How will the new Chinese leadership deal with Tibet and East Turkmenistan?

China’s Communist party just wrapped up its 18th Congress with elaborate declarations of national unity and social harmony, and the announcement of their wholly unsurprising choice of new leader: Xi Jinping: same old dog with a bright new collar. The new leaders have a mountain of problemas to deal with including rampant corruption, demands on democratic reforms, a slow economy but one of the biggest problems they have has not even been mentioned and that is the inflamattory situation in Tibet and to a lesser degree in East Turkmenistan, home to the Muslim Uighurs.

For the Han ethnic group which compose 90% of the population of the People’s Republic of China, ethnic minorities (there are 55 minorities with very different cultural, linguistic and religeous differences that live in ancestral lands that have been occoupied by China). For the dominant Han majority these minorities are just barbarians and the sense of unjustice has been simmering for decades and wont go away unless their grievances are addressed but the new Chinese leadership has no intention of doing so. The policy of crushing any dissent is what they will do with the Western democracies looking another way.

In Tibet , since  it was invaded by the Communits in the 50’s, more than 25% of its entire polulation ( about 1.5 million ) have been killed by the invadors. The repression continues and the fustration has grown to a point that many Tibetans during the last year have taken the desperate decision to set themselves on fire in protest to the iron rule of the Chinese , the latest victim a young boy.

According to Avaaz.org,

Tibet, too, continues to simmer. While Beijing insists Tibet has been part of China for centuries, Tibetans say their culture is under assault. The Dalai Lama, who embodies Tibetan Buddhism for millions of followers, has said China is committing “cultural genocide” in Tibet. The Dalai Lama escaped Tibet in the wake of a failed uprising against Chinese rule in 1959 and has been in exile in India ever since.

After an outbreak of protests in July 2008 that turned violent and left dozens dead, Chinese officials have brutally stamped out further demonstrations. Beijing has refused to negotiate greater autonomy for the region, claiming any discontent is being caused by “the Dalai clique”.

A number of frustrated Tibetans have turned to the dramatic and horrifying tactic of self-immolation. Dozens have set fire to themselves since 2009, to call attention to the ongoing suppression of their people. The just-ended Chinese Communist Party Congress was marked by eight young Tibetans burning themselves during the week-long meeting. The Dalai Lama has called on Beijing to investigate why this is happening, and to end its harsh treatment of dissent in Tibet. But officials have responded with the standard boilerplate vitriol against the Tibetan leader.

Avvaz also mentions the dramatic situation of the Uighurs. Their territory , known as Xinjiang by the Chinese is an energy-rich region three times the size of France that sits along China’s western border, is home to most of China’s Uighur (pronounced WEE-ger) minority. They’re related to the Kazakhs and similar Muslim ethnic groups in central Asia. Xinjiang exploded into violence in 2009, when news of the deaths of two Uighur factory workers in southern China triggered rioting that left more than 150 dead, as Uighur and Han Chinese mobs battled in the streets of Xinjiang’s capital, Urumqi.

Officials in Beijing sent in troops to quell the rioting, and Beijing has since maintained a tight lid on any hint of revolt. But seething resentments among the Uighur population remain. They have seen an influx of Han into the province that has made them a minority in their own land, and Uighurs blame the Han-dominated government for economic discrimination and disrespect for their religion and culture. They point to government attempts to ban fasting during the Muslim holiday of Ramadan as just one example.

Beijing blames the unrest on the World Uighur Congress, an exiled rights group. But Uighurs living in Xinjiang see it very differently: they widely fear that Beijing is trying to eradicate them as a people, by subsuming them into the dominant Han culture.

Beijing has a fresh opportunity to reset both of these conflicts. A good place to start would be trying to understand why millions of people in these vast regions are so desperately dissatisfied but the leadership is so stuck in old communist rethoric that unless the UN and the EU and independant goverments put pressure on the new leaders the situation will continue unchanged and millions of people will continue suffering. The West has a moral obligation and economics should not be what dictates policies that affect the human rights of millions. President Obama should  use persuasive diplomacy to force the new Chinese leader to hold face to face talks in Washington between His Hoiliness The Dalail Lama, Rebiya Kadeer (the exiled Uyghur leader) and Xi Jinping. Direct talks with no pre-conditions is the ONLY way out. China’s leaders MUST be made to understand that the Dalai Lama and Mrs.Kadeer are the solution to their problems in Tibet and Xinjiang. They are not the problem.

Chinese officials have been unwilling to see how “Han chauvinism” blinds them to the value of the Uighur and Tibetan cultures. They seem stuck in the notion that if they eradicate the “agents of instability” with sufficient brutality, eventually these “backwards” people will realise the benefits of happily assimilating into mainstream Chinese culture. One day, and I hope it is not too late , they will realize of this very grave mistake!