I've been silent on the situation in Xinjiang, mainly because I can't add much to the discourse regarding the tragedy that occurred there. It's difficult not to feel some sympathy for the Uighurs, as they are treated, like most minorities in China, with a mixture of paternalism and arm's-length distance by their government. Uighurs, like Tibetans, should be happy for what they have, goes the conventional wisdom. And too often in the news, that really is how the situation is explained: Religious freedoms and ethnic identities are sacrificed for economic progress. So be it.
It's surprising how many journalists refute the Chinese party line, only to return to it in their own, roundabout way.
But if you're more familiar with the mechanisms of economic 'progress' in minority dominated areas of the west, then you know that most of it passes through the hands of Han. Sure, wealth trickles down to minority people, but it is a painfully slow trickle. And as more Han Chinese head west there are fewer drops to go around (it should and has been noted in coverage that living conditions for many Han Chinese in Xinjiang aren't that great either.)
I think this Ian Johnson article for the WSJ Asia managed to explain the problems in Urumqi better than others because he frames it in simple economic terms. The Grand Bazaar in downtown Urumqi - when I visited in 2001 on a school program - appeared to be almost entirely owned and operated by Uighurs. But that jaw-dropping market was torn down in 2003, rebuilt by a Hong Kong developer and a Han-operated Xinjiang construction company and now "features anchor tenants, such as a Kentucky Fried Chicken and the french department store chain Carrefour." Presently the government is doing the very same thing in Kashgar. Sigh.
Now I know why...
(More on Xinjiang later)