Tuesday, July 7, 2009

Window on Eurasia: Eastern Turkestan Violence Casts a Shadow on Russia

Paul Goble

Vienna, July 7 – As the violence in Xinjiang continues, ever more Russian analysts are focusing not just on what is going on there between the Uyghurs and the Han Chinese authorities but also on the implications of the violence there for Russia both as a mirror of its own current problems and as a source of new ones.
And while many of the Moscow commentaries are as hyperbolic as those coming from Beijing – suggesting that this is a vast US conspiracy intended to block a Russia-China pipeline (www.stoletie.ru/fakty_i_kommentarii/kto_stoit_za_buntom_ujgurskih_separatistov_v_kitaje_2009-07-07.htm) -- many are more thoughtful and thus ultimately more worthy of attention.
In the view of Kasparov.ru commentator Yuri Gladysh, “the problems of China [with regard to minorities] are in large measure similar to the problems of Russia” with its non-Russian nationalities. Indeed, he says it is possible to say that in this respect, Russia and China are “’blood brothers’” (www.sobkorr.ru/news/4A5312286D543.html).
On the one hand, as empires, they include among themselves “a multitude of compact ethnic and religious groups,” many of whom feel excluded from and antagonistic to the dominant community. And on the other, the governments of the two strive in most cases to resolve any problems with these communities by force.
That is made more possible by the willingness of the international community to act as if “nothing special is going on” inside these two nuclear powers, because the governments of the world “wisely decide” that it is “better not to get involved” with disputes between “eccentric” regimes of this kind and some of their populations.
And as long as these countries remain “great empires,” they enjoy a certain protection from criticism. But as soon as any country leaves that category and becomes “part of human civilization,” then the international community expects that it will display “respect to the rights of all peoples living on its territory.”
Recently, Gladysh notes, the Danes allowed the people of Greenland to approve broad autonomy for that region by means of a referendum. That action, he continues, suggests that the Danes are quite “naïve. They do not know that such questions are resolved not by referenda but by tanks,” something the Chinese and the Russians understand all too well.
Another commentary which goes beyond the sensational to address some of the serious problems that the events in Eastern Turkestan present was offered by Dmitry Kosyrev, a political observer for the Russian news agency Novosti. In his view, the Uyghur now threaten to complicate US foreign policy but represent “a threat” to Russia’s relations with Central Asia
For the Americans, what happens in Xinjiang represents an irritant given its involvement in Afghanistan. But for the Russians, the events in Urumchi and neighboring areas are far more serious, calling into question the operations of the Shanghai Cooperation Organization and Moscow’s ties across the region (www.rian.ru/analytics/20090706/176449076.html).
But even more serious for Moscow, Kosyrev suggests, is the way in which the events in western China raise questions about the dangers the Russian government faces at home. Not only were the Urumchi riots triggered by events in a distant location in China, something possible only in the Internet age, but the Uyghur received support from their diasporas.
Consequently, the Novosti commentator continues, the violence in Xinjiang may be as disturbing for Moscow as an indication of the direction things could go in various locations inside the Russian Federation as it is for the communist authorities of the Peoples Republic of China.
If the Chinese are able to restore order by the use of massive force, many in Moscow will conclude that force works, but if the violence in Eastern Turkestan continues or even intensifies after Beijing uses more force, then at least some in the Russian government might draw a different conclusion, especially if Western governments denounce Chinese government actions.
In either case, the events that began in the streets of Urumchi, a city the Chinese authorities have sought to transform into “a modern Chinese city” and to swamp with ethnic Han Chinese, are not going to end there but rather in places far removed like the North Caucasus and other already hot spots in the Russian Federation.

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