Various media outlets say the death toll from the riots in Urumqi, China is somewhere around 150, but you should figure that this statistic — like all others from the country — has been massaged.
The Chinese government is obviously concerned with its appearances on this one, as it has taken foreign governments on state-sponsored “tours” of the riot zone, says NYT.
Regardless, other reports, admittedly ones more disposed towards the Uighur rioters are puttting the death toll at 500. (But the rioters haven’t Twitter much or uploaded many videos to YouTube, and generally there’s nothing pro-West about them, so don’t look for them to become a cause celebre anytime soon).
Tension in the region isn’t all that surprising, given the ethnic mix (45% Uighurs, who are Muslim, 40% Chinese) and its economy (oil, rare earth metals… all the good stuff).
Xinjiang is known for its fruits and produce, including grapes, melons, pears, cotton, wheat, silk, walnuts and sheep. Xinjiang also has large deposits of minerals and oil.
Xinjiang’s nominal GDP was approximately 220 billion RMB (28 billion USD) in 2004, and increased to 420 billion RMB (60 billion USD) in 2008, due to the China Western Development policy introduced by the State Council to boost economic development in Western China. Its per capita GDP for 2008 was 19,893 RMB (2,864 USD).
Oil and gas extraction industry in Aksu and Karamay is booming, with the West–East Gas Pipeline connecting to Shanghai. The oil and petrochemical sector account for 60% of Xinjiang’s local economy.
Xinjiang’s exports amounted to 19.3 billion USD, while imports turned out to be 2.9 billion USD in 2008. Most of the overall import/export volume in Xinjiang was directed to and from Kazakhstan through Ala Pass. China’s first border free trade zone (Horgos Free Trade Zone) was located at the Xinjiang-Kazakhstan border city of Horgos. Horgos is the largest land port in China’s western region and it has easy access to the Central Asian market. Xinjiang will also open its second border trade market to Kazakhstan in March 2006, the Jeminay Border Trade Zone.
So far, nothing has emerged that’s as vivid as what came out of the now-forgotten Iran protests, though at least this one gives you a sense of the kind of melee in the streets.
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