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Rebiya Kadeer's past exemplifies China's policy on ethnic harmony

2009-07-29

 If Rebiya Kadeer, the leader of the World Uygur Congress, thought about her own past, she would count herself among the numerous Uyghurs who had benefited from China's policies to promote ethnic harmony.

    The tale of Kadeer, who spent 40 years in Xinjiang and was listed as the richest woman in Xinjiang and the eighth richest on the mainland by Forbes in 1995, is a rags-to-riches story.

    But AFP on Monday quoted Kadeer as saying the deeper cause of Sunday's riot in China's far northwest Xinjiang, which left at least 156 dead, was "six decades of Chinese rule, during which the Uyghurs have endured a litany of human rights abuses such as arbitrary detention, torture, discrimination, religious repression, forced abortion and removing Uighur language teaching from schools."

    "Abuse" is hardly an appropriate word to describe the lives of Uyghurs in Xinjiang -- least of all in her own life, which started off in poverty, but later flourished on Chinese soil.

    She built her business empire and became "The Millionairess" in Xinjiang within 10 years. But, if her allegations of "discrimination" against the Chinese government were true, only Han Chinese would have been allowed such opportunities.

    Her identity as a Uygur also allowed her to have six children while most of her Han counterparts were limited to one.

    Human rights abuse accusations by Kadeer, including religious repression and removing Uygur-language teaching from schools, fall flat as achievements made by both local people and the government are a matter of record.

    Kadeer's accusation of "discrimination" in her interview with AFP does not hold water as can be seen by the number of minorities holding sought-after government posts.

    In Xinjiang, minority people hold more than half of government posts, which are usually hotly contested in China's competitive job market. About 360,000 government employees in Xinjiang are ethnic minorities.

    Official statistics show the number of middle school bilingual classes (in both Mandarin and Uygur) was 4,500 in 2007, with total enrollment of 145,000 students, compared with only 27 in 1999, when the figures were first compiled. The bilingual classes were first introduced in the early 1990s.

    Jume Tahir, 69, imam at the Id Kah Mosque, the biggest in Kashgar with a history of almost 600 years, said the government had invested 1.5 million yuan (219,500 U.S. dollars) to renovate the mosque in 1999.

    Tahir says, "Our lawful religious beliefs are fully protected."

    China has respected and recognized its minorities' freedom to religious faith since it adopted its first Constitution in 1954. More importantly, enshrined in the Constitution is the aim to "promote common prosperity for all ethnic groups."

    That explains why the government cherishes a hard-won stable and peaceful environment and has called for restraint by both Han and Uyghurs.

    Kadeer denies government accusations that she and her followers instigated the protests that later started the riot and said Wednesday the death toll from the unrest was far higher than the figure of 156 given by Chinese authorities, according to an AFP report.

    Admittedly, the development of Xinjiang is far from perfect. Both Uygurs and Han face problems such as poverty and disease, and challenges brought about by globalization.

    These are the elements that stand in the way of Xinjiang's development and require ethnic unity to overcome.

    People in Xinjiang need to address those problems in peaceful ethnic co-existence.

    And yet, all this would be impossible without a stable Xinjiang from which Kadeer sprang and benefited.

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