GREGORY CLARK- WE badly need some context on Xinjiang.

Australian Foreign Minister, Marise Payne: “I have previously raised Australia’s strong concerns about reports of mass detentions of Uighurs in Xinjiang. These disturbing reports today reinforce Australia’s view and we reiterate those concerns.Australian politicians have traditionally had a hard time making up their minds over China’s distant Xinjiang province.

On October 28, 1964, an Australian foreign minister, Paul Hasluck, went all the way to Moscow to warn Soviet leaders about China’s designs on what he said was Moscow’s Xinjiang territory. It was part of his effort to warn the world about Chinese aggressive intentions, he explained.

In that context, he said, he was seeking a promise of Soviet help against another Chinese ‘aggression’, this time in Vietnam. A rather stunned Soviet foreign minister, Andrei Gromyko, replied that Xinjiang had long been Chinese territory, that Moscow was happy with that and, by the way, that it would continue to do all it could to help the brave Vietnamese people in their struggle against US imperialism and he wished the Chinese would do more to help.

Soviet Prime Minister, Alexei Kosygin, then asked Mr Hasluck if he could kindly focus on Australian – Soviet relations and explain what it was that had brought him all the way to Moscow asking for an urgent meeting with Soviet leaders.

(If I know about these things it is because I was present, in the green baize Kremlin conference room, at the time.)

A chastened Hasluck returned to Australia insisting he had only gone to Moscow to welcome the new Soviet leadership installed two weeks before, after the fall of Nikita Khruschev on October 14 of that year.

Fast forward to July 1976 and we find an Australian prime minister, Malcolm Fraser, traveling all the way to Xinjiang, this time to show support for China against alleged Soviet territorial designs on China’s border areas.

And now, today, we have an Australian foreign minister warning the world, and China, that events in Xinjiang – the reported suppression of the Uighur people there – were ‘disturbing’.

And the reality?

Yes, China does face a problem in Xinjiang – some eight million people of Muslim faith in a large territory almost as far from Beijing as northern Australia is from southern China.

For many years Beijing seemed to believe that despite the large inflow of Han Chinese into the area, the status of regional autonomy and inclusion as one of fifty five China’s minority peoples, would satisfy a region which historically had had links with the other Turkic Muslim peoples in central Asia, mainly Russia, and had enjoyed a brief period free of outside control in the 1940’s

After all, China has long provided a home for other Muslim faith peoples; if you meet anyone from China called Ma (and there are a lot of them) he/she probably had origins going back to those Turkic culture peoples.

Then in 2009 Beijing suddenly had to face the reality. Lethal riots aimed specifically at Han Chinese left over 200 dead and many more injured. The unrest and killings continued. When a stabbing spree in distant Kunming in May 2014 left 29 killed, Beijing seems to have realised it had a problem.

The problem is similar to that faced by other powers that have tried to assert control over Muslim faith peoples. The Islamic religion does not simply rely on the teachings of some deity telling people what they should believe; it provides a complex and well-argued set of rulings on everything down to how they should conduct their daily lives.

If only for that reason its binding attraction is very strong. Mere prosletising, Beijing-style, is unlikely to shake those bonds. When combined with demands for independence they can be explosive, as we saw in Russia’s Chechnya.

So what is a regime facing such separatist pressures supposed to do? Rely on military suppression with the ghastly results we saw in Chechnya?

True, the reports of Beijing’s alternative – destroying cemeteries and mosques, locking people up for months, years, of indoctrination – are not very attractive either, especially when combined with the heavy-handed way Beijing authorities can behave when they face domestic problems.

But can anyone seriously argue that Beijing should risk creating another Chechnya on its volatile central Asian frontiers?

Answer that question first, before criticising.

Gregory Clark is a former Australian diplomat, now based in Japan. His background can be found on


This post kindly provided to us by one of our many occasional contributors.

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11 Responses to GREGORY CLARK- WE badly need some context on Xinjiang.

  1. Avatar Hal Colebatch says:

    A political scientist’s take on Gregory Clark’s evidence-free ramblings:
    • Clark asserts that all Muslims cannot live under non-Muslim rule and are inevitably secessionists, and therefore it is necessary to blow up mosques, imprison all Muslims, compel them to shave their beards, relinquish their own language and customs, and slavishly adhere to Han culture and CCP ideology (one cannot pretend that it is communist).
    • This is bad news for Australia, which must prepared brainwashing camps for 600,000 Australians (Nauru, perhaps ?), but even worse news for the UK, which will have to lock up 2.5 million (including some members of the government).
    • Previous Chinese regime asserted dominion over Xinjiang but largely left them to run their own affairs. But the CCP regime is characterised by (a) a political obsession with control, and (b) a racist obsession with Han dominance. The initial policy was to put Han in political control and flood the province with Han migrants.
    • Not surprisingly, this led to antagonism, which led to riots between Uighurs and Han migrants, in which the police intervened on the side of the Han. Clark gives no evidence of any Uighur demand for secession, whether in 2009 or now.
    • What the evidence shows is not Clark’s story of a well-meaning government forced to take stern measures to counter Muslim secessionism, but a vicious, racist regime obsessed with political dominance.
    * it would be interesting to have Gregory Clark’s analysis of the Northern Territory Intervention.

  2. Avatar Geoff Upton says:

    Gregory Clark’s comments from an informed historic observational view and subsequent response from subscribers have added depth to this issue causing me to consider a less simplistic and more nuanced view than I was developing. I for one need to read and reflect more. Thank you all.

  3. Avatar Anthony Pun says:

    Thank you Gregory Clarke for your insights to the Xinjiang matter. No country is perfect in their human rights record including US and Australia ( Australia pointing a finger at China is just “pious pontification” filled with hypocrisy and double standards. There are better ways of conveying to the Chinese government that could achieve the desired results, ie. telling China that the world is watching.

    An extract from SMH comment made on 1Nov2019 – The US solution to terrorists is military action and bombing them to shreds; and creating mass war refugee problem for Europe. In contrast, the China solution is re-education camps, with no deaths, no refugees and no bombs (plus jobs). Which is the better or worse breach of human rights, I shall leave this to the readers to decide.

  4. Avatar Mark Freeman says:

    Thanks for some perspective and the historical background. The Chinese have reportedly detained many Uighurs. We’ve assisted the US to murder a similar number of Muslim civilians in countries nearby to that region. Neither are good and neither excuses the other but I think the Chinese have taken the better way.

    The alleged joys of religious dominated traditional culture are arguable. PRC Chinese may not have many freedoms but at least they’re not oppressed by a self appointed religious oligarchy.

  5. Avatar R. N. England says:

    The Hasluck story is a reminder that Australia is a child of imperialism that has never grown up. If China is successful, with a minimum of bloodshed, in integrating the deeply troubled Xinjian with what is rapidly becoming the 21st century’s most civilised culture, the dingo-howls will be even shriller.

  6. Avatar Jim KABLE says:

    I don’t accept the Marise Payne/LNP/ABC and other versions of what is going on amongst the Uighurs in Xinjiang Province – no doubt some part is true – but I look at Manus/Nauru and the Norther Territory Intervention and the ongoing murder around Australia of young Indigenous people (massacres by any other name) and wonder about our government finger-pointing to China or other most;y US/CIA-inspired unrest around the world. Thanks for the insights into Hasluck – what a laughing stock he proved to be!

  7. Avatar Barney Zwartz says:

    Sorry Greg to disagree two days in a row but, in my view, the sort of ruthless repression and callous, brutal treatment of Uighurs now happening is exactly the sort of thing that does create another Chechnya. How much should the Uighurs endure before they really resist, and take the battle to Beijing? A limited autonomy is vastly better than a prolonged terrorist outbreak.

  8. Avatar Dennis Hutch says:

    First off I have none of the experience that Clark has, but nonetheless I find myself strongly disagreeing with his take on this. China has done what it did in Tibet and that is a large influx of Han Chinese who get the positions of influence and the vast economic benefits, while the ethnic locals miss out. This is also what I think stirred issues in East Timor with the Indonesians and is also the cause of problems in West Papua.

    The strings drawn on Ma to try and deflect how Muslims are treated in China is laughable as is his statement on Islamic teachings, which in my opinion says more about his bias than anything else.

  9. Avatar Evan Hadkins says:

    Those of us concerned for people’s lives (rather than diplomatic niceties) aren’t arguing for another Chechnya. Show me evidence that we are.

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