Conflict Alerts

Conflict Alerts # 442, 30 September 2021

China: The first White Paper on Xinjiang's demographic and economic development
Avishka Ashok

In the news
On 26 September, the State Council Information Office of the People's Republic of China released its first white paper focusing on the population dynamics in the Xinjiang region. The 20-page report displays the fast demographic development over seven decades and boasts of a 99.96 per cent enrolment rate in primary education in the region. 

The spokesperson of the Xinjiang regional government Xu Guixiang said: "Xinjiang is a book with profound content. A few days staying here would only let people know its cover while its content, characteristics, and spirits need longer time to ponder over."
 
Issues at large
First, major takeaways from the report. The latest white paper released by the government is the first of its kind that focuses on demography by referring to data collected from the seven national census reports. According to the paper, the ethnic population in the Xinjiang region has reportedly increased from 3.61 million in 1953 to 11.62 million in 2020. The report sheds light on China's efforts towards national rejuvenation, all-round development, exploring prosperity through hard work and the benefits of China's prosperity for the rest of the world. The report claims to have de-radicalized the extremism in the region through various anti-terrorism measures. The regional government also asserts that there have been no terrorist attacks since 2017, and populace is more united when compared to half a decade ago. The report also praises the Chinese government for successfully improving the people's standard of living, increasing life expectancy, and modernizing the region quickly.

Second, the yardstick to measure discontent. The report claims to have zero terrorist activities in the country's eastern frontier in the past five years. Other than China, many other countries also believe that not having violent outbursts in a steady-state signifies the real sentiments of the population. However, the yardstick to measure peace and stability in a region cannot be the lack of violent events.

Third, shortcomings of the report. The report fails to mention exactly what measures were undertaken to reach the current state of peace and harmony in Xinjiang. The report, as well as the authorities, mention "anti-terrorism" and "de-radicalization" measures taken by China in the region. However, the existence of re-education camps has not been mentioned in the report anywhere. The camps were one of the foremost criticisms from the West against the suppression of minorities. Even though the paper showcases a steep rise in the Uighur population, it fails to provide a comparison to the increase in the Han migration and settlement in Xinjiang.

Fourth, China's response to external pressures. China rejected the earlier accusations of genocide. Other than denying the allegations at international forums and counter-sanctioning Western countries, China did not make any efforts to provide substantial evidence to back their denial. The report comes when there is heightened international criticism against China for the repression of minorities in the Xinjiang Autonomous Region. On 8 July, the US imposed sanctions on numerous officials of the Chinese Communist Party for violating the human rights of the Uighur community in Xinjiang. Along with the US, Canada, United Kingdom and the European Union have also sanctioned Chinese officials for the forceful "Hanification" of the ethnic Uighurs in Xinjiang. The report denies all charges of suppression by showcasing a happy, bright and jolly populace pursuing their culture and traditional identities and abiding by the Chinese principles and the national identity.

In perspective
The report is aimed at dismissing the discourse by Western countries which accuses the Chinese administration of destroying the Islamic culture and traditions of the Uighur community by forcefully engaging them in activities against their faith in re-education camps. The report seeks to contest the claims made by foreign governments and tries to propagate a peaceful and strong Chinese state.

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