Editor in Chief: Moh. Reza Huwaida Saturday, November 17th, 2018

Xinjiang, A Land of Wonders

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Xinjiang, A Land of Wonders

China’s Xinjiang Uygur Autonomous Region is a very familiar place for Afghan friends. It shares border with Afghanistan, and it takes only three hours for Afghan friends fly from Kabul to Urumqi, the capital of Xinjiang. The ancient Silk Road linked Chinese Xinjiang with Afghanistan closely.
Xinjiang is my hometown. I spent seventeen years there in my childhood, nurtured by both water from Mount Tianshan (the heavenly mountain) and care from teachers and elders of different ethnic groups. Naan and pilaf are my favorite food. I still remember that kids of different ethnic groups went to school and played together like members of a family. We visited each other frequently and all rushed to celebrate festivals of different ethnic origins for the abundant snacks and fruits on those occasions.
Xinjiang is a land of treasure. There is a song depicting the beautiful and richly endowed autonomous region. “Our Xinjiang is a land of wonders. Beautiful pastures extend to the North and South of Mount Tianshan. Grasses bow in the breeze, revealing flocks and herds. We have grapes and melons sweet and fragrant, mineral deposits abundant.”
In the 1970s when I grew up in Xinjiang, life was hard for my family and our neighbors. The four people in my family lived in a bungalow of only a dozen square metres with a leaking roof. I had to help my parents by joining various queues to buy everyday necessities with all kinds of ration coupons. With reform and opening up, Xinjiang has also achieved leapfrog economic growth and higher living standards like elsewhere in China, with people moving into bigger houses and enjoying an increasingly rich array of goods. Ration coupons have long become collectibles. Today in Xinjiang, most urban households have a private car. Per capita income reached nearly 8000 US dollars in 2017, a 128-fold increase over 40 years ago.
In Xinjiang, over 23 million people live on the land of 16 million square kilometres. Many of them are either Uygur, Han, Kazakh or Hui. Some other minority groups are also familiar for Afghans, such as the Tajiks, Uzbeks and Kirghiz (called the Khalkhas in China). People of different ethnic groups live together in harmony. We treat each other as equals, help each other in times of need, and jointly defend and develop the system of regional autonomy for ethnic minorities. Under this basic political system, people of all ethnic groups manage local affairs autonomously while safeguarding the principle of national unity. Chief administrative officers of all autonomous regions, prefectures and counties are all from the relevant ethnic groups. Now nearly 100,000 civil servants in Xinjiang are ethnic minorities.
Many of my friends in Xinjiang are devout Muslims. My home was actually very close to a mosque and I heard the calls to prayer every day. Compatriots of different ethnic groups respect each others’ customs and religious beliefs. Both the Corban (Eid Al-Adha) and the Spring Festival are grand festivals and holidays celebrated by all locals. There is a large proportion of Muslim population and a high per capita share of religious facilities. The government respects and protects the freedom of religious belief and administers religious affairs according to law. Religious services facilities and normal religious activities are protected. The government even provides charter flight for pilgrims to perform the Hajj to Mecca every year.
On July 5th, 2009, the severe violent terrorist attacks in Urumqi shocked the whole China. Nearly 200 people died and more than 1700 were injured in the event. Violent terrorists slaughtered the innocent people in the Nanmen Square, where used to be a place for all people to rest and entertain themselves. For some time around the date, a series of crimes were committed by violent terrorists, who demonstrated extreme cruelty, showed no mercy even to women or children and violated the teachings of the religion that they had claimed ownership. The inhuman criminals trampled upon lives and challenged the rule of law, leaving the people in Xinjiang extremely upset and streets desolate for quite some time.
People of all ethnic groups in Xinjiang hate the violent terrorists bitterly. With the public opinion in mind, the government has taken resolute measures to crack down on the “three evil forces” of terrorism, separatism and extremism and restore long-term social stability, peace and order. In the past two years, with great significance attached to both crackdown and prevention, the government has on the one hand continued to strike hard on the few serious violent terrorist crimes and on the other taken measures to develop vocational and technical education and training to de-extremize the population concerned. Efforts are made to win over, help, educate and rectify people with minor offences and to influence and save those young people who were affected by messages in any form of violence or terrorism or by illegal preaching.
Vocational and technical education and training are provided according to law and designed to suit and serve the target groups. They have taken some people away from the slippery slope towards committing crimes and becoming victims of the “three evil forces” by enabling them to distinguish between truth and falsehood, raising their law awareness and citizen consciousness and empowering them with the standard national language ability and income-generating skills so as to support themselves in modern society.
The Chinese government respects and protects the basic human rights of all citizens. This is written in the Chinese Constitution. In Xinjiang, to contain extremism and crack down on violent terrorists represents the utmost need to protect the basic human rights of local citizens. The people support the comprehensive policies of the government whole-heartedly. As there has been no violent terrorist event in the past two years, people feel safe and relaxed and they may now sleep with a peaceful mind. Restaurants and cinemas may now open till late night. Last year, per capita income of Xinjiang residents increased by over 8%. In the first three quarters of this year, more than 130 million domestic and foreign tourists visited Xinjiang. Quite some Afghan friends recently went to the Grand Bazaar in Urumqi and the Kashgar Old Town. They visited the bustling night market and spoke well of the prosperity and peace. Such a situation has not come by easily.
Afghanistan and China’s Xinjiang are joined by common mountains and rivers. Standing both along the Silk Road Economic Belt and at the forefront of international antiterror war, we are a community of shared future. When Afghanistan fares well, it is good for Xinjiang; and vice versa. Badakhshan Province and Xinjiang Autonomous Region have signed an agreement of intent to develop a friendly province/region relationship. Xinjiang provided much needed assistance to victims of drought in Badakhshan. In the past year, two Afghan leaders attended the China-Eurasia Expo in Urumqi, many groups of Afghan professionals accepted training in Xinjiang, a hundred Afghan children with congenital heart diseases had operations in Urumqi and were cured, and over 4000 Afghan friends visited Xinjiang. For ordinary Afghans, the autonomous region promised to be the roofs of your friends, neighbors and relatives and a reliable interchange station to Chinese inland, a reassuring school and a trustworthy place for business.
Last year His Excellency Second Vice President Sarwar Danish published an article titled “Lessons from the World’s Second Economy” after visiting Xinjiang. He described the unity of different ethnic groups there as pomegranate seeds holding tightly to one another. In his opinion, the successful experience of Xinjiang shows that the people must work together with the government and seize the opportunity to open up and achieve development, that the private sector should also be patriotic while pursuing economic gains and that the soil for radical or violent organizations must be eliminated from the society. He encouraged people from all walks of life in Afghanistan to learn more from the Chinese culture, language and experience and in this regard quoted Prophet Mohammed: “Seek knowledge, even it’s as far away as in China”.

Liu Jinsong is the Ambassador of the People’s Republic of China in Afghanistan

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