RELIGION, ETHNICITY, AND ECONOMIC MARGINALIZATION AS DRIVERS OF CONFLICT IN XINJIANG
Lim, Ching Mun Rosalyn
This thesis critically evaluates the role of Islam and ethnic differences as driving forces of conflict in Xinjiang. As China grows and becomes more vested in the global system, its continued stability is in the interest of the international community. However, ethnic minority-related unrest in China has been identified as a powerful destabilizing force, with market watchers speculating whether minority unrest could escalate and shake the Chinese state's hold on power and legitimacy to govern. These concerns that violent civil strife could potentially spiral out of control are not without merit and the realization of such a scenario would have significant international ramifications, ranging from the dysfunction of large economic demand and supply systems, to the possible contagion effect of ethnic-based unrest aimed at self-determination. The renewed salience of nationalism, the natural tension between the rights of sovereignty and self-determination, and the recent perception of an Islamic threat in the non-Muslim world make this an issue of international concern. In short, managing religious and ethnic differences in China is of utmost importance.A common assumption of the root cause of the Uyghur-Han Chinese conflict is that the conflict arises from the practice of Islam not being reconcilable with the atheist ideology of communist China. Meanwhile, Chinese authorities have resorted to economic development as a panacea for wide-ranging grievances of the Uyghurs in Xinjiang. Key issues that will be investigated in this thesis include whether religiosity and ethnic differences are sufficient motivating factors for conflict, or whether other volatile factors, such as economic marginalization and real or perceived threats to a community's identity, need to be present before there is an outbreak of violent conflict.The central argument of this dissertation is that religious and ethnic differences are not sufficient to bring about armed conflict. The minority-state contention that exists in Xinjiang is not simply a clash of the Islamic and Confucian civilizations. It is a complex and multifaceted conflict on multiple levels, and the tendency to stereotype issues, especially those involving religion, might not provide a logical explanation for conflicts that also arise from sociological, historical, and political contexts. While religion is an important aspect of ethno-religious conflicts because of its capability to mobilize adherents and legitimize actions, religion alone is rarely the sole motivating force of conflict. Current policies in Xinjiang need to be re-evaluated, because instead of working to foster accommodation of the Uyghurs in Chinese society, their effect has been to reinforce the Uyghurs' will to be distinct from the Han Chinese. More work has to be done in order to halt the damage to inter-ethnic group relations in China, with a moderate and more inclusive approach to managing minority groups required.
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