What Europe should understand about the violence in Urumqi
Slashed flesh. Cracked heads. Slit throats. Charred bodies littering the streets. These were the scenes in Urumqi on 5 July. There were also buses burnt down to their frames and shops smashed to rubble, but I will not dwell on these acts of lesser villainy.
By slaying 192 men and women of Han, Uighur and Hui ethnicity, the perpetrators of the recent violence in Urumqi, the capital of the Xinjiang region, staged an inhumane act of terror and committed crimes of savage brutality.
There is now evidence that this fanatical assault on innocent civilians was orchestrated by a separatist clique based outside China and organised by its branches inside the country.
Many of the assailants, after being captured by law-enforcement officials, were found to have flocked to the capital of Xinjiang from the south of the territory, a thousand miles away.
Before the incident, separatists based overseas issued calls for action – “without fear of sacrifice” – by internet or over the phone.
Does a conspiracy of such bloodthirstiness not warrant condemnation and a counter-strike? Is the effort by the Chinese government to restore social order not justified and worthy of the support of every just man and woman?
The Chinese people therefore naturally expected such condemnation and support from Europe. Many other countries sent such messages. We based that expectation on the knowledge that the spirit of humanism – and its compassion for life and peace – has been cherished in Europe since the Enlightenment. It was beyond our comprehension that anyone, in the face of the bloody atrocities in Urumqi, could look on nonchalantly as lives were lost, while voicing concerns energetically about the rights of criminals caught red-handed.
Europe’s largely insouciant reaction is, I believe, partly the result of what, to our people, seemed outrageously lopsided reporting. In the aftermath of the incident, the European media focused mostly on the wailing of Uighur women, armed police on patrol and on the paltering of Rebiya Nadeer, a Uighur businesswoman jailed by the Chinese authorities in 2000 for endangering China’s security. They also showed their rhetorical skills, leading to clichéd accusations about an absence of human rights in China.
I will not waste words here disputing this senseless stereotype. Here, I will ask only this: what about the rights of those slain, hospitalised, bereaved and dispossessed?
While it is a sense of frustration that has prompted me to write, fury at lopsided reporting has led my fellow citizens to pour out their feelings on the internet. Some say they will never again have any confidence in the Western media.
A similar sentiment prompted 350 people to post a protest against distorted reporting on a bulletin board at the Urumqi News Centre, an ad hoc facility set up by the Chinese authorities to assist foreign correspondents.
Reading Chinese blogs, which are unfortunately rendered inaccessible to European readers by language barriers, I found many moving stories of Han and Uighur people helping each other escape the thugs.
For example, two Uighur men protected with their bodies a police officer who had been knocked out, fending off not only bottles and stones, but also a looter who attempted to grab the officer’s watch.
Checking out online surveys, I found 98% support for harsh punishment of the culprits and for the World Uighur Congress, of which Nadeer is president, to be labelled a terrorist group.
How I wish our European friends could gain such an unfiltered sense of the pulse of public opinion back in China.
However, neither sinister schemes nor slanders will prevent Xinjiang from moving forward.
The concerted efforts of all 47 ethnic groups in Xinjiang and the support of the whole Chinese nation will build a better future for the region.
An economy that is growing at a double-digit rate, numerous and large-scale construction projects, multi-lingual education and publications, 23,000 mosques in which to practise the Muslim religion, an administration in which more than half the civil servants come from ethnic minorities: these are among the reasons why Xinjiang will keep forging ahead, towards greater prosperity and harmony, and why it will remain a vibrant member of the Chinese family.
I believe that, like us, most Europeans wish the best for Xinjiang. I hope the torment and tragedy we witnessed this month will never happen again. I also hope people outside China will never again be misinformed in this way.
Ambassador and head of the mission of the People’s Republic of China to the EU