Inter-ethnic Conflict in Xinjiang: A Proletarian Tragedy

The violent clashes which began on 5th July in Xinjiang have taken a heavy toll. The central government is talking of 184 dead (of which 137 are Han Chinese and 46 Uighur), making this the most bloody popular uprising in China of the last ten years and clearly more serious than the revolt of March 2008 in Tibet.

Violence broke out in Urumqi when some thousands of Uighur demonstrators came up against the police and armed soldiers. The demonstrators were protesting against the death of two Uighurs at a toy factory in Guangdong province which took place during a huge fight between Uighir and Han workers. The brawl (which left 118 wounded) began when six Uighurs, accused of sexually assaulting two Han workers, were attacked. It is symptomatic of the inter-ethnic tensions which unfortunately pervade the working class throughout China.

Xinjiang, so-called ex- ‘East Turkestan’, is thus confirmed as one of the most unstable regions in China. Last summer, at the time of the Olympics there were reports of three successive attacks on police officers and other officials which led to a total of 30 deaths. The region occupies an area five times greater than Italy, but is quite sparsely populated. However, in just a few years Han migration has upset the ethnic balance, starting with the main economic centres. In Urumqi the Han already constitute 70% of the 2.3 million inhabitants. Of approximately 20 million inhabitants in the region, around a half are Uighur while the Han constitute a slightly smaller, but rapidly growing, percentage. The Uighurs - who are Turkomen, Muslim and use a phonetic alphabet -unwillingly put up with the imposition of Han neighbourhoods around them and have been denouncing for decades the discriminatory and repressive policies of the central government.


The internal migrations are not the simple manifestation of a sort of demographic osmosis but rather the result of economic policies towards the Chinese ‘far West’ which put it at the heart of the vital interests of the national productive and financial system. Just to start with, 14% of the oil produced in China (around 27 million tonnes) and a third of the natural gas (24 bn cubic metres per year), come from the region. The subsoil, as yet little exploited, is rich in copper, lead, zinc, gold, silver. Furthermore, it is estimated that 40% of the national reserves of uranium and coal are to be found there. It is no accident that in this area, in Malan, a centre devoted to nuclear research has sprung up, naturally surrounded by the utmost secrecy.

But Xinjiang is also important as the Chinese forward position in Central Asia, a region rich in energy resources. The interests of the leading imperialist powers of the world revolve around these, creating ever greater tensions, which naturally don’t spare Western China. One of the principal projects is a pipeline from Iran which will pass through Turkmenistan, Uzbekistan and Kazakhstan to Xinjiang and then on to provinces further east in China.(1) Its therefore hardly surprising to see that the countries blamed as centres of organisation of the Uighur diaspora (clothed in nationalism and pan-turkism) are Turkey and the USA (with India and European states close behind) - all are countries supporting and potentially benefiting from the pipelines which would direct Central Asia’s energy flows towards the Indian Ocean (TAP) and Europe (Nabucco), rather than towards China.(2)

Turning to the recent conflict, the news is full of punitive expeditions organised by hundreds of Uighur or Han, in great part proletarian, armed with knives and iron bars against those of the different ethnicity. In this tragic situation it would be a great mistake to take the side of either one of these proletarian factions even if the appearance of the encounters with the forces of law and order gives the impression of a direct conflict with the dominant class. Naturally the interests defended by the police and military are those of the bourgeoisie but with all their divisions and fratricidal encounters the proletariat is not in a position to prepare any attack against them.

Against capitalist barbarism communists need to respond by putting themselves at the head of the proletariat, uniting Uighur and Han against their real common enemy. This is capitalism which through its ever more ferocious exploitation of the workforce, and through its imperialist conflicts, makes the workers of every country and ethnicity pay. For this reason we call on communists to build an international and internationalist party, rooted in the working class, which can unite and guide the world proletariat in an attack on this system which will otherwise continue to extort the blood, sweat and tears of the workers in order to create even more horrifying monsters in the future.


(1) A report presented to the Italian Senate last year reads:

“In the last few years Beijing has therefore adopted a strategy of penetration by its oil companies in Cnetral Asia with the result that today Kazakhstan, Uzbekistan and Iran are amongst the most important sources of oil and gas for China. In 2006 a 1000 km pipeline linked the Kazakh city of Ataru to the Chinese province of Xinjiang. In future this will extend 3000 km throughout China. In 2004 China signed a contract worth $70-100 billion to acquire 10 million tons of liquid natural gas over the next 25 years. China is also planning to build a 400 km pipeline in Iran which will connect to the Kazkhstan-China pipeline. At the beginning of December 2007 Beijing and Tehran agreed an important oil pact worth $2 billion. The agreement, signed by the Iranian government and China Petrochemicals (Sinopec) foresees the development of the Yadavaran fields which are estimated to contain 18 billion barrels of crude oil and 357 billion cubic metres of gas. The contract covers two phases over 7 years at the end of which Sinopec will be obliged to subcontract 51% of the work to Iranian companies. Such agreements have great strategic value. The day after this report the US secret services re-evaluated the Iranian nuclear threat. Iran is today China’s third largest source of crude oil according to the management the Beijing customs office.”

(2) See the detailed article by Federico De Renzi “The Dream of East Turkestan in the Italian geopolitical magazine Limes in the edition dedicated to “Cindia, the Challenge of the Century”.