The Olympic torch is continuing it’s path to back to Beijing via every province in China, and the most recent legs have been passing through the country’s largest province, Xinjiang. However the atmosphere of the relay appears to have been unusually quiet, as many local people have been told to stay away. There has been little coverage of this section of the torch’s journey, but James Reynolds has blogged about it’s passage in Urumqi and Kashgar.
Xinjiang Uighur Autonomous Region is a hugely interesting but little known part of China. You can compare the position of the local Uighur’s to their southern neighbours, the Tibetans. An ethnic minority with strong religious ties and some history of separatist sentiment, both have been at the receiving end of strong handed treatment from the Chinese government. The Muslim Uighur people and the Xinjiang deserts have not caught the international attention that the Tibetan cause has, but for good coverage of the situation there try Simon Elegant’s writing for TIME’s China blog:
“The authorities here didn’t want reporters wandering away off on their own during the relay [in Kashgar]. So, just after dawn, we were all driven to the square outside the Idkah mosque for the start of the relay (to help identify us, local officials gave each of us two red stickers and politely told us to put one on our chests and one on our backs).”
Foreign journalists were not the only ones with access to see the torch limited:
“most – if not all – shops and businesses were shuttered. There were no cars on the road. Local people had been told to stay indoors.”
The Chinese authorities have managed their PR related to Xinjiang well – they have avoided much coverage of Uighur protests, and have been able to portray the Uighurs as Islamic terrorists rather than a supressed minority. Events like this torch relay do seem to undermine the positive impact that the Olympics are meant to bring, it’s certainly not evident that the 2008 Games will help the case of the Uighurs.