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James Reynolds | 15:55 UK time, Tuesday, 17 June 2008

The Urumqi leg of the Olympic torch relay was fascinating to watch - but not everyone in the city got to see it.

Former Chinese national champion boxer Abdul Xukur carries the Olympic Torch past a crowd in People's Square on June 17, 2008 in Urumqi, Xinjiang.People living next to the route of the torch had been told to stay in their homes, and to keep well away from their windows (a point reinforced to me when the hotel I was staying in left me a very polite letter telling me to make sure my window was closed between 7am and 2pm - the time of the torch relay.)

My colleagues and I were allowed onto the street to watch the relay (because we had torch relay press passes.) We saw sizeable - but very carefully chosen crowds on both sides of the road. Local businesses and government work units had been allocated sections of the relay - it was up to them to fill up these sections with loyal supporters. They did so.

I looked up at the buildings across the road. A handful of people peered out - breaking the rule about staying away from their windows. But most of the rest of the windows were empty - exactly as ordered.

The government's security measures worked. There were no disruptions to this leg of the relay. That should be a relief to officials in Urumqi. For months, China has warned of the threat to the Olympics posed by armed Uighur separatists (a reminder - the Uighurs are the largest single ethnic group in the Xinjiang region. Human rights groups say that the Uighurs - a Muslim people - are oppressed by the Chinese state.)

This evening, my colleagues and I flew into the city of Kashgar further west in the Xinjiang region. The next leg of the relay starts here on Wednesday morning. Kashgar has a large Uighur majority - and from what we can tell, it seems that the government doesn't want to take any chances here. Most shops and restaurants have already been shuttered. We've seen police officers in camouflage uniform and green helmets standing (or in some cases sitting) at 20 metre intervals along the route of the relay.

We had a quick look through the centre of town at about 8pm - in the blinding sunlight (quick digression - China has only one time zone. So the clocks in Kashgar are set to Beijing time, despite the fact that Kashgar is several thousand km west of China's capital. As a result, it's dazzlingly light here until incredibly late.)

A local man who spoke to one of my colleagues said that everyone had been ordered to stay indoors for the duration of the relay. "How can I be excited about the torch relay when I won't even be able to see it?" he asked.

The authorities are keen to keep an eye on the reporters who've come here to cover the relay. When we checked into our hotel, my colleague was asked to fill in an official form giving the names of the people we planned to interview here. We've also been told that we can't take bags or mobile phone cameras to the relay when it starts early in the morning at the Idkah mosque.

I'll let you know what we manage to see.

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  • 1. At 5:56pm on 17 Jun 2008, malaysian_chinese wrote:

    James,

    Thanks for reporting from Xinjiang. It is true that the government should ensure that the torch relay went smoothly without any form of interruptions (due to the bitter experience happened in London, Paris and Los Angeles relays). We certainly can't gauge how big the threat from the Uighurs separatist to the central government of China. Therefore the Chinese government had done something 'unusual' by keeping everyone's window closed throughout the relay. It is a strange move but would you tell us why the government had chosen to do that?

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  • 2. At 6:28pm on 17 Jun 2008, southerncoaster wrote:

    it's fair to describe what you saw; I am in no place to judge since I was not 'in your shoes', literally. similarly a fair question to ask, is that all you saw, tighten security, street cops, scared people vs. selected human puppies, wierd notices, ..., seriously, can you tell us what the city looks like? modern, ancient? what category, scared lamb or tamed puppy, does this local man your colleague spoke to fit into? do most of the people you ran into look stressed? any differences among the Han and minority ethnical groups living there, like their financial status, current conditions, the level of content, ..., look forward to more complete coverage

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  • 3. At 7:07pm on 17 Jun 2008, Yeiiii wrote:

    This comment was removed because the moderators found it broke the House Rules.

  • 4. At 7:49pm on 17 Jun 2008, thompeg wrote:

    This comment was removed because the moderators found it broke the House Rules.

  • 5. At 8:24pm on 17 Jun 2008, churchgore wrote:

    The Uighurs are the merging of more than 10 ethnic groups in Western China. The largest one is originated from today’s Republic of Mongolia. Their religions were all Buddhism for thousands of years. They were converted to Islam only recently.

    You claim “the Uighurs are suppressed” is groundless. There are studies conducted by University of Hawaii. Chinese civilization starts as a multi-ethnic one. The Chinese culture is very different from the xenophobic culture of Britain. I think you can learn a lot from how Chinese of all ethnicities peacefully living together for thousands of years.

    Clearly, you do not show much interest in accurate reporting. Without the basic respect of facts, you reports no longer serve your goal of pushing China the way you want. Facing the numerous factual mistakes, the Chinese start to ponder the intention of your persistent negativity against China.

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  • 6. At 10:34pm on 17 Jun 2008, kosakosa wrote:

    Enjoy your stay in Urumqi, I hope you can upload some video or pictures of the Torch Relay.

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  • 7. At 01:20am on 18 Jun 2008, maximusthebuilder wrote:

    Shutting people inside their home is a quick solution of the inherent problem. But this solution is not feasible and constructive in the long run. Chinese government need to improve, and resolve the conflict from its root. These things will take lots of time and effort, however more worry is that: is the government really working hard and effectively on it? Or, they just keep misjudging the gravity of the situation, and continually use the solutions to identify the problems in front of them. One thing I believe said quite true about Chinese government is that, preventions and predictions are barely into counts of their actions, only after maters aggravate to a very intense stage, government interventions begin to impose, what’s normally in an arbitrary and enforcing way. Thus, it’s a hard and long road for them.


    Max the builder
    (Don’t just flag the utilitarian rules, care to the process)

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  • 8. At 03:18am on 18 Jun 2008, freeflowfox wrote:

    As a Chinese Canadian who has spent equal measures of his time in China and Canada, i feel i have a little to contribute here.

    One thing I've noticed on these forums is that the Chinese readers often feel that the BBC is unnecessarily biased towards China. While some Western readers seem to feel that the Chinese viewers are indoctrinated or just blinded by nationalism?

    Now as someone who has lived half his life in China and the other half in Canada, i feel the pain of these contradictions most intensely. Here's what i think the whole thing comes down to...

    The West has for the past 200 years enjoyed almost total domination over most of the world. Intervention and self-righteousness characterizes the western mentality, westerners think they are right in the end, period.

    Meanwhile, the Chinese have in recent years begun to recover their historic position as the defining great power of this world. People in the West fears this, and as the western media tends to play on people's fears, and fear sells (in New York city, where i lived for 3 years, the nightly news begins with "it's 10 PM, do YOU know where your children are?"), they choose to demonize and fearmonger, it is no one's fault, simple economics. What the people in the west don't understand, is that China has traditionally considered itself the center of the world, and that the rest of the world isn't better. This means two things, first the Chinese only want to be left alone to develop and prosper, and have no desires to throw its weight around. Second, Chinese people in general see the west as a friendly place, and want to have cordial relations (this is partly because the Chinese state controlled media's goal is to maintain stability, and therefore NEVER fearmongers, ethnic tensions are played down and they try to indoctrinate Han to be friendly to the minorities, this is my personal experience.)

    Soon enough, China will be the greatest power on earth, and it's painful to see that people in the west have let their jealousy and collective insecurities get the better of them, and allowed their fears to drive opinion and blind frank discussion in the media. Fear mongering creates a culture of conflict. 2008 has seen this tendency play out, China's people have in this year finally seen the level of paranoia in the West directed at China, and their opinions are starting to be turned, irrespective of the Chinese gov't's attempts to maintain the image of an orderly house, the Chinese people are becoming very, very angry with the kind of mis-representation in the West about a country they love and have spent the past 100 years rebuilding from the ashes of conflict sewn by the west. This is unfortunate, because the Chinese body politic is a much more direct representation of its population's moods precisely because it is not a elective democracy, the gov't is forced to be much more responsive to collective demands than in the west, and if the west continues down this road of paranoia, fear mongering, and accusation without objective information, then the results could only be unfortunate for everyone.

    The people of the west think they know everything that's wrong with every place, well you don't, no one does, NO ONE should be intervening in anyone else's affairs as if they knew better, this only causes chaos and death. (iraq and afghanistan are perfect illustrations)

    Go to China, go see its people, go talk to them. A rail road anywhere else on earth is a good thing, but in tibet it kills wild-life and threatens indigenous culture. Rail roads built by the Chinese in Africa somehow "establishes" some kind of nefarious Chinese influence in a continent the europeans destroyed and left to rot in the filth of ethnic strife and disease. What have the europeans ever done for africa? I watch the BBC everyday, and whenever a Chinese person appears on screen, its somehow always someone nearly incapable of expressing themselves or saying something obviously designed to make them sound ridiculous. Now i assure you there are many Chinese who speak english quite well, they're just not being interviewed.

    Fear... jealousy, people in the west want the feel of glory, of doling out "aid" to poor savages and unenlightened heathens. 200 years of world domination seems to have given them the ridiculous notion that they'll always rule the world. Well here's a shocker, what goes up, must come down, it's time for the west to accept that China will soon be greater, and no, the Chinese don't want world domination, they just want to live in peace. Before america's economic dominance, guess which country had the world's largest GDP... no, not Britain, China. And China had it for over 2000 years before that, they know greatness, and they know that power is not an easy thing to possess or to be taken for granted, that's why they will be much wiser in using it than the immature Americans and Europeans.

    There, that's my spiel, hope this changes somebody's world view for the better. Peace is what people want, not fear and pointless conflict.

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  • 9. At 04:28am on 18 Jun 2008, caerdydd08 wrote:

    'Muslin people are oppressed by Chinese state.....'

    Come on, why you guys always like to quote things like 'it is said...', 'some unknown org said...'??? Please be more professional when you post reports here, otherwise with your biased mindset, how could you report true things, wherever you are???

    Well, I have never been to Xinjiang, but have been to Tibet many times and have local friends. But as far as I know, if you mean 'oppress', well, that's those criminals or so called seperatists or terrorists who are oppressed. AND, don't say 'you don't know western countries', I have been studying and living in UK for several years and had a glimps on your so called supreme society.

    Just like you said in your report, in Xinjiang province Uigher people consist the largest part, then, how Han people oppress them??? Because in Xinjiang, Han people is kind of minority group. And in other cities or provinces, ethnic minority people receive lots of preferential policies. In Shanghai, police sometimes are loose to some Uigher pocket pickers.

    Please learn more before openning your mouth. Otherwise all you will receive is sarcastic laughters. Shame.

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  • 10. At 05:16am on 18 Jun 2008, tkbutt wrote:

    This may serve as another "reminder" for you.

    The fact is that any Chinese - Han, Hui, Tibetan, Mongol, Uygur - would be oppressed if they are found to be plotting against the government. The CCP is very indiscriminate about that. Knowing this then it should be no surprise to you that groups like Falun Gong, the Tibetan rioters and Uygur separatists are so severely dealt with by the authorities.

    Respect the rules and barring external meddlings then all Chinese can live just fine.

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  • 11. At 06:16am on 18 Jun 2008, hizento wrote:

    This comment was removed because the moderators found it broke the House Rules.

  • 12. At 11:26am on 18 Jun 2008, EWONGNL wrote:

    James,

    Well reporting! It is a staged wellcom obviously. Also hope you could follow up on earthquake parents' campaign. Your voice is very important to them since state media are banned on keep reporting it.

    Regarding Chinese govt, it is crucial for you to understand this major difference bwt the West and Chinese:

    The West works bottom-up: individual rights till the top by elections.

    The Chinese work as "reverse engineering" : first select the goal, then define the primary, secondary conditions to achieve that goal and act with stricht discplines accordingly. Thus it is most likely top-down. To achieve that top goal, primary conditions are the must , even on the temporally sacrifice of individual rights (down level).

    Chinese goal is to achieve certain development level, call it superpower or catch-up or whatever you like. Peace and stability are the primary conditions. You can figure out the rest.

    In the light of this, it is very easy to understand and even predict Chinese govt. behaviours. This is the key which nearly all westerners systematically fail to see.

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  • 13. At 5:03pm on 18 Jun 2008, JohnFromHK wrote:

    Try to help answer the question raised by malaysian_chinese for James.

    When Bill Clinton visited Shanghai in 1998 I was in the city.

    My friend there back then told me that on the day when the US President arrived Shanghai, all the offices with windows facing the roads where the President's motorcade would pass through on his way from Hongqiao Airport to his hotel in Nanjing Road West were ordered to be closed and all those who worked in those offices were given half day off.

    On the day when Bill and Hillary Clinton visited a Cyber Cafe on Shaanxi Nan Road, about 15 minutes before they arrived, police started to condon the whole area. I happened to be there. I was the at the time walking across Shaanxi Nan Road from the Junction with Huaihai Road into a Rice-Hamburger restaurant facing the buiding where the cyber cafe the Clintons planned to visit. At the moment I entered the restaurant I was followed by two men in black suits. They followed me upstairs, where I noticed that all the seats facing the street were occupied by men in black suits. I felt so uncomfortable that I went out of the restaurant immediately without buying anything. The two men in black suits continued to follow me until I walk clear the street some distance away.

    There was another story also from my friends in Shanghai that when APEC was held in Shanghai in October 2001, a llittle more than one month after 911. As precaution, all those companies who had expatriates from the Middle East working in their offices in Shanghai were "advised" to grant these expatriate employees pay leave and sent them on mandatory holiday leave outside the city. It was said that many expatriates from India and Pakistan were by mistake indiscriminately asked by their employers to leave town.

    So what the Chinese authority did in Xinjiang during the torch relay is understandable. All I can say is they don't take chance, even the slightest.


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  • 14. At 5:47pm on 18 Jun 2008, hizento wrote:

    This comment was removed because the moderators found it broke the House Rules.

  • 15. At 6:23pm on 18 Jun 2008, tommywang wrote:

    This comment was removed because the moderators found it broke the House Rules.

  • 16. At 7:54pm on 18 Jun 2008, churchgore wrote:

    EWONGNL,

    I don’t agree that nearly all westerners systematically fail to see. After all, the “greedy algorithm” is developed by the western mathematicians. I encourage everyone to read a graduate-level algorithm-book about “greedy algorithms”. Because it holds the key to answer why democracy cannot succeed in the long term. Greedy choices are ensured in ideal democratic elections. Such greedy property prevents any optimal solution; thus leads to a slow death.

    On the other hand, bureaucratic capitalism is just as bad. What is the solution then? I say the solution lies in efficiency. A good political system is efficient, meaning: less corruption, fast response, and long term goals. I vision it as a hybrid of Confucianism, Mao’s red-guards culture and Western democracy.

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  • 17. At 9:45pm on 18 Jun 2008, dennisjunior1 wrote:

    James:

    Enjoy your time from Urumqi, China...Report to everyone your stories and send up some pictures.

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  • 18. At 11:19am on 19 Jun 2008, peter5566 wrote:

    Earlier in this blog, a Chinese Canadian friend @freeflowfox posted that "Soon enough, China will be the greatest power on earth........". While I appreciate and agree with most of his other points, I would humbly add that, if I may, the above concept is over-optimistic.

    Euphoria and thoughts of grandeur help self confidence but they often make people complacent and erode their determination for improvement. More importantly, loud voices of China’s potential mightiness would reinforce the prejudiced western theory of “China Threat” regularly drummed up by their critics as part of their effort of demonization and rationalization for possible pre-emptive actions. The reality today is: yes, China is a giant nation - in quantity but not in quality. Any national achievement such as GDP or Foreign Exchange Reserve etc, when divided by 1.3 billion, is almost negligible. Any individual need such as healthcare or education etc, when multiplied by 1.3 billion, is astronomical.

    There is a huge amount of really hard work ahead for years and years before China becomes a truly giant nation in a meaningful sense. Chinese people should stick to their traditional, virtuous culture of modesty and perseverance. The future is full of hope.

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  • 19. At 10:14pm on 20 Jun 2008, YiXin921 wrote:

    8. At 03:18am on 18 Jun 2008, freeflowfox wrote:


    I am a native Chinese and spent 3 years studying in London. What you wrote is almost what my opinion is. Hopefully more and more west media can stop being fearmonger and hatemonger. Anyone on this planet loves peace. For all west journalists,To be a fearmonger may can please your boss, but you are selling out the peace.

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  • 20. At 3:22pm on 21 Jun 2008, EWONGNL wrote:

    @ churchgore

    What I explained to James is a major diff in midset bwt the East and the West at an individual level, not any moral or rational judgment.

    I fully agree with you however, on that a more efficient and morally sound political system might well lie in between democracy and autocracy. Thus any camp should keep an open mind to absorb and learn from the other side, instead of judging. Otherwise either he/she is either stupid, brainwashed or simplely evil.

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  • 21. At 4:08pm on 21 Jun 2008, EWONGNL wrote:

    @ peter 5566

    While the Chinese Canadian's view is overly optimistic, your devide/multiply 1.3B explaination goes to the other end.

    The reason is that economics is not a linear interpolation in most cases. A simple devide and multiply will usually lead to a false impression. GDP (either norminal or PPP) you mentioned is still a work-in-progress concept. "Market value" of currencies, no more than a gentlemen's agreement during peace time, makes nominal value totally irrelevent. Largely over-valued service sector, which is the lion's share of the West GDP, makes PPP look like a rough guess.

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