SCMP July 16 2009
A myopic world view through the Han lens
Recent issues, from the tragic to the banal, should remind Hong Kong
as well as the mainland that international respect in a globalised
world requires the rejection of notions of ethnic exclusivity or superiority.
China's rise has been peaceful but it has been accompanied by a rise
in Han chauvinism.
President Hu Jintao would do well to listen to respected Turkish Prime
Minister Recep Tayib Erdogan following the Urumqi riots. 'We ask the
Chinese government to abandon assimilation,' he said, referring to
developments in Xinjiang (which some also call East Turkestan) as 'like
a genocide'. Mr Erdogan is, in effect, the spokesman for all the Turkic
people, stretching from the shores of the Mediterranean to the geographic
centre of China, who are united by history, religion and a language
whose dialects differ little more than Chinese ones.
Mr Hu might reflect, too, on China's immediate neighbour in the Shanghai
Co-operation Organisation, Kazakhstan. That Turkic nation was, for
two centuries, under Russian domination. The Russians attempted to
absorb it by settling huge numbers of Russians, Ukrainians and others
who would gradually dilute its Kazakh identity. Ultimately, they failed,
and Kazakh independence was regained in 1991.
Since 1949, China has tried much the same thing in Xinjiang, once
overwhelmingly Turkic and now about half Han. Whatever the immediate
cause of the recent disturbances and the ethnic balance of deaths,
Uygur resentment is based not so much on poor job prospects for non-Hans
- though that is undoubtedly a factor - but on China's attempt to 'solve'
the problem of managing a resource-rich region with a self-consciously
non-Han population through immigration.
The more China mentions histories of tribute to Beijing, the more
that worries not just Turkic peoples but almost every country in East
and Southeast Asia which, at some point, is said to have paid such
a tribute - though simply as the price of trading privileges rather
than as an acceptance of overlordship. The way Beijing handles Xinjiang
will send messages throughout the world, and Asia in particular, about
underlying attitudes to all non-Han peoples.
At the level of the banal come several troubling incidents. Businessmen
from Hong Kong have plenty of experience of abuse of power by Communist
Party officials to use trumped-up criminal charges to get their way
in commercial disputes. But these mostly happen at the low and middle
levels. The arrest of Rio Tinto executives in the middle of very important
negotiations with major state-owned enterprises in China suggests that
abuse of power for commercial purposes is condoned at the very highest
levels. This action will, rightly, put foreign businessmen everywhere
on notice about dealings with the mainland.
Meanwhile, Hong Kong's own contribution to Han chauvinism is apparent
in small but significant ways. Why, one wonders, is a Hong Kong passport
- which is just a travel document - a requirement to compete at the
Olympics? Holders must be citizens of China, thus providing China with
three representations at the Olympics (the other being Macau) while
depriving locally born Indians, Filipinos, Canadians and others the
right to represent Hong Kong.
The claim that this is the International Olympic Committee's doing
is contradicted by the fact that 'sports nationality' rather than passport
has long been accepted by the IOC as the basis of representation.
Then there is the huge and vastly disproportionate coverage in the
media to cases of swine flu among foreign (non-Han, of course) domestic
helpers. Is it dangerous for them to meet in Statue Square? Should
they have staggered days off? There is no suggestion, of course, that
we should all avoid crowded restaurants or using the MTR. No, let's
focus on the non-Hans meeting in the open air.
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