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Ethnic Unrest Flares

Posted by: Dexter Roberts on March 14, 2008

Despite Beijing’s efforts to tighten control over dissent in the run-up to the 2008 Olympics, ethnic tensions involving independence-minded Tibetans and also Muslim Uighurs are flaring up dramatically.

Over the past days hundreds of Tibetan Buddhist monks have protested in Lhasa against Chinese rule, the biggest unrest in the remote capital in twenty years. And Beijing has announced that it quashed a plot by Muslim Uighurs from the far western region of Xinjiang, to disrupt the upcoming Olympics Games as well as an attempted terrorist act by a 19-year-old Uighur woman on a domestic Chinese airline. Xinjiang of course, like Tibet, has a long history of resisting Chinese control.

Beijing’s response has been rapid and typically heavy-handed. Chinese security forces reportedly have surrounded three key monasteries in Lhasa (where many of protesting monks come from), after firing teargas on the protesters earlier. And Beijing authorities announced that during a January raid in Urumqi, Xinjiang security forces killed two and arrested fifteen suspected Muslim terrorists. Authorities claim that the Uighurs were linked with a Xinjiang independence group and intended to disrupt the Olympics with bomb attacks.

“In the past couple of days, a few monks in Lhasa have made some disturbances in an effort to cause unrest,” a foreign ministry spokesperson acknowledged Thursday albeit in an understatement. “Those terrorists, saboteurs and secessionists are to be battered resolutely, no matter what ethnic group they are from,” said the Xinjiang party secretary Wang Lequan a few days earlier.

For both the Tibetan and Uighur unrest, two things of particular note: first Beijing’s policy of rapid economic development aimed at tamping down the ethnic resentment is now appearing ineffective (well-off minorities are less likely to press for independence goes the theory, and longer term, a flood of Chinese migrants drawn to the west could make Tibetans and Uighurs such minorities that their resentment would become irrelevant too). That’s despite huge transfers of money from Beijing to both Tibet and Xinjiang which has spurred levels of GDP growth even faster than China’s overall economy and has funded major infrastructure projects like the Qinghai-Tibet railway—the world’s highest track—and a 4,000 kilometer-long gas pipeline from the desert in Xinjiang all the way to Shanghai.

Second, Beijing’s intimidating security apparatus (which can effectively monitor dissent and quickly squash it) doesn’t seem to be working as well in tamping down ethnic unrest (on the other hand, the crackdown on political dissent has proven more effective.) So for now at least it looks like neither economic blandishments (which tend to favor the Han Chinese residents of these regions anyway), nor the threat of heavy reprisals seems to be working. That suggests Beijing will be struggling with how to deal with the still deeply unhappy Tibetan and Uighur populations it controls for a long time to come.

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Reader Comments


March 14, 2008 08:48 AM

Chinese government is stupid. They should learn from US. If they attack, then bomb.

Kidding though. China's policy will work, and it takes some time. Chinese know who is behind them.


March 14, 2008 05:53 PM

I love the contradictions, Dexter. You question whether there was a terrorist plot yet use it as an example of discontent against China? China is just following the West's example when it comes to occupation. Isn't that what the West wants China to do?


March 15, 2008 03:10 AM

"So for now at least it looks like neither economic blandishments (which tend to favor the Han Chinese residents of these regions anyway), nor the threat of heavy reprisals seems to be working. That suggests Beijing will be struggling with how to deal with the still deeply unhappy Tibetan and Uighur populations it controls for a long time to come."

China could use the same method that USA used to deal with the India. It consist in forcing them into India reservation camp and then provide them a lot of whisky and money. It work for the USA and should work for China. There is precedent for that :-)

King Jaja

March 15, 2008 11:48 PM

We need to distinguish between the Han Chinese and the Chinese government. If we paint the Tibetan struggle as a fight between the majority Han and minorities - we are going to lose.

The Han Chinese are also oppressed by the CCP, so failing to make that distinction will play into the hands of the CCP.

Right now, everyone is talking - in english. No one is making any serious attempt to win over the Han majority.


March 16, 2008 03:57 AM

Lets face it the Chinese rulers are bullies - in their own country, in Tibet and in their neighbourhood.

And since the US govt. is also a bully, they are both great friends.

The Tibetans are stuck.


March 16, 2008 09:10 AM

King Jaja, You are totally wrong. For the integrity of China, Chinese are united together. People are behind the government.

I am glad that chinese people are more politically mature than before. Especially the youth don't danced with westerners' propaganda any more.

The western media are shy in talking the violence in Xizang this time. Those people burn stores, killing people, not only Han, but also muslims.

This is a rare report in western countries. Rioters even used guns.


March 16, 2008 11:29 PM

King Jaja, are you Tibetan? Because if you are, kudos to you. Nice to hear anyone in this debate that doesn't think in black and white.


March 17, 2008 01:48 AM

This is a blog from another Canadian traveler in Xizang. The video was uploaded to youtube:

For those who don't know Xizang (Tibet)'s recent histoty. Come to here. You will find that Xizang was in China even when China was at weakest point in history.


March 17, 2008 01:58 AM

This is another video. It was broadcasted in China's CCTV. But it tells truth: Violence of rioters!


March 17, 2008 02:19 AM

For communist China economic development is for perpetuating their authoritarian rule. China has illegally occupied Tibet and as rightly said they are causing cultural genocide.
When some people say Chinese people are solidly behind Chinese government how are sure of it.Has Chinese communist party gone with an election manifesto to its people and taken their approval? Chinese people, like trained animals have been made to belive the government handouts as the ultimate truth. In the long run China will face severe problems as it is continuing with bad Karma.In the meantine can we, all freedon loving global citizens, boycot china made products in true Gandhian style to press for the rights of the oppressed?


March 17, 2008 03:13 AM

Prakash,You believe it or not. This is the last thing Dalai can do.
What is happening in Xizang make China more politically united since 1989. Chinese communist party was elected by Chinese by their lives. Millions of ordinary Chinese had sacrificed their lives for the party before it gained power. That's the history you cannot deny.
Tibet has been in Chins since Yuan dynasty. Any new Dalai and Penchan have to get agreement from central government. That rule was not set up by CCP. That's the tradition and rules of hundreds of years. Dalai knows this rules because he requested the agreement from ROC government too.

Genocide? Tibetians still have their own languages and culture, they still have their own temples even Tibet has been in China for hundreds of years.


March 17, 2008 03:27 AM


Let's hope that Sikkim, Khalistan, Kashmir, Assam, and Dalistan get their own country free from the rule of the upper Hindus such as yourself! There are bad karma for India and it coming very soon due to its racist discrimination against its own minority!
What is this Ethnic unrest has anything to do with businessweek? Is this Bruce Einhorn with a different name?


March 17, 2008 03:47 AM

Prakash, India did worse when it lied that Muslims bombed that train causing the deaths of thousands in anti-Muslim rioting. And don't forget that racist caste system that enslaves hundreds of millions of people.


March 17, 2008 04:18 AM

Prakash is an Indian? I know that's a typical Indian name, but I though he is a Tibetian.

If he is an Indian. I will feel very sorry for him and his country.

Even India government admitted that more than 7000 people died from religious and political conflicts in 2007 alone, including the struggling for independence.

If China does what India is doing to China, or if India has a hostile western world as China has, India could fall apart in 1 day.

Come to see the incomplete List of deadly Political Violences in India in a short time. Sorry for your country.


March 17, 2008 01:32 PM

Tibet and Urger terrorists are merely tools for western world against China. The current uprising are intended to serve the Taiwan elections because America want CPP to win the presidency. But there are two side effects: 1) Dalai Lama has been used up in this crisis and his credit for peaceful reclaim Tibet governance among Chinese govoenemt and Chinese people has lost for ever. Dalai Lama is done. 2) The Tibet unrest has stimulated the united spirit among Chinese people, even the overseas Chinese, you can see the responses in Youtube. So many people adamantly support the Chinese government.


March 17, 2008 04:11 PM

Unleash the Imperial Japanese Army & Unit 731 on China to teach them a lesson again. Chinese seems not to have learnt the lessons of Japanse brutality on them in the past and are repeating the same on unarmed civilians in Tibet.


March 17, 2008 11:36 PM

Why is there such animosity between Indians and Chiniese?
Except for Mao and Nehru's obvious dislike for each other and even that was fuelled by British India, these two countries have co-existed for thousands of years without a finger being raised.Ideas, sciences, Philosophies and trade have criss-crossed our free borders since begining of civility.
Are we and generations to come going to be held hostage for the debacle that Mao and Nehru created.

Francis Liu

March 18, 2008 01:05 AM

Tibet should be independent like Kosovo.


March 18, 2008 01:22 AM

If you are unhappy, whose problem it is? Are blacks and Latinos in US are happy?


March 18, 2008 09:55 AM

jcage you are propagating racist commentary in too many forums. get a life and say something meaningful for a change than just the same rant everywhere


March 18, 2008 10:33 AM


I agree with you. Both India and China are 3rd world countries and share the similar recent history. China and India should be united politically.

People just read a little history book, all the troubles in Asia were left by western countries's occupation. Just give you some example:
1. Pakistan and India. A trouble left by UK
2. Vietnam war: A trouble left by France, then US got involved.
3. Sino-India war in 1962: A trouble left by UK and still impact both countries.
4. Sino-Vietnam war in 1970s-1980s: A trouble left by France.
5. China's Taiwan problem: A trouble left by Japan's occupation.
6. 2 Korean countries: Caused by occupation of Japan and then world big power got involved.
7. China's Xizang (Tibet) Issue: A trouble left by UK.

Both China and India are still suffering from western countries. Both should support each other.


March 18, 2008 01:33 PM

I wonder how many these commentators like nanheyangrouchuan, J Pousson, Chinaman or some Japanese impersonator are actually Uyghur Islamic extremist or Indians who hate China because of 1962 war. Face it, China will never let the separation happen. The best way is for all Chinese, Han, Tibetan or Uyghur, to become prosperous in a prosperous China. Right now, China has not done enough to bridge wealth gap between inland and coastal provinces.
Zingo, unleash Japanese to invade China again? It that happened, I can guarantee that Japan will become ashes.

No one can survive a nuke war. Such trolling statements will help nothing. I do agree China should grant more autonomy to Tibetan and Uyghur. Han Chinese should more respect all other minorities and bridge the wealth gaps. I think Tibetan, Uyghur, Han Chinese are all Chinese and should all become prosperous just like, African American, Chinese American or Mexican Americans.


March 18, 2008 01:35 PM

Thank you, Steven.
It's funny how common people can share a dialouge and respect each others views, unfortunately the same can't be said of the goverments.
But commig back to Tibet.
History has shown us that aggression and supression can never solve, but can be applied as a bandaid solution only.

Some of the quotes by imperialists.
"Rome,is the Eternal flame".
" The sun will never set on the British Empire".

The USSR is a prime example of recent aggression and it's not even history.
My point is not to debate Tibets identity but the tact that Mao applied in assumig authority.
Had China approached Tibet as a friend and genuinely poured billions into Tibets welfare, i think the end result would have been very obvious.


March 18, 2008 11:10 PM

Read this article. It said current violence is committed against Chinese by Monks not the Chinese government against Tibetan. I think any government is entitled to use force to maintain society safety and stability. Don’t we send troop to L.A. in the 90s? People all jump to conclusion nowadays when anything is related to China.


March 18, 2008 11:14 PM

Read this article. It said current violence is committed against Chinese by Monks not the Chinese government against Tibetan. I think any government is entitled to use force to maintain society safety and stability. Don’t we send troop to L.A. in the 90s? People all jump to conclusion nowadays when anything is related to China.

However, we do see that there are a lot of angers in Tibetans against Han Chinese. This has lots to do with Han Chinese migrating there and dominate there economically whilst local Tibetans feel deprived. China need to reverse that and should let Tibetan proper first.


March 19, 2008 03:59 AM

It looks like this time CHina is managing media campaign very well. You can see it from the tone and content of many China supporting comments.
Some people have tried to draw parallels between China and India. It is true thousands of people have died in India in COmmunal riots. But the difference is it is not government sponsored. It is more like clash of group of people. But India is open to outside world. Everyone can see what is happening in India. If China has nothing to hide why blackouts in Tibet? Because you want to hide the government butchery?
India is a mutli religious, multi ligustic country. If any other conutry has the population of the size of India and the heterogenity of its population I can not expect the magnitude of violence. By standards of our size, ethnic complexity and standards of living India is the most democratic and peace loving conutry. Our greatness is in our ability to be transperent and accept criticism unlike many authoritarian and fundamentalist societies and countries.


March 23, 2008 02:47 PM

Tony (3/18) has a lot of common sense. Chinese government needs to do at least the following (actually they know what to do): 1. to equalize wealth: follow the U.S: progressively tax the wealthy, the top 1% in U.S. pays 35% of all income tax, the top 5%: 50%, the top 10%: 75%, etc. 2. universal healthcare (the Hillary/Obama model) 3. real implimentation of free education up to high school, emphasizing IT (future jobs), English (business) and Mandarin (internal stability and communication).4. continue the current existing affirmative action, including:
Exclusion of 1-child policy, continue to uphold ancestral village privileges. 5. Low interest loans to the poorest.
Remember: If people (Han & 56 minority groups) are prosperous, they will not rock the boat. Everybody is happy. Simple enough.

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BusinessWeek’s team of Asia reporters brings you the latest insights on business, politics, technology and culture from some of the world’s biggest and fastest-growing economies. Eye on Asia’s bloggers include Asia regional editor Bruce Einhorn, Tokyo reporter Ian Rowley, Korea bureau chief Moon Ihlwan, Asia News Editor and China Bureau Chief. Dexter Roberts, and Hong Kong-based Asia correspondent Frederik Balfour.

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