CHINA: Muslim students offered jobs to avoid uprising

Muslim students in China's Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region have been promised jobs and university internships in a bid to prevent 'contagion' from uprisings in the Middle East.

Zhang Chunsian, Xinjiang's Communist Party chief, announced last month that jobless graduates from the Turkic-speaking Muslim region would study and intern in universities and companies "in some of China's most developed regions" such as the cities of Beijing, Shanghai and Shenzhen for one to two years.

They would then return "to take jobs in government agencies and institutions as well as state-owned enterprises in Xinjiang".

Liu Xianglin, head of the project, told official media that some 12,000 young people from Xinjiang would start their training within the next year.

However Uyghur sources dismissed the official statements as 'empty promises' and suggested that few of the many jobless Muslim graduates would believe them.

"I don't see how it will solve the problems of the Uyghur people as the majority of Uyghur college graduates are unemployed," said Alim Seytoff, a spokesman for the World Uyghur Congress, an exiled group. He added that it would need a huge initiative, rather than a promise of a few thousands jobs, to solve problems in the restive region.

Uyghur activists maintain that government policies in Xinjiang have left Muslims the biggest losers, despite years of rapid economic growth. Government contracts including construction, resources, mining and power projects were being monopolised by migrants from elsewhere in China rather than benefiting the local population, they have claimed.

Seytoff said so-called offers from the authorities were never intended to resolve the employment problems of Uyghur college graduates long-term, but were aimed at short-term goals of keeping people from rising up against the state.

"The Chinese government is very afraid of unemployed Uyghur college graduates who took the lead in protests [in Xinjiang] in 2009." He was referring to violent riots in Xinjiang's capital Urumqi in 2009, during which some 200 people were killed according to official figures.

"The Chinese government is extremely nervous at the moment with regard to the Middle East. They don't want the Uyghurs to come out on the streets," said Seytoff. "There is a pervasive Chinese security clampdown in the [Xinjiang] region. Security forces are patrolling the streets. Fully armoured vehicles, personnel carriers and fire trucks are at the corners."

Seytoff said that despite media censorship, Uyghur students were aware of what was happening in the Middle East. "But they also know that the same thing would be impossible in China, because compared to Tunisia and Egypt the [People's Liberation] Army always sides with the Communist party and would shoot them. They do not dare to protest."

Rebiya Kadeer, a businesswoman and US-based Uygur activist, said earlier this month that China had responded to popular uprisings against governments in Tunisia and Egypt by cracking down on the Uyghur minority group.

"What happened in Tunisia and Egypt has strong effects on Uyghur people and the Chinese people because it gives the oppressed peoples hope for a better world and the hope for change," she told an Australian parliamentary committee during a visit to Canberra at the end of March, which was heavily criticised by the Chinese government.

She said China had responded to the protests with a security crackdown that made Xinjiang's main cities, Kashgar and Urumqi, resemble war zones as soldiers searched homes and found excuses to detain people.

In Beijing, Nur Bekri, chairman of Xinjiang's regional government, said late last month: "The current situation in Xinjiang is generally stable, controllable and improving. However, the foundation to maintain stability remains weak. The situation is still severe and the task of maintaining stability is complicated and heavy."

Uyghur groups said there had been little change in the situation in recent weeks with "security forces everywhere".