One reason China stepped on the fiscal stimulus pedal was to help quiet millions of displaced migrant workers now out of a job. China’s concern over migrant workers was well founded as Violence Kills 156 in China, Hundreds More Detained.

China’s government said more than 700 people were detained after ethnic rioting in the capital of Xinjiang province killed 156 people. Overseas Uighur groups were responsible for the violence, the government said.

A curfew and traffic blockade remained in effect in Urumqi, capital of China’s westernmost province, until 8 a.m., a government press officer, Yang Guoqiang, said in an interview. Three armed guards checked every visitor and bag with metal detectors at the Sheraton Urumqi hotel.

China Central Television yesterday aired images of smoke billowing from vehicles, crowds overturning police cars and bloodied people slumped on sidewalks in Urumqi. More than 825 people were also injured after rioting broke out in the city late on July 5, and the toll is likely to rise, Xinhua cited Liu Yaohua, the region’s police chief, as saying.

As many as 30 million migrant workers have lost their jobs during the global financial crisis, as demand from the U.S. and Europe vanishes, exacerbating already simmering social tensions.

“It’s like Mao Zedong used to say, a spark can spread the fire into the prairie, and that’s the situation in Xinjiang,” said Jean-Philippe Beja, a senior researcher at the French Centre for Studies on Contemporary China in Hong Kong.

Fifty-seven bodies were retrieved from the streets, while the remainder were confirmed dead at hospitals, said Liu, the police chief. Rioters burned 261 vehicles and destroyed 203 shops, authorities said.

Nur Bekri, chairman of the Xinjiang regional government, said in a televised speech yesterday that the riot was triggered by the death of two Uighur workers in a factory brawl in Guangdong province in June, Xinhua reported. That incident also had ethnic overtones, with the Uighur workers fighting ethnic-Han workers, according to the news agency.

Mobs Take to Streets

Another day of violence is underway and China Tries to Calm Urumqi as Mobs Take to Streets.

Hundreds of Chinese from rival ethnic groups fought each other with machetes, metal pipes and bricks in the northwestern city of Urumqi, overcoming police attempts to quell the deadliest clashes in decades.

Police fired tear gas to prevent a mob of Han Chinese from avenging rioting by ethnic Uighurs that left at least 156 dead. The fighting came after thousands of Chinese armed with knives and steel bars clashed with police in Urumqi, capital of the westernmost province of Xinjiang.

The violence illustrates China’s failure to address simmering grievances among its minorities, who complain of restrictions on religious and cultural practices. Beijing’s policy of investing billions of dollars to placate the restive territories of Tibet and Xinjiang has also led to migration by the Han, who make up more than 90 percent of the country’s population, exacerbating tensions.

Muslim Uighurs, who make up less than half Xinjiang’s 20 million population after years of Han migration, complain of discrimination and unfair division of the region’s resources. The landlocked region, about three times the size of France, has China’s second-highest oil and natural gas reserves and was the biggest cotton producer.

“Uighurs feel they are not getting enough of the goodies,” said Colin Mackerras, a China researcher at Griffith University in Queensland, Australia. “The balance has shifted quite heavily in favor of the Han and the Uighurs think they are being taken over.”

The official death toll makes the violence the most deadly in decades, possibly since the Cultural Revolution.

Simmering social tensions and a lack of jobs are a deadly mix. Expect the problems to get worse.

Mike “Mish” Shedlock
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