NYT Editorial: Beijing's tragic mishandling of ethnic minorities

The more Chinese authorities try to stamp out protests by repressed ethnic minorities, the fiercer those protests grow. Beijing should have learned that lesson after last year’s bloody anti-Chinese riots in the Tibetan capital of Lhasa. It didn’t. This week, clashes in Xinjiang between Muslim Uighurs and Han Chinese have left at least 156 dead and more than 1,000 wounded.

This round of trouble began on Sunday when Uighurs took to the street to demand a government inquiry into an earlier brawl between Uighurs, the region’s largest ethnic group, and the Han, the country’s dominant group. We don’t know who is responsible for that protest turning violent. On Tuesday, Han Chinese clutching meat cleavers, pipes and clubs spilled down side streets of the Xinjiang capital looking for Uighurs to target.

The Uighurs have long been mistreated. Beijing has invested heavily over the last decade to exploit the region’s rich oil and gas deposits and at the same time financed a huge influx of Han migrants.

Amnesty International said recently that the Uighurs’ identity and well-being are being “systematically eroded” by government policies that limit the use of the Uighur language, restrict religious practices and foster job discrimination. It accused Beijing of arresting thousands of Uighurs on bogus terrorism charges.

We accept that the Chinese government must protect lives and property. But its efforts once again to control all information — cellphone and Internet services in Xinjiang have been cut while officials have escorted reporters to the scene so they can “spin” the story — are cynical and futile. So are its efforts to blame a Uighur activist living in the United States for the unrest (much like it blamed the Dalai Lama for the unrest in Tibet).

China must ensure a transparent investigation of the violence and respect the rights of anyone who has been arrested. It must work toward political solutions that give Uighurs, Tibetans and other minority groups more autonomy over their lives. Beijing’s rulers will never achieve the stability they covet until they deal with the root causes of these problems.

New York Times Editorial: "Now Xinjiang", July 7, 2009