IRAN REVIEW - Monday, June 22, 2015
Researcher; Foreign Policy Department; Center for Strategic Research, Iran
Xinjiang or East Turkestan region of China, with a population of 20 million people within 13 ethnic groups – where Uyghurs constitute the biggest ethnic group with a population of 8 million – has been always of high strategic importance to Beijing. During recent months, in the light of the latest developments at regional and international levels – especially the emergence of ISIS and increasing influence of this group in Afghanistan, which has raised the possibility of an alliance between this group and separatist groups in China’s Xingjian province – that strategic importance has not only seemingly increased, but is supposed to make the security environment in eastern China prone to more strategic doubts. China’s policies and Uyghur’s effort to have their identity recognized through violence The policies imposed on Uyghurs by the central government of China since 1950 has caused the Chinese government to be considered as a “stranger” and the “other” by the people of Uyghur. Such policies included encouraging systematic immigration of the people of Han ethnic group to Xinjiang; efforts made to tamper with religious and ethnic fabric of this province; as well as the implementation of development policies adopted by Deng Xiaoping in early 1980s, which gave priority to eastern coastal regions of China and caused great gaps between the eastern and western parts of the country. These policies in addition to the negative and pessimistic viewpoint of Uyghurs about the Communist party and the Han ethnic group, also provided necessary ground for Xinjiang and Uyghur ethnic group to enter the phase of “having their identity recognized through violence.” The violence occurred both on a limited scale in the form of domestic unrest and clashes with the Han ethnic group like what happened in 2009, and on the large scale in the form of extremism and making efforts to establish links to such extremist groups as ISIS in order to make up for the past damage to their ethnic identity and, more importantly to start a move toward more separatism.