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KAI RYSSDAL: The controversy accompanying the Olympic torch has been hitting some of the world’s most scenic landmarks today. This morning it was the Eiffel Tower and the first of several confrontations in Paris. This afternoon it was the Golden Gate Bridge in San Francisco. Activists climbed up into the cables to hang banners protesting Beijing’s crackdown in Tibet. The world’s attention is focused on Tibet, but discontent is rippling through other parts of China, too. In Xinjiang province next door, Muslim Uighurs are asking for the same thing: religious freedom and economic opportunity.
From the western edge of China, Marketplace’s Scott Tong reports.
SCOTT TONG: A thousand years ago, the Xinjiang city of Kashgar was a bustling hub of the Silk Road, linking China to Rome and Persia. Today, it’s quieter, but it’s tense. Scores of unemployed men gather near a 15th century mosque. They’re ethnic Uighurs. Their blood is largely Turkish, their religion Islam, but the map says they’re part of China.
Chinese police and informants patrol here, just in case anyone whispers separatism. Security in Kashgar is tightened since unrest in Tibet last month. Like Tibet, one volatile ingredient here is a broad sense of economic injustice. At this construction site, just about every worker is of Chinese Han descent, imported from Sichuan province. The handful of Uighur locals includes this man we’ll call Ali.
ALI: I make $7 a day. The Han Chinese make double or triple that, and they give us, the harder work, the heavier lifting.
Uighurs once far outnumbered Han Chinese, but it’s now 50-50 in the province, thanks to a stream of migrants from the east. Parag Khanna is author of “The Second World.”
PARAG KHANNA: As with America’s subjugation and integration, or assimilation of Native American populations, the same thing is very much happening in Tibet and Xinjiang.
The Han Chinese finance Shanghai-style shopping strips, sometimes were ancient Uighur homes once stood, and perhaps more important, they build highways and rails and pipelines to feed critical natural resources inland.
KHANNA: Xinjiang actually contains China’s largest deposits of oil, gas, coal, uranium and gold.
Last year the economy grew 12 percent. The income per capita is $2,300, well above the national average. Xinjiang realtor Wen Li-jun.
LI-JUN: Everyone shares in the economic boom. We share the same goal, to improve our lives.
Just don’t tell that to this 55-year-old Uighur laborer. He unloads trucks and picks cotton, whatever odd jobs he can find, but the jobs are down, and inflation is up. He can’t afford to buy lamb any more, just bread and tea.
UIGHUR LABORER: Two days ago I made $3, today nothing, and I can’t find jobs for my sons. A lot of people go through the back door, but I can’t afford that.
Translation, he can’t pay bribes the way wealthy Han Chinese can. An unfamiliar car cruises by and he clams up. Can’t be too careful here, but as one Uighur put it: “The more Chinese come and take our jobs, how long can we stay quiet?”
In Kashgar, on the western edge of China, I’m Scott Tong for Marketplace.
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