This paper was presented at the Asian Diversity in a Global Context conference organized by the Asian Dynamics Initiative of the University of Copenhagen. Slides available upon request.
State Policy and Local Responses in China’s West
The Uyghur Experience of the “Open up the West” Campaign in Xinjiang: exploring state and ethnic minority partnership as a model for economic and social development
[NOT FOR CITATION]
Henryk Szadziewski, Uyghur Human Rights Project
University of Copenhagen, 13 November 2010
Good afternoon. I would like to begin by thanking the Asian Dynamics Initiative for organizing this gathering of scholars. I’d like to especially thank Ildiko Beller-Hann, Trine Brox and Marie Yoshida. I am also particularly pleased to see Ablimit and Chris here as co-panelists.
Towards the end of the 1990s a movement emerged that attempted to realign state and non-governmental organization (NGO) economic development planning around established “human rights principles and legal norms” (Häusermann, 1998).
Two publications were key in the movement. Julia Häusermann’s, A Human Rights Approach to Development, and the United Nations Development Programme’s (UNDP), Human Rights and Human Development.
Both the UNDP and Häusermann held the condition of poverty as a human rights violation, and the deprivation of basic human needs such as housing, employment, and education ran contrary to the articles of a number of established international and domestic legal instruments.
The opportunity for marginalized people to contribute and participate in their own development is a key component of a rights based approach to development. In the pursuit for developmental equity, marginalized people and communities lead the struggle for development “[b]y contrasting their current situation with what they are entitled to pursuant to human rights law, [marginalized people] are encouraged to work for change and seek their rights” (Häusermann, 1998).
Häusermann ascribed a central role to the participation of marginalized people in the approach, while the UNDP suggested that the state play an equally important role in rights-based approaches by “[e]nsuring civil and political rights, [such as] freedom of speech, association and participation, to empower poor people to claim their social, economic and cultural rights”, as well as by “…meeting its human rights obligations...that do the most to secure economic, social and cultural rights for the most deprived and to ensure their participation in decision-making.”
Using the framework outlined by Häuserman and the UNDP, the core elements underpinning a rights-based approach to development are civil participation in monitoring and claiming rights, paralleled by state obligation to meet human rights commitments and to create the conditions necessary for monitoring of its performance. Such an approach calls for a robust partnership between civil society and the state.
This paper will assess the Uyghur experience of the Open up the West campaign since its adoption as state policy in 2000. Although the policy was formulated as a response to the growing economic inequities between the eastern and western regions of China, it did raise the question of inter-ethnic inequity in standards of living and opportunity. This is because it operated in areas with significant numbers of ethnic minorities who tended to view economic equity on an inter-ethnic rather than an inter-regional basis.
Despite reports in the Chinese media of favorable outcomes for the Open up the West campaign, evidence has been put forward to contradict this assertion, especially among the Uyghur.
A possible reason for such unfavorable outcomes for the Uyghur is the lack of participatory mechanisms in Chinese government development planning. While successful development planning, as stated above, has emphasized the necessity of primary stakeholder input on policy formation; in Xinjiang the closed spaces so common in policy formation remain off limits to Uyghur citizens.
This paper examines how a rights-based approach to development could be leveraged in the Open up the West campaign era to promote participation among the Uyghur to shape policies that move toward equity.
I will first look at developing an operational framework for a rights based approach from the development literature, I then look at the policies of the Open up the West campaign. The work continues by examining the official assessments and local responses to the campaign, and applies the operational framework to Xinjiang to evaluate the possibilities of a rights-based approach to take root in the region. Finally, the paper looks at the latest official responses to local assessments of government performance in addressing economic inequity.
An Operational Framework for a Rights-based Approach to Development
According to the development literature three key elements concerning participation form a rights based approach to development.
- Participation empowers civil society “in terms of their acquiring the skills, knowledge and experience to take greater responsibility for their development” (UNDP 1997: 4). However, the state plays a role in “not simply...‘giving permission’ for marginalized people to join in, but of dealing with the barriers which prevent them joining in and encouraging their acceptance by the rest of society” (Brocklesby and Crawford 2005: 23)
- Participation engages civil society in developing a political consciousness (VeneKlasen et al 2004: 14).
- The state ensures that participation and grassroots leadership is meaningful and is not a token effort to suit political ends (Brocklesby and Crawford, 2005: 23; Júnior, Antunes, and Romano 2004: 67-68; Jasis and García 2004: 25).
According to the development literature two key elements concerning rights can be identified.
- Rights involve civil society in claims that are specific violations, such as community level abuses of economic rights, rather than broader calls for equity (DfID 2000: 17).
- Rights require civil society petitioning of appropriate institutions to oblige state response and for states to make institutions accessible.
The Open up the West campaign
The People’s Republic of China adopted the Open up the West campaign as state policy in February 2000. The Chinese government characterized the policy as an economic campaign that would bring China’s western region to economic parity with its more thriving eastern region.
Indicators illustrate why the government moved to address the growing economic inequality. Although the western region comprises more than 71 percent of China’s total landmass, and more than 28 percent of China’s total population, it accounts for only 17 percent of the national gross domestic product (GDP) (Lu and Neilson 2004: 1).
In addressing this imbalance in growth, the Open up the West campaign did not appear to be a state economic intervention as generally understood among development practitioners. The Open up the West campaign did not outline any measurable aims beyond the broad goal of inter-regional ‘equity’, or the establishment of a monitoring body to oversee progress and grievances, or even the creation of a process of participation in decision-making on priorities and implementation. Such an absence of yardsticks and opaqueness of process offers space for the Chinese authorities to dictate the definition of the campaign’s success.
However, through a review of Open up the West policies, Holbig (2004, p.41) identified the quest for equality, infrastructure investment and tackling the nationalities issue as key areas. Although the quest for equality remains the one clearly measurable goal for the campaign, the focus on infrastructure investment is central to Chinese government economic and political goals in Xinjiang. Infrastructure investment also encouraged the growth of natural resource industries in Xinjiang that formed a critical part of meeting China’s energy needs during a boom in its economy.
Official Assessments, Local Responses
Chinese government officials and agencies have provided a variety of statistics charting the progress of the Open up the West campaign in western China, and in Xinjiang, that highlight the focus on infrastructure development and investment in large-scale industry.
The National Development and Reform Commission stated that the western regions as a whole had averaged an economic growth rate of almost 12 percent since 2000 (Xin, 2010), which represented an increase of just over 4 percent on the figure for 1999 (Tan, 2009). Commission figures also reported that public and private sector investment had reached approximately US$3 trillion between 2000 and 2010, five and a half times the amount invested in the western regions in the 50 years before the adoption of the Open up the West campaign (Xin, 2010).
In Xinjiang itself, the Chinese government had subsidized nearly US$60 billion to the region from 2000 to 2010, of which nearly US$17 billion went toward 20,000 projects spread across rural, transportation and energy industries. By 2009, GDP growth at 8.1 percent in Xinjiang was slightly lower than in China as a whole, at 8.7 percent (Yu, 2010).
Despite such promising statistics, GDP in China’s west was still only 17.8 percent of China’s total in 2008, an increase of 0.8 percent from 2004. A report published in 2010 by North-west University in Xi’an revealed that in 2007, the average annual Xinjiang income was estimated at nearly US$6,000 less than incomes in eastern China (Moxley, 2010).
What the official statistics reveal is that the realization of equality region-to-region is still some way off. This kind of campaign is most certainly progressive, especially given the lack of time bound targets. Even so, inter-ethnic economic parity, most notably in employment opportunities, also appeared far off.
According to Uyghur economist, Ilham Tohti, the overall record of the Chinese government in providing employment among Uyghurs has been poor. Tohti asserts that in the 1990s, 1.5 million people were unemployed in Xinjiang. Even though no ethnic breakdown was given, Tohti inferred that the majority of this figure was in the Uyghur community.
While Tohti’s evidence does not reveal unemployment statistics among Uyghurs in the 2000s, evidence that Uyghurs faced discrimination during this period in securing employment highlights that the government did not move actively enough to improve suspected high unemployment. In 2009, the Congressional-Executive Commission on China (CECC) reported hiring discrimination that favored Han Chinese for jobs with the Xinjiang Production and Construction Corps (XPCC) and in the regional education sector. [SLIDE 8] The survey of XPCC job announcements showed that of 894 available positions, 744 were reserved for Han Chinese applicants, and that in Aksu district [SLIDE 9], of 436 positions in the school district, 347 positions were set-aside for those of Han Chinese ethnicity (Congressional-Executive Commission on China, 2009a). From CECC research, the practice of ethnic discrimination in the state sector is not new. CECC also reported in 2005 that all of the 500 to 700 new civil service appointments made by the regional and central government in the Uyghur majority area of southern Xinjiang were reserved for members of the Han nationality (Congressional-Executive Commission on China 2005a).
Differences in employment distribution between ethnicities can also be detected across other sectors. Reed (2010) writes that “[c]urrently, Han occupy about 80 percent of Xinjiang’s jobs in the manufacturing, transport, communications, oil and gas, and science and technology sectors, as well as 90 percent of the jobs in the booming field of construction. Xinjiang’s unemployed are disproportionately ethnic Uyghurs, Kazakhs, and Kyrgyz; its entrepreneurs are mostly Han and Hui.”
While the 2000s saw a marked increase in economic activity under the Open up the West campaign, Chinese authorities also moved to intensify political restrictions, especially in the post-9/11 era. Against a backdrop of harsh punishment for political expression, Uyghurs found it increasingly difficult to find the space to voice opinions on the direction of economic development (Bovingdon, 2010). Even within the CCP framework, meaningful Uyghur representation was non-existent as ‘each of the 125 regional, prefectural, municipal, and county-level Party first secretaries in Xinjiang was Han Chinese (Congressional-Executive Commission on China 2005a, p.17).
The Operational Framework in Xinjiang
Without creating the conditions necessary for Uyghur monitoring of state performance, economic policies will continue to follow imbalanced patterns. Is there any hope for Uyghurs in Xinjiang to leverage the space necessary to make rights claims, such as equity in employment opportunities, in the Open up the West campaign era? Using the operational framework discussed earlier, this paper now assesses the possibility of a rights-based approach to development to address the inequalities experienced under the Open up the West campaign.
Participation empowers civil society
Village and neighborhood committees in China seemingly offer an opportunity to explore new interpretations of participation among Chinese citizens, especially if elective processes are used to select their membership. Village and neighborhood committees offer formalized structures within the state apparatus that not only mobilize the grassroots to implement state policy, but also to potentially represent the claims of marginalized communities. Nevertheless, the continuing dominance of ‘top down’ dictates in Xinjiang will determine levels of participation available to Uyghurs. Plummer and Taylor (2004: xviii) observe that in China “[e]xpanding the power of local institutions, with participation as part of their mode of operation, would be zero-sum only when and to the extent that decision-makers at the centre did not want for communities at the periphery what those communities want for themselves.”
Development planning in the closed spaces of the central government is viewed in material rather than human terms. It should therefore be no surprise that state development policies focus on macroeconomic solutions and measures to bring equity, which do not contain a specific focus on the empowerment of marginalized people. The lack of input from marginalized people in policy formation is significant. If decision-making over state-led development initiatives continues only at the highest levels, the inequalities experienced by marginalized people will persist. Central authorities must see the necessity to consult with the grassroots. This suggestion entails a transition from closed to invited spaces, and a formidable removal of barriers to civil society participation that the Chinese government has rarely implemented.
Participation engages civil society in a developing political consciousness
A history of Uyghur protests over social and political issues suggest that public consciousness over issues of inequality is high. While the nature of Uyghur protest is frequently viewed through the lens of ethno-nationalist grievances over self-determination, demonstrations for greater state protection from discrimination have taken place. Therefore, the development of a political consciousness that the protests reflect ostensibly stems from the continuing repressive experiences of Uyghurs under Chinese rule.
However, political consciousness can originate in more institutionalized structures. Political bodies at the community level have the potential to mobilize civil society to greater monitoring of performance. In other areas of China, community members have exercised a degree of supervision over local level cadres’ fiscal management and decision-making activities (Yu 2004: 14). However, the patterns of other areas of China, which has seen a sharp increase in protest aimed at various levels of government, are not replicated in Xinjiang.
The state ensures that participation and grassroots leadership is meaningful
Uyghurs currently have their interests articulated by a distant central government. Uyghurs have made attempts at independent organization, most notably through traditional gatherings called mäxräp, but the repressive climate in the region has made sustaining this next to impossible. The growth of NGOs nationwide, despite experiencing mixed fortunes, is a pattern that should be, but is clearly not, operating in Xinjiang. The central government’s policy dilemma in the region, which cannot allow a relaxation on social organization due to perceived security threats, does not inspire confidence in future relaxed policies.
However, Zhang (2003: 20) states, “[a]s China becomes more diversified and pluralized, the government alone cannot deal with all of the issues and concerns facing society. New institutions such as NGOs can mobilize large amounts of social capital that are instrumental to China’s social and economic development. To facilitate NGO development in China, the government needs to put in place a more constructive legal framework in which NGOs can function in partnership with the government.”
In the face of this civil society representational gap, minority leadership in existing state structures should also be more meaningful.
Rights involve civil society in claims that are specific violations
Uyghur grievances against the state are multidimensional; however, a rights-based approaches to development states that broad claims cannot address the very specific needs of individual communities. Uyghur contention to state policy in this context should not be viewed as a region wide or even an ethnic group wide movement, but rather as a localized activity. These localized claims are not unknown in China. Taylor (2004: 31) records that village and neighborhood committees are “successfully...securing funds for village services, arranging infrastructure improvements...and mobilizing uncompensated workers for local employment.” Therefore, the state’s role is crucial in encouraging independent action and meaningful participation within community level institutions.
Rights require civil society petitioning of appropriate institutions and states to make institutions accessible
Under the present authoritarian conditions in Xinjiang, a more pragmatic avenue than international forums for Uyghur claims making is through domestic legal protections. The Chinese constitution states “[a]ll ethnic groups in the People’s Republic of China are equal. The state protects the lawful rights and interests of the ethnic minorities and upholds and develops a relationship of equality, unity and mutual assistance among all of China’s ethnic groups. Discrimination against and oppression of any ethnic group are prohibited” (Chinese Government 2003: 646). In addition, the provisions of the Regional Ethnic Autonomy Law contain strong articles that protect “self-government within designated autonomous areas; proportional representation in the government...power to adjust central directives to local conditions...greater control over local economic development than allowed in non-autonomous areas; [and] the right to manage and protect local natural resources” (Congressional-Executive Commission on China, 2005b).
While compliance in this instance rests with the CCP administration, pressure can theoretically be brought to bear by civil society as a monitoring mechanism. This implies a strong state-civil society dialogue. Plummer (2004: 8) sums this up in China as “whereas elsewhere participatory processes emerge from partnerships formed in civil society...in China, the partner is invariably the government and the interface role is restricted to government officials”. This has had some limited success in China as a whole, but recent reports of petitioning Uyghur subjected to harassment (Radio Free Asia, 2010), and of lawyers warned against taking Uyghur cases (Congressional-Executive Commission on China, 2009b) do not encourage this trend.
The examination of the operational framework assesses the possibilities for civil society and state partnership in initiating a rights-based approach to development. The framework does not indicate the inevitability of these opportunities coming to pass. In some cases the framework discusses nationwide trends that may, or may not, be implemented in Xinjiang. In addition, it does not consider the cultural obstacles that may impede putting the model into practice. Importantly, the model operates in an authoritarian context when much of the study on rights-based approaches to development has taken place in less illiberal contexts. For example, cases of success with rights-based approaches have occurred in countries such as Kenya and India.
Conclusion: Official Responses, Local Assessments
The first ever Xinjiang Work Forum, which was convened in May 2010 and attended by all of China’s central leadership, was a tacit admission that economic policies during the Open up the West campaign period had fallen short of bringing either stability or equity.
The fine point put on economic issues during the Work Forum signaled the nature of tensions underlying the July 5, 2009 unrest. The term ‘Development by Leaps and Bounds’ was coined to summarize the significant financial boost to the region, and the total aid package promised by the government between 2011 and 2020 would reach US$314 billion, while policies also promised to create more jobs and to eliminate absolute poverty by 2020 (Yu, 2010).
The policies emerging from the May 2010 Xinjiang Work Forum once more aim to use solely macroeconomic measures to solve the problem of inter-ethnic economic inequity. It appears that Work Forum policies have taken on a slightly different emphasis toward human development than those of the Open up the West campaign. Nevertheless, this does not mean that the new emphasis is one of balance between local and national interests; from what can be understood, greater investment in construction and natural resource extraction are slated for the Xinjiang economy that duplicates the Open up the West campaign approach.
The approach of the Work Forum illustrates the fundamental problem with the policies that preceded it. Participatory mechanisms for primary stakeholders, and an independent monitoring body are both absent. The prospect for consequent reassessment and realignment of policy along localized needs is therefore unlikely.
Naturally, there will be speculation over the success of the Xinjiang Work Forum policies. There is the high probability that the Chinese government will produce a set of figures that will detail the success of the Work Forum policies, much as it did for the first ten years of the Open up the West campaign, but granular details on human development among marginalized people will likely once more be absent.
The marginalizing effects of the pattern of central management over ethnic minority development make a compelling case for participatory mechanisms to utilize local expertise. The continuing marginalization and alienation of Uyghurs from increasing empowerment in seeking equity will mostly serve to rebuild resentment yet the loosening of restrictions that could provide the foundation for economic equity appears to be the last thing on the minds of the CCP leadership. Ten years separated the formation of the Open up the West campaign and the July 2009 unrest in Urumchi. With the implementation of the 2010 Work Forum policies underway, 2020 will be an interesting year to reflect upon the Chinese government’s achievements in the region.