China’s Wild West: A Cautionary Tale of Ethnic Conflict and Development  (Page 3 of 3)

In other words, China has very big plans for Xinjiang as a critical region from which to project its economic power westward, and these plans could completely change the geopolitical dimensions of power in both Central and South Asia for the foreseeable future. If realized, China’s development of Xinjiang as a commercial, financial and perhaps industrial center and its efforts to turn Central Asia and Pakistan into transit hubs serving China via Xinjiang have the potential to make the People’s Republic the indisputably dominant geopolitical force throughout the region for the coming decades, much in the way that it has already established itself in Southeast Asia over the last ten years.

As far as the Chinese state is concerned, the Uyghurs are welcome to join in these plans, but only through terms determined by the Chinese government. To the extent that Uyghurs have not bought into these grand development plans, they are quickly becoming an obstacle to their realization. Moreover, while Beijing thus far has cautiously welcomed the Central Asian states and Pakistan as equal partners in its plans, China already has substantial leverage over these countries as their largest trading partner.

One can expect this leverage to only grow in the future, enabling China to dictate its own terms economically and politically in the region in the same way it now does in Southeast Asia. In this context, China’s projection of its economic power westward via Xinjiang has the potential to make enemies of a wider swath of local Muslims than just its own ethnic Uyghur citizens.

For the United States, China’s apparent willingness to expand its economic footprint in Central and South Asia is often viewed as a positive development, based on the assumption that China could carry more of the weight in the region once the American military has pulled out of Afghanistan. But the recent violence in Xinjiang should be a cautionary tale for those holding such views.

Unless China dramatically alters its top-down, mega-project approach to development, violence will continue in Xinjiang as a form of local resistance to being force-fed grand development plans without any consultation. Furthermore, China may experience similar resistance as it extends its economic power into Central Asia and Pakistan. In this sense, the seemingly unremarkable acts of violence in Xinjiang this month may be a sign of things to come in the future, not only for Xinjiang, but for Central and South Asia more broadly as China becomes the de facto dominant force in a fragile region where it has already proven incapable of understanding the needs and desires of local Muslims. This could have dramatic ramifications for stability both in China and in the states it borders to the west.

Dr. Sean R. Roberts is Associate Professor and Director of International Development Studies at The George Washington University and has been working in both academic and applied capacities in Central Asia since 1989.

Kilic Bugra Kanat is an Assistant Professor of Political Science at Penn State University, Erie, and a research scholar at the SETA Foundation at Washington, D.C.

Ece Sirkcei
August 1, 2013 at 11:54

Their main identity is not Islam but Uyghur. It is an ethnical group who were Shaman before the Arabs made them Muslim. This is not related with Islam. They are Turkish speaking nation. They are not Chinese. As an atheist, I support Uyghur's freedom fight because their lands are under invasion. China invaded those lands to make a colony. Same situation that Great Britain invaded India to  exploit the wealth. This is imperialism with the name of communism.

Ece Sirkcei
August 1, 2013 at 11:47

China invaded Uyghur lands. These people have nothing common with Chinese people. Their nationality,  language, religion culture and everything is different. This is like Germany ruled by China. So ridiculous. Look at the flag, It is a classical Turkic flag.  China must give their lands back to Uyghurs again. The name XinJiang means "New Land" in Chinese, which is a good indicator that those lands have never belong to China. Chinese government has the same invasion plans also for Mongolia and Kirghizistan. Those lands belong to Turan, not to China. I support my brave, Uyghur friends. I hope that they will be free soon. 

Brigadier Chitranjan Sawant,VSM
July 24, 2013 at 20:08

AUM.   While I appreciate the painstaking effort that produced the current article, I must point out that the psyche of Yughur Muslims has not been dissected. Believe me when I say that my experience in dealing with Muslims at various levels has shwn that MUSLIMS ARE SEPARATISTS BY NATURE AND BY BRAINWASHING IN THE MOSQUES DONE BY ANTI-PROGRESS MULLAS AND CLERICS.

It is imperative to train the Muslim clerics in national events so that they join the mega projects launched in Xinjiang. Unless Muslims swim with the current of national life and stop hating the majority community, be it HINDUS in India or the HAN chinese in China,their aloofish behaviour will lead to suspicion and a divide between the majoritu and minority communities.

Violence, arson, loot and rape have been the handiwork of those who have cut off all communications with the rest of the countrymen, EDUCATION FOR MUSLIMS – IS THE MANTRA TO HELP THEM GEL WITH  THE NATION AND PARTAKE OF THE FRUITS OF DEVELOPMENT.

July 21, 2013 at 01:50

They wanted  to rule not only China, but also the whole world. But one thing is for sure, the Mongols & Mongolia have never wanted to be called Chinese or be part of Han China!

Lauren Garza
July 19, 2013 at 01:44

Eventually they're going to bump up against these people called the Russians. And at that point it gets interesting. Considering that tens of billions of barrels of oil lie within lands that are a lot closer than the Persian Gulf.

July 18, 2013 at 19:02

Gott in Himmel! Thank God I’m an American! This article really puts into perspective the problems of government and dissenting citizens. Even the countrymen of the U.S. that have next to nothing have a palace of freedom in my land which is everything. China and Pakistan working together, now it makes sense why I see clothing tags with labels from Pakistan and Turkmenistan at retail giants. China is so envious of the US they will run roughshod over any and all. Maybe we need to just rotate troops instead of pulling out of Afghanistan. Pakistani’s are the leading bomb makers right? Forget nightmares, this article implies night terrors for many. All for things! Lets hope nature gets rid of what is unnatural and spares many torturous days and nights.

Share your thoughts

Your Name
Your Email
required, but not published
Your Comment

Sign up for our weekly newsletter
The Diplomat Brief