East Turkestan or Xinjiang and the Uyghurs in China

Friday, 11 March 2022 - 11:00 am (CET/MEZ) Berlin | Author/Destination:
Category/Kategorie: General
Reading Time:  13 minutes

Xinjiang Internment Camps map © US  National Geospatial Intelligence Agency and Australian Strategic Policy Institute

Xinjiang Internment Camps map © US National Geospatial Intelligence Agency and Australian Strategic Policy Institute

Xinjiang, officially the Xinjiang Uygur Autonomous Region (East Turkestan) and formerly romanized as Sinkiang, is a landlocked autonomous region of the People’s Republic of China (PRC), located in the northwest of the country close to Central Asia. Being the largest province-level division of China and the 8th-largest country subdivision in the world, Xinjiang spans over 1.6 million square kilometres (620,000 sq mi) and has about 25 million inhabitants. Xinjiang borders the countries of Mongolia, Russia, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, Afghanistan, Pakistan and India. The rugged Karakoram, Kunlun and Tian Shan mountain ranges occupy much of Xinjiang’s borders, as well as its western and southern regions. The Aksai Chin and Trans-Karakoram Tract regions, both administered by China, are claimed by India. Xinjiang also borders the Tibet Autonomous Region and the provinces of Gansu and Qinghai. The most well-known route of the historic Silk Road ran through the territory from the east to its northwestern border. It is home to a number of ethnic groups, including the Turkic Uyghur, Kazakhs and Kyrgyz, the Han, Tibetans, Hui, Chinese Tajiks (Pamiris), Mongols, Russians and Sibe. There are more than a dozen autonomous prefectures and counties for minorities in Xinjiang. Older English-language reference works often refer to the area as Chinese Turkestan, East Turkestan and East Turkistan. Xinjiang is divided into the Dzungarian Basin in the north and the Tarim Basin in the south by a mountain range, and only about 9.7% of Xinjiang’s land area is fit for human habitation. Capital und largest city by far is Ürümqi.

With a documented history of at least 2,500 years, a succession of people and empires have vied for control over all or parts of this territory. The territory came under the rule of the Qing dynasty in the 18th century, later replaced by the Republic of China government. Since 1949 and the Chinese Civil War, it has been part of the People’s Republic of China. In 1954, the Xinjiang Bingtuan (XPCC) was set up to strengthen border defense against the Soviet Union and also promote the local economy by settling soldiers into the region. In 1955, Xinjiang was administratively changed from a province into an autonomous region. In recent decades, abundant oil and mineral reserves have been found in Xinjiang and it is currently China’s largest natural gas-producing region.

Main area is of irrigated agriculture. By 2015, the agricultural land area of the region is 631 thousand km² or 63.1 million ha, of which 6.1 million ha is arable land. In 2016, the total cultivated land rose to 6.2 million ha, with the crop production reaching 15.1 million tons. Wheat was the main staple crop of the region, maize grown as well, millet found in the south, while only a few areas (in particular, Aksu) grew rice. Cotton became an important crop in several oases, notably Khotan, Yarkand and Turpan by the late 19th century. Sericulture is also practiced. The Xinjiang cotton industry is the world’s largest cotton exporter, producing 84% of Chinese cotton while the country provides 26% of global cotton export. Xinjiang also produces peppers and pepper pigments used in cosmetics such lipstick for export. Xinjiang is famous for its grapes, melons, pears, walnuts, particularly Hami melons and Turpan raisins. The region is also a leading source for tomato paste, which it supplies for international brands. The main livestock of the region have traditionally been sheep. Much of the region’s pasture land is in its northern part, where more precipitation is available, but there are mountain pastures throughout the region. Due to the lack of access to the ocean and limited amount of inland water, Xinjiang’s fish resources are somewhat limited. Nonetheless, there is a significant amount of fishing in Lake Ulungur and Lake Bosten and in the Irtysh River. A large number of fish ponds have been constructed since the 1970s, their total surface exceeding 10,000 hectares by the 1990s. In 2000, the total of 58,835 tons of fish was produced in Xinjiang, 85% of which came from aquaculture. The Sayram Lake is both the largest alpine lake and highest altitude lake in Xinjiang, and is the location of a major cold-water fishery. Originally Sayram had no fish but in 1998, northern whitefish (Coregonus peled) from Russia were introduced and investment in breeding infrastructure and technology has consequently made Sayram into the country’s largest exporter of northern whitefish with an annual output of over 400 metric tons.

Xinjiang was known for producing salt, soda, borax, gold, jade in the 19th century. The Lop Lake was once a large brackish lake during the end of the Pleistocene but has slowly dried up in the Holocene where average annual precipitation in the area has declined to just 31.2 millimeters (1.2 inches), and experiences annual evaporation rate of 2,901 millimeters (114 inches). The area is rich in brine Potash, a key ingredient in fertilizer and is the second-largest source of potash in the country. Discovery of potash in the mid-1990s, has transformed Lop Nur into a major Potash mining industry. The oil and gas extraction industry in Aksu and Karamay is growing, with the West–East Gas Pipeline linking to Shanghai. The oil and petrochemical sector get up to 60 percent of Xinjiang’s economy. The region contains over a fifth of China’s hydrocarbon resources and has the highest concentration of fossil fuel reserves of any region in the country. The region is rich in coal and contains 40 percent of the country’s coal reserves or around 2.2 trillion tonnes, which is enough to supply China’s thermal coal demand for more than 100 years even if only 15 percent of the estimated coal reserve prove recoverable. Tarim basin is the largest oil and gas bearing area in the country with about 16 billion tonnes of oil and gas reserves discovered. The area is still actively explored and in 2021, China National Petroleum Corporation found a new oil field reserve of 1 billion tons (about 907 million tonnes). That find is regarded as being the largest one in recent decades. As of 2021, the basin produces hydrocarbons at an annual rate of 2 million tons, up from 1.52 million tons from 2020. Xinjiang is a major producer of solar panel components due to its large production of the base material polysilicon. In 2020 45% of global production of solar-grade polysilicon occurred in Xinjiang. Concerns have been raised both within the solar industry and outside it that forced labor may occur in the Xinjiang part of the supply chain. The global solar panel industry are under pressure to move sourcing away from the region due to human rights and liability concerns. China’s solar association claimed the allegations were baseless and unfairly stigmatized firms with operations there. A 2021 investigation in the United Kingdom (UK) found that 40% of solar farms in the UK had been built using panels from Chinese companies linked to forced labor in Xinjiang.

Flag of Xinjiang Uyghur, symbol of the East Turkestan independence movement © Tarkan Taklamakan Desert © Pravit/cc-by-sa-4.0 Ürümqi skyline © Radoslaw Botev/cc-by-3.0-pl Ürümqi's bazzar © flickr.com - 29cm/cc-by-sa-2.0 Xinjiang Internment Camps map © US  National Geospatial Intelligence Agency and Australian Strategic Policy Institute Heavenly Lake of Tianshan © panoramio.com - zhanyoun/cc-by-sa-3.0
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Xinjiang Internment Camps map © US National Geospatial Intelligence Agency and Australian Strategic Policy Institute
Some factions in Xinjiang province advocate establishing an independent country, which has led to tension and ethnic strife in the region. Autonomous regions in China putatively have a legal right to separate from the nation, however in practice this right can not be exercised. The Xinjiang conflict is an ongoing separatist conflict in the northwestern part of China. The separatist movement claims that the region, which they view as their homeland and refer to as East Turkestan, is not part of China, but was invaded by communists in 1949 and has been under communists’ occupation since then. Chinese government asserts that the region has been part of China since ancient times. The separatist movement is led by ethnically Uyghur Muslim underground organizations, most notably the East Turkestan independence movement and the Salafist Turkistan Islamic Party, against the Chinese government. According to the Asia-Pacific Center for Security Studies, the two main sources for separatism in the Xinjiang Province are religion and ethnicity. Religiously, the Uyghur peoples of Xinjiang follow Islam; in the large cities of Han China many are Buddhist, Taoist and Confucian, although many follow Islam as well, such as the Hui ethnic subgroup of the Han ethnicity, comprising some 10 million people. Thus, the major difference and source of friction with eastern China is ethnicity and religious doctrinal differences that differentiate them politically from other Muslim minorities elsewhere in the country. Because of turkification from the turkificated Tocharians, the western Uyghurs became linguistically and culturally Turkic in the 10th century, a distinction from the Han that are the majority in the eastern and central regions of Xinjiang, although many other Turkic ethnicities live in Northwest China such as the Salar people, the Chinese Tatars and the Yugur. Ironically, the capital of Xinjiang, Ürümqi, was originally a Han and Hui (Tungan) city with few Uyghur people before recent Uyghur migration to the city. Since 1996, China has engaged in “strike hard” campaigns targeted at separatists. On 5 June 2014, China sentenced nine people to death for terrorist attacks. They were alleged to be seeking to overthrow the government in Xinjiang and build an independent Uyghur state of East Turkestan.

In the aftermath of the terrorist attacks on September 11, 2001 in the United States of America, the Chinese government initially tried quite successfully to bring the Uyghurs closer to the terrorist organization Al-Qaeda. It soon turned out, however, that these were pure propaganda lies, with the aim of internment millions of Uyghurs in concentration camps specially built for this purpose. Chinese state propaganda denied this for a long time, until the burden of proof simply became too overwhelming to deny. However, the Chinese Communist Party only speaks of “internment camps”. However, most Western governments assume 2022 that the genocide of the Uyghurs is and further will be carried out, which is to be achieved in various ways, including targeted killings, forced sterilization of entire generations of Uyghur women, forced resettlement and forced marriages with Han Chinese. After the concentration camps in particular and the “disappearance” of Uyghurs in other ways had led to too much international attention, efforts are now being made towards demographic genocide, which is creeping and therefore less conspicuous. The CP dictatorship under Xi Jinping has been very successful in this regard.

Read more on TopChinaTravel.com – Xinjiang Tourism, Uyghurs, History of Islam in China, China Cotton Association, Xinjiang conflict, East Turkestan independence movement, Xinjiang internment camps, Uyghur genocide (The Guardian, 24 May 2022: China: Thousands of detained Uyghurs pictured in leaked Xinjiang police files, BBC, 24 May 20222: The faces from China’s Uyghur detention camps (Xinjiang Police Files and Xinjiang Police Files), DW, 24 May 20222: China: Leaked Xinjiang files likely accurate, experts say, Arab News, 24 May 2022: ‘Appalled’ US suspects Uyghur abuse approved at Beijing ‘highest levels’, The Washington Post, 25 May 20222: Trove of damning Xinjiang police files leaked as U.N. rights chief visits China, Foreign Policy, 25 May 20222: Beijing’s Abuses Are Laid Bare in Xinjiang Police Files, DW, 25 May 2022: Critics pressure UN rights chief over Xinjiang silence during China trip, France24, 25 May 2022: Adrian Zenz, the academic behind the ‘Xinjiang Police Files’, on China’s abuse of Uighurs, The Guardian, 25 May 2022: China: Xi Jinping defends human rights record to visiting UN commissioner, The Sunday Times, 29 May 2022: Uighurs, Covid and economy are unpicking China’s cult of Xi Jinping), Wikivoyage Xinjiang and Wikipedia Xinjiang (Smart Traveler App by U.S. Department of State - Weather report by weather.com - Global Passport Power Rank - Travel Risk Map - Democracy Index - GDP according to IMF, UN, and World Bank - Global Competitiveness Report - Corruption Perceptions Index - Press Freedom Index - World Justice Project - Rule of Law Index - UN Human Development Index - Global Peace Index - Travel & Tourism Competitiveness Index). Photos by Wikimedia Commons. If you have a suggestion, critique, review or comment to this blog entry, we are looking forward to receive your e-mail at comment@wingsch.net. Please name the headline of the blog post to which your e-mail refers to in the subject line.








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