"Securing China’s Northwest Frontier: Identity and Insecurity in Xinjiang." Seminar by Dr David Tobin, Hallsworth Research Fellow in the Political Economy of China, University of Manchester, 14 November 2019 @4pm

Speaker: Dr David Tobin
Venue: Room 201, Lilybank House, University of Glasgow

China’s foreign policy aims to remake world order to counter a Western “age of anxiety” and lead the world into a “new age of socialism with Chinese characteristics” (Xi, 2018). These bold pronouncements come from a new position of global confidence but paradoxically emerge alongside anxious security measures to promote racial “fusion” (jiaorong); mass extra-legal internment camps to eliminate and transform minority identities. The Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region (XUAR) is now the site of the world’s largest mass detention and surveillance of an ethnic minority. Since 2016, one to three million people have been extra-legally detained and subject to invasive surveillance and psychological stress, forcing them to abandon native language and religious practices. Outside detention centres, over 10 million Turkic-speaking Muslim minorities are subject to networks of hi-tech surveillance systems, security checkpoints, and interpersonal monitoring to limit mobility and cultural practices. Internment camps are officially explained as fostering shared national identity and part of China’s new “fusion” (jiaorong) ethnic policy, celebrated at the 19th Party Congress as the source of China’s “great revival” (Xi, 2017) and described by China’s leading scholars as “transforming identities” (Ma, 2018). Building on several years of ethnographic fieldwork on identity and insecurity in the region, this talk explains how these policies are the conclusion of longer-term ethnocentric cycles of state-produced insecurity, where the CCP consistently targets Uyghur identities as causes of violence and China’s “backwardness”. It argues that the CCP’s anti-colonial narrative of a “window of opportunity” to transform world order and its “mission” to unify the “Chinese race” (Zhonghua Minzu) are mutually constitutive goals in the Great Revival narrative of China’s inevitable trajectory towards global and domestic power.

Dr David Tobin is Hallsworth Research Fellow in the Political Economy of China at the University of Manchester. His forthcoming book, Securing China's Northwest Frontier: Identity and Insecurity in Xinjiang (Cambridge University Press), analyses how the relationship between identity and security in Chinese policy-making shapes Han-Uyghur relations in Xinjiang. He is currently researching how postcolonial relations between China and the West shape foreign policymaking and ethnic politics in contemporary China.

The Scottish Centre for China Research Seminar Programme gratefully acknowledges the financial support of the MacFie Bequest.

First published: 6 November 2019

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