Is there any more elastic political description than “semi-autonomous region?” Most people think you are either part of a nation or you are not. Autonomy means you’re independent, at least by dictionary definition. But when you’re “semi-autonomous” that usually means you’re pretty much on your own as far as government services go, except for the government service of sending in the troops when you start to lean more on the “autonomous” than the “semi.”

History is dotted with such incidents, from the Romans steamrolling Israel, then wrecking and looting their temple and building the Roman Coliseum with the proceeds, to General Sherman letting Native Americans know just how little their autonomy meant by killing bunches of them, to the western districts of Pakistan deciding they like the Taliban better than the Islamabad government, resulting in a civil war that is in its early stages, baby steps on the way to a bloodbath. Seems there’s nothing more semi than semi-autonomous.

Which brings us to China’s Xinjiang Province, on their far western border. It’s full name is Xinjian Uyghur Autonomous Region, for centuries a remote, dusty region with more deserts than rivers and sparsely populated by an  ethnic Turkic people called the Uyghurs, who have their own language, religion and customs, distinctly different from their Han Chinese colonial masters. In recent years the Chinese government has provided financial incentives to ethnic Han Chinese to emigrate to Xinjiang to cement their claim on the place and now they outnumber the native population in the capital city Urumqi and are getting close in the rest of the country.

This has led to a lot of racial tensions and social discrimination, with the ever heavy handed Chinese government attempting to make the Uyghurs faceless cyphers like they did with the rest of the Chinese population during Chairman Mao’s genocidal heyday. Back then they had the whole nation dressing in drab grey jackets with little peaked caps like so many chorus boys in a bad musical. It seems the Uyghurs weren’t having any of that and didn’t like the laws passed against their religion, their language and their way of life and sort of went their own way culturally, not really bothering anybody.

Understandable enough, but like the ancient Israelis, the Native Americans and the current day Pakistanis, no one ever asked them for their input and a powerful government with large armies sort of erased the semi and the autonomous from their status when they balked at wearing the yoke. It seems the place has oil, lots and lots of it, another pressing reason for Beijing to do their usual stomping on human rights when it comes to the Uyghurs and importing more obedient Han Chinese to ensure their minority status in their own country. China is in dire need of oil and in no frame of mind to buy it at fair prices from any autonomous or semi-autonomous neighbor when they have their sizable army handy to negotiate for them.

Well, long story short, this week the ethnic tensions boiled over when 2 Uyghur workers were beaten to death by Han Chinese workers in a racially motivated brawl. The riots got out of hand and 156 people died. Lucky for totalitarian regimes, they always seem to have plenty of “para-military forces” at the ready, whatever they might be. They were mobilized as well as The People’s Army and right off the bat the government shuts down the internet, telephones, cell phones, television, radio and any press reporting in the area. Rumor has it they confiscated all string and paper cups too, just in case. They wouldn’t want the rest of the world getting the wrong idea now, so the official story is the only story, and that is that “the situation is under control.”

Which is not exactly reassuring to the Uyghurs when it is the Beijing regime doing the controlling. Ask that skinny guy in Tiananmen Square 20 years ago facing down a tank with just a smile how that worked out for him. History informs us it didn’t work out for anyone there but the guys inside the tanks. Ask Tibet how their semi-autonomy is going. Their traditional head of state since 1381, the current Dalai Lama has been living in India since 1959 and The People’s Republic of China has declared that it has the right to name his successor. That ought to be pretty amusing when they appoint some nondescript Chinese bureaucrat in a WalMart suit as the spiritual leader of Tibetan Buddhists. His first order of business will no doubt be declaring the new national pastime to be monk-pummeling.

The current leader of China, President Hu Jintao (another nondescript old party hack with a cheap suit and an attitude), left the G-8 meeting to return to China and promise the death penalty to anyone convicted of starting the Xianjing riots. How they will determine exactly who started a riot is hard to say, but no doubt the Chinese authorities will round up the usual suspects and make examples of them. No mention was made by anyone in authority about mediating between the clashing ethnic groups to try to reach some sort of mutual understanding and respectful tolerance, thus further ensuring continuing unrest and future riots.

Look for the Uyghurs to continue to lose jobs and suffer blatant discrimination. Beijng’s way of recognizing diversity is to to crush it wherever it springs up, declaring anyone who doesn’t drink their kool aid to be “enemies of the people” unduly influenced by foreign provocateurs. That sort of brutal stupidity is going to topple their foolish old asses some day, just not in time for the Uyghur people to avoid stiff new laws regarding their freedom or to save the scapegoats who will be summarily executed. The latest sketchy reports getting by the Chinese wall of silence is that 1,000 Uyghurs have been randomly taken from the streets and sent to jail, branded as “agitators” or “splitters,” code for for traitorous secessionists. So much for the semi and the autonomous.

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