Sun, Nov 09, 2014 - Page 5 News List

Labor program in China tries to scatter Uighurs

ASSIMILATION EFFORT:The program led to the deadliest episode of ethnic rioting in decades in 2009, started by a brawl between Han workers and Uighurs

NY Times News Service, BEIJING

As a winter chill settled across China’s far northwest, 489 people boarded a chartered train in the city of Urumqi for the 50-hour ride to the country’s opposite corner, in semi-tropical Guangdong Province, to take up new factory jobs.

“If I can adapt to life in Guangdong, I would consider opening a restaurant and settling down there,” one passenger, Tahir Turghun, a farmer in his 30s, said, according to an article in the state-run newspaper Southern Daily.

He said he had never traveled outside the western region of Xinjiang, and when the opportunity to work in Guangdong arose, he immediately registered himself and his wife.

As violence upends the social order in swaths of Xinjiang, where resistance to Beijing’s rule has been growing among ethnic Uighurs, officials there and elsewhere in China are pushing new measures — like chartering entire trains — to bring Uighurs and members of other ethnic minorities to parts of the country where the Han, the nation’s ruling ethnicity, are the majority.

Strengthening the labor export program is a major component of a push by the central government to try to assimilate Uighurs, a mostly Muslim, Turkic-speaking people, into mainstream Han culture. However, such programs have themselves contributed to past ethnic hostilities, including an explosive episode in 2009.

The policy comes from the top. At a two-day work forum on Xinjiang in May, Chinese President Xi Jinping (習近平) expressed support for sending more Uighurs to work and be educated in Han areas “to enhance mutual understanding among different ethnic groups and boost ties between them,” according to a report by Xinhua news agency.

That was preceded by a conference in September last year in which other top party leaders called for local governments across China to help find work for members of ethnic minorities in Xinjiang. (Uighurs in Xinjiang complain about losing jobs to Han migrants, whose relocations to the region are supported by the state.)

Assimilation is only one element of the party’s strategy to quell ethnic unrest in Xinjiang. Security forces there have arrested large numbers of Uighurs, saying some are terrorists, and courts have issued death sentences. In September, judges in Urumqi sentenced Ilham Tohti, a moderate Uighur professor of economics who lived in Beijing, to life imprisonment for what officials called separatist activities.

Guangdong Province plans to import 5,000 workers from Xinjiang over the next three years, according to China Daily, an official English-language newspaper. More than 1,000 have made the move this year.

On Oct. 20, the Guangdong government posted online guidelines for the program; among the rules were that workers must undergo “ideological and political review” and that a local official from Xinjiang must accompany every 50 workers.

The group that left Urumqi on Oct. 29 was the largest to date for the labor program; officials from both Xinjiang and Guangdong attended a departure ceremony for the train. The future factory workers aboard appeared to be mainly ethnic Uighurs, judging from their names and places of origin as reported by state-run media.

Ethnic unity training “is about how the ethnic minorities communicate with mainland Han people, like in etiquettes and manners,” he added.

Because of recent outbreaks of violence, including a deadly knife attack carried out by Uighurs last March in a train station in southwest China, “people have a bias against Xinjiang people,” Cheng said. “We need to establish a new image.”

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