Nowadays when people think of terrorism, generally ‘ISIS’ or ‘Al-Qa’ida’ are the first thoughts that come to mind. Regardless of whether or not you are thinking of these specific groups, most people envision activity in the Middle East. However very few people would think to picture China. For years China has been dealing with separatist groups in it’s North West Xinjiang region. To provide some background, Xinjiang is a region that was previously autonomous after the collapse of the Qing Dynasty in 1912, but has been an autonomous region within China since 1955 after the Chinese government invaded and took over the region in 1949. Xinjiang’s majority population is an ethnic Turkic minority known as the Uighur people who are predominately Muslim. Within that sentence alone one can gather how drastically different the Uighur are from China’s majority Han group and help break the idea that China is one homogenous nation state.
Since China retook Xinjiang, ethnic tensions have risen and Uighur grievances have grown. Uighur’s argue that most of the benefits of the growing economic activity in the region favor Han citizens, whose presence has steadily grown since China’s claim to Xinjiang. Uighur’s also feel an encroachment on their culture, as for instance men under the age of 18 cannot enter a mosque and the Mandarin language is mandatory to teach for core classes instead of the Uighur language. These are just only a few specific examples of how Uighurs feel imposed upon by the Chinese government. Many others feel that the situation for this ethnic minority group is much more intense and argue they have been oppressed by the Chinese government for years. For instance, Aljazeera’s Alim A Seytoff argues a cultural genocide has been occurring, explaining how 45 nuclear devices were tested in the Xinjiang region alone between 1964 and 1996 resulting in environmental pollution and health consequences for residents. Furthermore their have been numerous reports of government crackdowns in the region and repression of Uighurs through arrests.
China has been dealing with various Uighur separatist groups for years, the most active being the Eastern Turkestan Islamic Movement (ETIM), however the government’s responses illustrate a strong example of the usage of ‘diversion’ as we have discussed in class. While this diversion is not representative of the same diversion we have discussed for causes of war, it does exemplify the usage of diversion to excuse assertive force and poor treatment in Xinjiang. For instance, Chinese sources constantly seem to blame Uighur separatist groups for any type of violent activity. Although groups such as ETIM have had many known attacks, a good portion of attacks remain alleged as Alim A Seytoff. Seytoff perfectly illustrates the usage of diversion in his argument that “such attacks were immediately taken advantage of by Beijing to skillfully spin the narrative that it faced a “terrorist threat from Muslim Uighurs” and “China was also a victim of terrorism” in order to win public opinion both in China and the world and silence international criticism of its subsequent heavy-handed repression.”(This second linked source within the quotes was linked in the original article and not by myself which is why it has remained there).
As discussed in our course, governments use diversion to avert attention away from any oppression, poor actions, or unsatisfactory results on behalf of the government in order push aside political unrest and remain in power. The Chinese government utilizes this tool to conceal and excuse any persecution of the Uighur people. Additionally, averting attention to terrorism allows the Chinese government to avoid acknowledging any of the actual issues in this region and with this particular ethnic group. China is an extraordinarily ethnically diverse, totaling up to about 56 ethnic minorities, the Uighurs exemplify only one group, however many other groups face similar oppressions. China’s scapegoat of terrorism allows them divert attention from some of the real issues, suppress any uprisings and excuse oppressive measures. Instead, the government gets to crackdown in this region in the name of national and international security.