Axis Kast wrote:
China's decade-long "Develop the West" project is worth tens of billions of dollars. The effort will provide transportation, waterworks improvement (vital because of desertification), and energy development. Some twelve new highways across China's many international borders were projected to be operational by 2010. On the other hand, the "opening" of borders has turned Xinjiang into a mere crossroads, rather than an entrepot, and there is now something above 33% unemployment among Uighurs. While health indicators compare favorably with those elsewhere in Central Asia, the Uighurs receive less of it, and not always at bargain prices.
"Develop the Great North-West" is, IIRC, the name of the strategy. Which uses somewhere around $1 billion of World Bank loans for prison labor (via the Xinjiang Production and Construction Corps).
In any case, a major reason for Uygur discontent is, as you mentioned, disenfranchisement. Until the 1940s, the Chinese central government was utterly unable to exert control over a region as far flung from the corridors of power as Xinjiang. Since the ascendancy of the Communists, the official policy with the border regions has been cultural assimilation via encouraged migration, accompanied by investment in communications, education (all higher education is in Mandarin), and occupational shifts (favoring, primarily, the Han).
In Xinjiang, the Han population increased 2500% between 1940 and 1982 (I can't find more recent, reliable numbers). However, a (possibly unintented) side affect of giving incentives for emigrating to Xinjiang is a similar increase in the populations of other minorities, notably Kazaks, Kyrgyz, Tajiks, and Dungans (the Hui, or Chinese-speaking Muslims). Over the same time period as above, the population of Dungans increased 520%, an average annual growth more than twice that of the Uygurs. Historical animosities between these groups only make things worse.
Even besides the cultural issue (Inner Mongolia, for example, has similar tensions, but has not broken out in any sort of large-scale protest since 1997, which was arguably sparked by violence in Xinjiang earlier that year), is the economics of Chinese policy towards Central Asia. The government had invested millions in oil exploration in Xinjiang; however, after those efforts proved fruitless, the money was invested in oil fields/pilelines in (primarily) Kazakhstan. This meant that money and jobs started to flow out of Xinjiang, while its geographic proximity to countries that China suddenly had important economic reasons to maintain relations with allowed communication between Xinjiang Uygurs, the 500,000-1 million diaspora Uygurs, and the Muslims of Central Asia. All the money goes to the Han, and the other local minorities, while the Uygurs are either unemployed or used in what amounts to slave labor.
"Spare me your space age technobabble, Atilla the Hun." -Zap Brannagan
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