Migration as ethnic integration

Workers from the Xinjiang Uygur autonomous region prepare to board a chartered train recently as they set off for Guangdong province to start new jobs. Huang Guobao / Xinhua

Workers from the Xinjiang Uygur autonomous region prepare to board a chartered train recently as they set off for Guangdong province to start new jobs. Huang Guobao / Xinhua

Last May, following a deadly suicide attack on an Urumqi street market that left 39 dead and 94 injured, Xi Jinping called for further integration of Uighurs into mainstream Chinese society.  Uighur separatism, China’s leaders have assumed, was responsible for this and several other bursts of violence in Xinjiang over the past year.  Migration would be a primary means of achieving a less volatile situation, Mr. Xi said.  This meant encouraging more Han migrants to relocate to Xinjiang (how this might quell separatist sentiment in a region where Han people already dominate the economy is not entirely clear).  It also meant encouraging a reverse migration of Uighurs to ‘China proper’ in order to, as Xi put it, “enhance mutual understanding among different ethnic groups and boost ties between them.”  This is part of Xi’s broader agenda of pushing interethnic “contact, exchange, and mingling” including policies encouraging interethnic marriage, mixed ethnic residential communities in Xinjiang, and encouraging more ethnically mixed schools.

Xi was essentially calling for the continuation of labor export programs in Xinjiang that have been arranging factory employment in Guangdong Province.  These programs have stalled since 2009 when a huge brawl between Uighur and Han workers at a Guangdong toy factory resulted in two Uighur deaths, scores of injuries, and a wave of riots in Urumqi as Xinjiang Uighurs demanded a justice for the two workers who had been killed in what many believed to be a fight instigated by the Han.  The Urumqi riots precipitated a huge state clampdown on basic freedoms in Xinjiang, particularly for Muslims, causing much resentment among Uighurs.  As I’ve noted on this blog already, many Uighurs feel that China is trying to erase their way of life in the name of security and economic prosperity in Xinjiang.

Uighur girls eat in a Xinjiang restaurant in 2009, near the gates of a Nike factory in Huizhou, Guangdong, where more than a thousand workers were contracted from a rural town near Kashgar in Xinjiang (Sharron Lovell/Global Post)

Uighur girls eat in a Xinjiang restaurant in 2009, near the gates of a Nike factory in Huizhou, Guangdong, where more than a thousand workers were contracted from a rural town near Kashgar in Xinjiang (Sharron Lovell/Global Post)

Since 2009, Guangdong factories have been reluctant to participate in Xinjiang’s labor export schemes, but Xi’s call last May has resulted in a revised set of rules meant to encourage more labor export.  As reported in the New York Times:

The workers are required to undergo “ideological and political review” by the local authorities. They also must be trained in speaking Mandarin Chinese, urban living and the law. For every 50 workers it exports, the Xinjiang government must assign a local official to accompany the workers, paying for his or her salary, as well as chefs to cook halal food at the factories.

The guidance says companies taking on the workers will be vetted by Guangdong officials. The companies are advised to cultivate ethnic minority role models. The companies should help the workers adapt to the local environment, such as enrolling children in schools or making hospital visits.

For their efforts, the accommodating companies will receive subsidies from the Guangdong government. The companies get a one-time payment of 3,000 renminbi, or $480, for every Xinjiang worker they hire, provided they hire at least 30 workers and retain them for at least one year. The companies also get a payment of 1,000 renminbi per worker if they offer a 60-hour program of adaptation training for the workers. The Guangdong government will also give a subsidy of 1,500 renminbi per month to each Xinjiang official accompanying the workers.

According to China Daily, Guangdong plans to import 5,000 workers from Xinjiang over the next three years.  In 2014, 1,000 have already migrated.  Chinese media have been championing the can-do spirit of these migrants, viewing them as pioneers of ethnic integration and national unity.

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