China and nationalism

Issue section: 

Has the nationalism of the oppressed transformed itself into a nationalism of the oppressor? This is a question that flows from Simon Gilbert’s analysis of China and the national question (September SR).

The analysis that China is capitalist allows meaningful comparison with other societies. While everything that is written of the unfair treatment of ethnic minorities may be true, we must situate our research in the level and length of capitalist development. For example, after 70 years ethnic minorities occupy the lower ranks of the Chinese Communist Party and government apparatus, but after 500 years, the first ever Native American is only poised for election to the American Congress.

In Xinjiang and in Tibet, we should support the right of Tibetans and Uighurs to decide their own futures and their relationship to the Chinese government, and for independence if they should so decide. But we should be opposed to human rights becoming a tool of western foreign policy.

One arm of the Chinese occupation of Xinjiang is repression. We can be confident that there are Chinese versions of Guantanamo Bay and Abu Ghraib in Xinjiang. It has its re-education programmes that dovetail with our Prevent deradicalisation programmes. The arrests rate in Xinjiang has multiplied.

In the past two months, the figure of one million Uighur detainees in Xinjiang has emerged. It has been used at the UN and its purpose is to lay the grounds for sanctions.

The evidence are four pieces of research, about 20 interviews, and the repetition of these as evidence in the press and the media.

My cursory tracking of this “evidence” has seen Radio Free Asia, based in Washington, report the figure of 150,000 Uighurs passing through re-education camps in 2017 growing to one million detainees today. The number of inmates in each re-education centre ranges from a few hundred to thousands.

In the context of Obama’s pivot to Asia and Trump’s trade war with China, this figure is fake news because China will have to build one internment camp every six days if it imprisons 5,000 inmates in 200 internment camps.

While the Chinese government may use racism to justify its occupation of Xinjiang and Tibet, the concept of Han nationalism, originating in late 19th century, divides the population of Xinjiang into two tribes, Han and non-Han. This was the dominant explanation of the “Troubles” in Northern Ireland which socialists rejected. The relationship between Uighurs and Hans is nothing remotely akin to the relationship between the Palestinians and Israeli Jews, as the proponents of Han nationalists “settling” in Uighur Xinjiang suggest.

It would be better to see that the development of capitalism in China has been uneven, enriching some Chinese as it has enriched some ethnic minorities. As China has got richer, its politicians identify the problem of growing inequality. This same process is reproduced in Xinjiang, bringing capitalist development, unequally spread, growing inequality, and greater resentment. Interlaced with repression, this explains the incidences of terrorism and ethnic conflict.

Socialists should not take sides. We call for the dismantling of Chinese military bases in the South China Sea and the removal of American bases on the island of Okinawa. We should completely reject the anti-Maoism that the surveillance and repression in Xinjiang is likened to.