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March 18, 2009 in The China Beat


Copyright March 18, 2009 Sebastian Veg. Used by permission.


Having analyzed the issues of colonialism, cultural rights of Uyghur populations, and the question of a Han nationalist revival, Wang Lixiong concludes the book by three “letters” to his Uyghur friend Mokhtar, in which he reframes the discussion on Xinjiang within his more general ideas on political reform in China. His reluctance to consider Xinjiang as “different” from other regions in China (while he is less reluctant to do so in the case of Tibet) is not unproblematic; nonetheless his voice is important because he is a critical intellectual “on the edge” who has visibly not entirely renounced influencing the debate in Beijing policy circles.

Wang Lixiong has some deep-set doubts, both about the practicality of independence as a goal for Xinjiang (due to the presence of a large Han population and their control of resources), and about what he calls “large-scale democracy”. In another text, he expresses his agreement with a draft Constitution prepared by a group of dissidents (Yan Jiaqi and others), under which Tibet would receive a high degree of autonomy and the possibility to determine its own status after 25 years, while Xinjiang and Inner Mongolia would only be granted the status of autonomy through a two-thirds vote in the National People’s Congress.

While Wang insists that he doesn’t mind one way or the other whether Xinjiang becomes independent, he emphasises alternatives to independence: the guarantee of genuine religious freedom, and the possibility of controlling labour migration by a work permit system that would apply to “cultural protection zones” (including Tibet), and which would serve to prevent desertification, degradation of the environment, and growing water shortages (p. 439). For Wang, democratisation in China, as opposed to a higher degree of autonomy, might be prone to nationalist manipulation and internal fracturing. He therefore calls for an embrace of the Dalai Lama’s “Middle Way” of a high degree of autonomy within the framework of a federal China, going so far as to propose that the Dalai Lama become the chairman of a provisional government.