This article traces China’s policies towards Uighur nationalism since the Republican era. The author first refers to the vision of Sun Yat-sen, who considered China’s peoples an indivisible entity. Later, the People’s Republic, while admitting the existence of national groups (minzus: nationalities), recognised to Han groups cultural features only, without a political dimension. Formal autonomy was provided to distinct parts of the country’s territory. Political scientist E. Hyer reminds that the Chinese consider minority nationalities unsuitable for “nation-statehood” because economic and historical ties make them an inseparable part of China. Since 1949, China has been practicing a policy of integration and assimilation. In Xinjiang, the independence of the former Soviet Central-Asian republics in 1991 has reinvigorated Uighur aspirations for independence. Religious and ethnic unrest has arisen since 1997, accompanied by numbers of attacks of policemen, bombings, and riots. China, especially since 9/11, has associated separatism and nationalist feelings to religious fanaticism in order to justify hardened crackdown on members of movements for independence. In parallel, the creation of the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation has ended Central Asian states’ support to the Uighur cause. E. Hyer hazardously identifies “countries with fundamentalist Islamic orientations” like Saudi Arabia, Pakistan or Afghanistan as those which promote unrest in Xinjiang. The conclusion is that China is in need of security and stability in the area, and will never let separatist activities develop. This article is one of the many written on the Xinjiang issue since 9/11 has increased U.S. interest in potentially troublesome Muslim countries and regions. It provides a brief survey of the issues presently faced by China in Xinjiang and in its relations with Central Asia at large. Without raising original views, it offers a survey and reminder of China’s main interests in the region. At the same time, focusing on Xinjiang and ex-Soviet Central Asia, it remains deprived of a serious analysis of China’s policy towards Afghanistan and Pakistan. Since 2006, it is worth noticing that E. Hyer had enlarged his interests to various Asian nationalisms, and stopped to focus on Xinjiang.

Leila Chebbi-Cherif, National Foundation for Political Science, Paris
CER: II-7.5-685