Asia Program


Minorities and National Integration in China: The Cases of Tibet and Xinjiang

October 03, 2002 // 4:00pm7:00pm

Summary of a seminar co-sponsored by East-West Center Washington, Asia Program of Woodrow Wilson Center, Sigur Center for Asian Studies of George Washington University, and United States Institute of Peace.

National integration is a difficult issue for China, particular in the cases of Tibet and Xinjiang. While Washington had paid greater attention to Tibet than Xinjiang before September 11, Beijing has long considered Xinjiang as a more troublesome region. To the delight of Beijing, both the United States and the United Nations have recently acknowledged the "Islamic Movement of Eastern Turkestan" as a terrorist organization. Meanwhile, Beijing for the first time in two decades allowed two high-level envoys from the Dalai Lama to visit Tibet in September. To what extent will these developments change Beijing's relations with ethnic minorities in these two restless regions?

In the first session on Tibet, both Carole McGranahan of the University of Colorado at Boulder and Tseten Wangchuk of Voice of American argued that the Tibetan people are not fully integrated into China in terms of ideology and national sentiment. Du Yongbin of the Chinese Center for Tibetan Studies, on the other hand, stressed Beijing's success in integrating Tibet into China through cultural assimilation and intermarriage between Tibetans and Han Chinese.

In the second session on Xinjiang, all three speakers, Gardner Bovingdon of Washington University at Saint Louis, Yang Shengmin of Columbia University, and Talant Mawkanuli of Indiana University, agreed that the Chinese central government has maintained only sporadic and incomplete control of Xinjiang throughout history. According to Bovingdon and Mawkanuli, most Uyghurs bear substantial resentment toward Chinese rule and hope for autonomy or independence for Xinjiang.

This seminar suggested that economic development alone could not resolve ethnic conflicts in Tibet and Xinjiang. If China's new leadership wants to seriously deal with the issue of national integration, it should shift its policy priority from cultural assimilation to political accommodation with regard to ethnic minorities in China's "Great West."

Drafted by Gang Lin, Asia Program Associate, 202/691-4011
Robert M. Hathaway, Asia Program Director

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