On Monday 2 July, following news of the deaths of at least 2 Uighur workers in Guangdong in fighting a couple of weeks earlier, Uighur protestors in the capital of Xinjiang, Urumqi, demonstrated and marched, peacefully at first, to protest against the deaths. It appears that the security forces responded and then Uighur young men went on the rampage, killing and wounding many Han and Hui Chinese that make up half the population of the town.
This blind hatred and killing spree provoked a response from the Chinese and local security forces, seeing a further unspecified number killed, wounded and imprisoned and also provoked, in this deadly and toxic atmosphere, which had been brewing up for some time, Han and Hui men and women to arm themselves and seek revenge. They smashed up Uighur shops, properties and residential areas and, it's almost certain, engaged in a killing spree themselves. The local authorities were slow to react and eventually, under the impulsion of the higher authorities of the CP, local armed police began to take control, the mobile phone network was suspended and road blocks set up. But further intervention from the centre was needed to control the situation and, following President Hu's embarrassing return from the G8, massive numbers of troops were sent in.
At the moment, Chinese forces in the capital of Xinjiang province, Urumqi at least, appear to have the situation under control. Official figures of around 150 killed are likely to be an underestimation and it appears that thousands have been wounded, mostly men but also women and children. Soldiers and riot squads have been active, mass arrests have taken place and curfews are in place. There's little news from other towns in the region.
Despite the Chinese leaders and the Uighur state officials of the CCP blaming ‘foreign interference', ‘foreign forces' and ‘terrorists' (a la Iran) this doesn't appear to have been a separatist protest. The original protest, against the deaths of at least two Uighur workers in a disturbance two weeks earlier in Guangdong province, was led by Uighurs carrying a Chinese flag, with more being carried in the crowd, and asking for justice. What happened next is unclear. But there's very little history of protest by the Uighur population in this region, the last being a violent demonstration resulting in the overturning of buses in 1992.
There have, however, been several reported attacks by separatist elements in 2008 attacking Chinese targets, causing explosions and killing security forces, actions motivated by imperialist considerations for an ‘independent East Turkestan' that only brought down repression on the heads of the majority who have nothing to do with or gain from such claims. It would seem that Rebiya Kadeer, one time Uighur capitalist and CCP pin-up, now exiled in the United States and heading two Uighur exile groups, is a nationalist proponent of a Turkic-speaking Uighur homeland and, in this rivalry that only puts Uighur workers and the masses in the front line, has now been condemned by the CCP for the current troubles.
This region, one of the most heavily policed in China, contains 8 million Uighurs, around half the population. It, like other regions around the Silk Road, has long been prey to inter-imperialist rivalries. It declared its independence as East Turkistan in 1933, but was quickly re-absorbed into China and in 1944 a second republic was created but became part of China again in 1949. Xinjiang means ‘New Frontier' and this region has been integrated into the needs of Chinese imperialism, not just for its natural resources but also as a buffer zone towards south Russia and, with Tibet (and also with the recent increase of Chinese interests in Sri Lanka and Pakistan) as part of its western expansion, particularly threatening India as well as other regions. Under the guise of the Stalinist-speak ‘Harmonious Society', China has used re-settlements of Han and Hui Chinese for its imperialist interests and for greater control. It did the same in Tibet and attempted the same in the vacuum left in Vladivostok in the 90s left by a collapsing Russia but came unstuck in the latter. The pogrom atmosphere resulting from these imposed state divisions, and encouraged by the local Uighur CP structures, demonstrates the anti-working class nature of such enforced settlements and divisions and this is further exacerbated by the economic crisis and the way it has hit China. While these events in Xinjiang have undoubtedly caused problems for the Chinese bourgeoisie, witness President Hu Jintao's hasty return from the G8 in Italy, there is no advantage here whatsoever for the working class.
From the original incident that appeared to spark this protest in Guangdong in southern China, we can see that there is the danger of worker turning on worker (‘Chinese jobs for Chinese workers' if you like). Within the framework of the deepening economic crisis the state has been forced to encourage this, legislating strongly for indigenous workers to keep their jobs (stockpiling their production in a doomed attempt to replace the recession-hit world market with the domestic Chinese market) and making the withholding of wages illegal. Migrant workers meanwhile are cast to the wind.
From and beyond this, there are signs that the Chinese bourgeoisie are seeing the need for more elastic unions: "Rural migrants - if you have problems, go to the union!" "Workers - if you have problems, go to the unions!" says the Vice-chair of the All-China Federation of Trade Unions, quoted in the China Labour Bulletin Research Report reproduced on the Libcom.org website. The deepening of the class struggle is the only way out of this impasse for the workers and masses of the whole region. Underlying this, what the CCP calls ‘incidents' doubled to 87,000 in 2005 and now the Public Security Ministry has stopped publishing figures. The Report above talks of the need for "democratically elected, grassroots unions", for "workers' rights", the "right to strike" and an end to the subordination of the ACFTU to the Party. This move to the left, towards rank and filism is itself perfectly within the framework of the bourgeoisie in order to confront the class struggle. The struggle itself has to deepen throughout, involving more workers, more of the masses whatever their ethnic origin or religion, fighting for their own interests against the bourgeoisie.