Different priorities for hot spots

PUBLISHED : Friday, 28 May, 2010, 12:00am
UPDATED : Friday, 28 May, 2010, 12:00am

The massive investment scheme Beijing recently unveiled to push the pace of economic development in Xinjiang has met with much fanfare, but it also prompts questions about Beijing's different handling of another restive region, Tibet .

While many may argue that Beijing's solutions to the simmering ethnic tensions that run deep in Tibet and Xinjiang remain much the same, focusing on the regional economies, analysts say the government appears to have set out different strategies for the two regions.

They said Beijing saw an urgent need to accelerate economic growth in Xinjiang, especially the region's impoverished Uygur-populated south, where most rioters who took part in July's deadly unrest in the regional capital, Urumqi , are believed to have originated, and believed it would be a shortcut to reducing the mistrust between the government and ethnic groups.

But in Tibet, Beijing had given priority to the long-term integration of Tibet and Tibetan-populated areas in four neighbouring provinces politically and economically, following a top-level government meeting on Tibet policies in January.

Analysts said the political reality was the most obvious reason behind the seemingly different policies.

Increasingly violent unrest in Xinjiang, especially after Urumqi was rocked by deadly ethnic clashes, has forced Beijing to act decisively in dealing with imminent security threats, according to Dr Kerry Brown, a senior fellow with Chatham House, a London-based think tank.

'This strain of militancy makes Xinjiang much more worrying,' he said. While Tibetans, most of whom revere the Dalai Lama, have resisted violence, many Uygur activist groups had not, he noted.

Analysts said the two regions' different historical backgrounds and demographic structures also played roles. While Uygurs make up less than 50 per cent of the population in Xinjiang, Tibetans make up more than 90 per cent of the population in Tibet, according to Tanzen Lhundup, director of the research office at the government-backed China Tibetology Research Centre.

'While Xinjiang has always been under effective control of central government and a destination for Han Chinese migrants even before its liberation some 60 years ago, Tibet has a quite different history,' he said.

Analysts also noted the fragile eco-system on the Himalayan plateau and the economic gap compared with Xinjiang also made it unlikely that Beijing would push ahead with bold economic plans in Tibet.

However, Barry Sautman, an associate professor of social science at the Hong Kong University of Science and Technology, said many of the policies Beijing announced for Xinjiang imitated those in the blueprint for Tibet's development.

While Beijing's strategy for Xinjiang was a lot more focused on one part of the region, namely the south, including Kashgar, the government policies for both regions have made improving livelihoods and social welfare a priority, he said.