Saturday, March 7, 2015

The 'Ethnic' Faces in the PLA

Saimati Muhammat,
alias Halimulati Abdul Rehman?
The third session of China's 12th National People's Congress (NPC) opened with fanfare at the Great Hall of the People in Beijing on March 5, 2015.
Two days earlier, the Chinese People's Political Consultative Conference had started its deliberations.
Since the founding of the NPC, the People's Liberation Army (PLA) has had the largest delegation; still today the PLA has about 9 percent of the total 2987 NPC's seats.
Unfortunately, the PLA is mainly represented by Han officers.
However, in the recent years, officers with an 'ethnic' background (read Tibetans, Uyghurs, Mongols, Huis, etc.) have come to play a more visible role. Beijing has probably realized that 'faces' were needed to support their pretense of 'regional autonomy'.
Here are a few lines on 3 senior 'ethnic' officers: one Uyghur and 2 Tibetans. 

Representing Xinjiang
One remembers that on March 1, 2014, some 33 people were killed and 130 wounded when a group of attackers dressed in black went on the rampage in Kunming railway station. The ‘terrorists’ went around indiscriminately hacking and stabbing passers-by.
According to official sources the death toll includes 29 civilian victims killed by the attackers and four assailants shot dead by riot police. Witnesses said that six men and two women used long knives to ‘crazily’ attack innocent passengers. Terrified victims ran away seeking protection.
The Legal Daily newspaper reported that the SWAT (Special Weapons And Tactics unit) arrived on the scene less than 15 minutes after the beginning of the carnage and after firing 2 warning shots; the SWAT leader gunned down a masked woman who threatened him with a knife; he later shot four of the attackers in 15 seconds.
A couple of days later, Xinhua, quoting Kunming officials, said that the initial investigations suggested the deadly attack was "planned and organised by separatist forces from Xinjiang."
The horrible Kunming massacre should be seen in the perspective of the situation in the restive Xinjiang.
For the first time on this occasion, we heard about Saimati Muhammat, a deputy commander of the Xinjiang Military Area Command. In an interview to Xinhua, he affirmed that counter-terrorism in Xinjiang Uygur Autonomous Region had the strong backing from the People's Liberation Army (PLA): “Counter-terrorism arrangements are in place to prevent serious incidents in Xinjiang," said Saimati.
For Beijing, Xinjiang is at the front line struggle against 'The Three Forces’, namely terrorism, extremism and separatism.
Saimati Muhammat, a Uygur ethnic and member of the NPC, said the armed forces in Xinjiang will never ease border controls: “We watch the border closely. Any oversight, which lets terrorists in or out, is unacceptable."
Saimati Muhammat affirmed that the border troops in Xinjiang, who ‘operate under extreme conditions’, have stepped up counter-terrorism training to armed forces, especially special forces: “to protect the safety of local people, the armed forces also work with the police force in patrols and training.”
Saimati further explained: “The fight against the three forces is not about ethnic issues, religion or cultural differences. They are enemies of people of all ethnic groups. The battle is complicated, harsh, fierce and cruel."
Who is General Saimati Muhammat?
As far as I could find out, he is also known as Halimulati Abdul Rehman.
He is one of the first Uyghurs to be promoted as a Major General in the PLA.He is presently Deputy Commandant of Lanzhou Military Command Area (MAC).
Born in 1961, he graduated from the PLA’s Shijiazhuang Army Command College, specializing in military high-tech military applications and management. He earlier served as Deputy Commander of South Xinjiang Military District’s Political Department.
As a Uyghur, his postings appeared more ‘political’ than operational.
He was promoted as a Major General in January 2015, along with 8 others (all Hans) serving in the Lanzhou MAC.
This year too, the Uyghur general spoke to the press on the side of the NPC in Beijing. He said that terrorist attacks will not affect the overall stability of Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region, nor will they can hinder its fast economic development, ethnic unity or religious harmony.
Saimati Muhammat was quoted by Xinhua: “Everyone in Xinjiang is against terrorism and expects peace. Now those few terrorists have no support there, and people just hate them."
Last May, two months after the Kunming incident, Beijing started a one-year anti-terrorism campaign in Xinjiang. Saimati commented that it has helped people realize that "terrorists are their common enemies. Everyone is obligated to battle terrorism and maintain peace."
Saimati, who has become the ‘Uyghur face’ of the PLA, noted: "Terror attacks are sometimes committed in the name of Islam, but even Muslims condemn them. These extreme activities represent a violation of Islamic doctrine. They're a crime. The [Party’s] policies protect religious needs while helping to deter extremists."
The Uyghur general has become a de facto spokesperson for the Uyghur government. It is convenient for Beijing to have an ethnic face.

Ngawang (Ang Mong) Sonam
Representing Tibet
Apart from General Saimati, there are other 'ethnic' officers who are attending the NPC (last year too, they were present at during the sessions).
Though I mention here two Tibetans, a couple of Mongols and Manchus are also attending the NPC.
Ngawang [Ang Mong] Sonam is a Deputy Commander of Military District, Qinghai Military District of Lanzhou Military Area Command. A Chinese publication noted: “These [officers] bring pride to the rugged western China [Tibet and Xinjiang], they are absolutely honest and have defended the country's frontiers with their blood; they feel from their heart for the people.”
The publication added: “Minority officers, who represent the people in ethnic minority areas in the country's highest political authority [the NPC] are dedicated to a strong army and China’s steadfast dream.”
Major General Ngawang Sonam was born in Qinghai Yushu (Jyekundo) in 1964. He decided to follow the footsteps of his elder brother and join the army.
Many Tibetans like Ngawang Sonam have a pastoral background; most of them did not even know how to use chopsticks, explained a Chinese publication; they learned the skill in the PLA: “We were also taught Chinese, we learned to write Chinese characters, as the Chinese soldiers did know how speak the minority language (Tibetan),” Sonam recalled, adding: “By the time the [Tibetan] soldiers are demobilized, they are usually proficient in Chinese and can read the local language as well.”
Jiang Yong

Another Tibetan officer is Jiang Yong which is not a very Tibetan name! (His Tibetan name might be Jamyang).
He is born in Chamdo in 1977.
Late 1990s, Jiang Yong, then a Tibetan teenager, had a dream; he wanted to join the PLA. In an interview, he explained that when the 'western development' scheme started, the Central  (Beijing) government initiated a preferential education policy for young Tibetans; Jiang Yong, who had got excellent grades in the junior high school, eventually graduated from the Tibet University. He later joined Kunming Military Academy.
Now, he serves in the Special Forces; he recalled: “I was enrolled in Special Forces selection, conditions were very tough.”
He is posted (probably as a Colonel) in Chengdu Military Region.
He is a member of the 12th NPC.

While Han and ethnic deputies will give 'important' speeches on Xi Jinping's 'Four Comprehensives', particularly
the Rule of Law in ethnic areas, nothing much will be done for a larger and truer representation of the 'ethnics'.
Though Xinhua affirns that 'as year 2015 marks the 50th anniversary of the founding of the Tibet Autonomous Region, the central government's policies on governing Tibet will attract attention from home and abroad", nothing concrete will be announced for the ethnic representation in the local governments (Lhasa or Urumqi) or the PLA.
Today, like 50 years ago, Beijing has just 'faces' (from Ngabo Nwang Jigme to Pema Thinley and Lobsang Gyaltsen).
Beijing is clearly more interested by Xi Jinping's twin babies: the Silk Road Economic Belt and the 21st Century Maritime Silk Road: "it has drawn the attention of many countries around the world, especially China’s neighboring countries including India, which borders with southwest China’s Tibet Autonomous Region," said Xinhua.

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