Different Rules Strain Ties With China's Minorities

China's government says the recent violence in Xinjiang is just terrorism and is not related to government policies. But the differing policies for Han and Uighur peoples lead to a gap in understanding and life experiences that can fuel mistrust.

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LIANE HANSEN, host:

The capital of China's western most province remained calm under a heavy security presence today. One week, after bloody riots killed more than 180 people, China's government rejects the criticism that economic inequality and racial discrimination were factors in the violence. It points out that the Uighurs and other minorities have benefited from preferential policies, including expanded quotas for childbirth, education, jobs.

But as NPR's Anthony Kuhn reports from (unintelligible) in northwest China, there is debate over whether minorities should get more affirmative action or less.

(Soundbite of living room)

ANWAR(ph): (Unintelligible)

(Soundbite of laughter)

ANTHONY KUHN: Anwar, is playing with his son and daughter in the living room of his apartment. There are carpets and a big screen television on the floor and a framed page from the Quran on the wall. Anwar fears for the life of his unborn child. And he asks that he be identified by only his first name.

ANWAR: (Through Translator) My wife is finally eight months pregnant with her third child. I want her to have the baby. But the government only allows us to have two children, so my just stays in the room over there. She doesn't go out to keep from being discovered.

KUHN: Despite his current predicament, Anwar as a Uighur is a beneficiary of preferential policies, which allow minority families to have two children if they live in the cities where three or more in the countryside. That's more than ethnic majority Han are allowed. Anwar explains that he had one child by his first wife and one by his second. He believes that how many children to have should be a personal decision regardless of ethnicity.

ANWAR: (Through Translator) Allah has given my child life. My child is already moving around in my wife's belly as it wants to come out and see the world. But we're afraid that some officials may come and say we're over our quota. And then...

KUHN: Anwar makes a snipping motion with two fingers indicating a forced abortion. That's an abuse occasionally suffered by both Han and minorities. Anwar retired a few years ago after a work-related injury. He gets by on a pension of about a $100 a month. He says that once his third child is born the government could fine him thousands of dollars. Luckily, he himself has brothers and sisters to help him out financially.

ANWAR: (Through Translator) When I was sick they helped me. They said don't give up on life. Hang in there. That's why I decided to have this third child.

KUHN: Many Han Chinese are critical of the policies. They say that minorities often have more children than they can afford, leading to unnecessary poverty and even crime. But affirmative action from minorities including setting aside government jobs and university admissions is a linchpin of Chinese minority policies. The Wang's(ph), a Han family of three are out for an evening stroll. Mrs. Wang points out that after all, this is the Xinjiang Uighur Autonomous Region.

Mrs. WANG: (Through translator) This is a minority region. Minorities are bound to get preferential policies. If you only let Uighur's have one child, they may not accept it. In Xinjiang, families has three four or even five kids.

KUHN: Barry Sautman is a political scientist at the Hong Kong University of Science and Technology. He says the preferential policies have helped to create a fairly stable Uighur middle class, that is well-educated, generally loyal to the Chinese government and not interested in an independent Uighur state.

Mr. BARRY SAUTMAN (Political Scientist, Hong Kong University of Science And Technology): I don't see any particular sign of growing alienation, despite the riots that occurred in Jing Jong. Most of the people who participated know the activities I think were more than likely rural-to-urban migrants who've obviously haven't received much in the way of benefits at all.

KUHN: One of the problems, Sautman says, is that China only sets aside public sector jobs for minorities. He says that mandating affirmative action across the board might go a long way towards reducing ethnic tensions in western China.

Anthony Kuhn, NPR News, Uighur, China.

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