coast. The naval arms race in between Japan and China is in part to develop the blue water capabilities to patrol and potentially shut down these vital SLOCs. During Modi's trip “the two prime ministers...affirmed their shared commitment to maritime security, freedom of navigation and overflight, civil aviation safety, unimpeded lawful commerce, and the peaceful settlement of disputes in accordance with international law. 

SLOCs - The Lifeblood of Japan
Photo Credit: Wikipedia

References to unimpeded commerce and navigation are clear indicators of Japan's concern over SLOCs. Moreover, the inclusion of freedom of overflight is important as this represents an obvious rebuke to China. Specifically this statement implicitly chastises China's unilateral efforts to impose air defence identification zones over contested areas in the East and South China Seas. Similarly the call to abide by international dispute resolution norms is not empty rhetoric, but a move to show China that other major players in Asia also view territorial disputes as solely the purview of international law. This runs counter to the common Chinese tactic of seeking to resolve territorial disputes bilaterally, efforts which invariably – given the scale of Beijing's economic and military resources – positions China as the dominant partner in negotiations.

Japan seeks to develop Indian naval capability to patrol the Indian Ocean, while simultaneously supporting current American patrolling of the SLOCs. India can be seen as a potential insurance policy for Japan to hedge against potential American unwillingness to confront China in the event of a Sino-Japanese trade war. Japan is seeking Indian cooperation at the international level by instituting common geo-political norms, an aim shared by New Delhi as both prime ministers announced the future creation of two-plus-two talks between their respective foreign and defence ministers. To this end Japan has also agreed to regular defence exchanges as well as bilateral maritime drills, with both countries directing officials to set up working level talks on defence equipment procurement and technology cooperation