BEIJING // Shortly before sundown the forecourt of Beijing’s Niujie mosque starts to fill with people.

The mosque’s staff carry in platters of watermelon and large kettles full of Vimto and the congregation wanders in to leaf through the day’s Ramadan teaching materials.

At 7.38pm an electric bell sounds and the faithful approach two long trestle tables covered in sugary treats to recite the maghrib prayer and break their fast.

“It’s easy to observe Ramadan in China,” says Sha Yanfeng, a 35-year-old metro worker. “No one bothers us.”

Yet, the same is not true for all Chinese Muslims, especially after a series of deadly attacks that the Chinese government blames on separatists from the north-western region of Xinjinag, home to the mostly Muslim Uighur ethnic minority.

Mr Sha and his mosque belong to the Hui community – a group of some 10 million Muslims who are descended from Persian and Arab traders who first came to China in the 7th century BC.

Of the 10 ethnic groups that practise Islam in China, the Hui, say experts, are given the most religious freedom.

At the other end of the spectrum is China’s second-largest Muslim community, the Uighurs – Turkic-speaking people who mainly live in Xinjiang.

There, mosques have been plastered with posters detailing “illegal religious practices” such as holding private Quranic study sessions and sending children to religious schools, and Uighur students and government employees were banned from observing the Ramadan fast.

“There is huge discrepancy in how China’s Muslim minorities are treated even though the law is the same throughout the county,” says Ma Haiyun, a professor of history at Maryland’s Frostburg University and an expert on minorities and Islam in China.

“The local government in Xinjiang targets Islam as symbol of Uighur identity. They know it is the only thing that can unite the Uighurs,” he adds.

So why are the two groups treated so differently?

Firstly, the Hui are now almost indistinguishable from the Han – China’s ethnic majority – aside from their clothes and religious practices.

Physically, they look almost the same and they speak Mandarin as their mother tongue, albeit peppered with the odd Persian or Arabic word or phrase.

Another reason is that the Hui have never shown any secessionist tendencies – partly because they were never concentrated in one area.

The Uighur on the other hand share little genetic overlap with Han Chinese and in many cases do not speak Mandarin.

Xinjiang’s historical relations with China have also been chequered – with the region sometimes comprising part of China, sometimes partly independent and sometimes ruled by other empires.

At least twice in the last century, chunks of Xinjiang broke away from Chinese rule.

All of this has made for an uneasy relationship between Beijing and Muslims in Xinjinag.

Many Uighurs accuse the Chinese government of restricting religious freedom and flooding Xinjiang with Han migrants who get preferential access to jobs and services.

“We are made to feel like criminals in our own home,” says a man from the desert city of Tupran, who wanted to be identified only as Ismail.

The Chinese government denies circumscribing Uighurs’ religious freedom, saying that the state protects “all normal religious activities” .

It is a line that Ma Tong, the imam at Niujie mosque, repeats when asked about the relative freedom the Hui enjoy.

He explains that when Muslims live in non-Islamic countries – China is officially an atheist state – some practices might bump up against local laws.

“The situation in China, or in any non-Islamic country in the world, is slightly different to that in Arabic countries where they have Islamic law. You have to behave according to the law of where you live,” he said.

Nonetheless, the Hui and other Muslim communities in China – the Kazakh, Kirgiz, Bao’an, Tatar, Salar, Dongxiang, Uzbek and Tajik – are also subject to observation and limitations.

“Strong restrictions are imposed on the movement of Muslim religious and intellectual leaders and on the dissemination of their ideas. The result is a relatively immature and fragmented religious culture, with limited capacity to foster considered critiques of contemporary social and political problems,” says Anthony Garnaut an expert on Chinese Islam at Oxford University.

Dr Garnaut and others say that efforts to exclude and suppress Uighur culture, as well as a recent crackdown on anti-state and illegal religious actives, could lead to an intensification of violence in Xinjiang.

If it does, the Hui at Niujie would have little sympathy for the perpetrators.

“Islam is a peaceful religion,” says Li Tou, a 35-year-old antiques dealer. “The people who carried out the attacks on Tiananmen and in Kunming are not Muslims.”


On April 30, 2014, an attack at a train station in the capital of China’s Xinjiang region killed three people and injured 79 others. Haiyun Ma, a former task force leader on minority welfare in China, argues that the only way to prevent more violence is to revise the current repressive policies on the Uyghur minority.

China’s ethnic policies are largely to blame for the state of Uyghur–China relations. In the 1930s and 1940s, Communist China developed its own minzu (ethnicity) politics, which were borrowed from, and modeled on, the former Soviet Union’s nationality politics.

Chinese minzu policies after 1949 identified 55 ethnic minority ethnic nationalities, such as the Uyghur, as different minzu, and established ethnic autonomous regions, ethnic autonomous laws, and minzu-related agencies and apparatus at national and local levels.

China’s ethnic policy aims to provide services for socially and economically disadvantaged ethnic minorities. Minority groups’ rights are largely defined and generally realized through special ethnic policies, such as food stipends, lower requirements for college entrance, and liberal family planning. The minzu policy is thus supplementary to China’s constitution and basic laws.

In reality, the practice of the minzu policy by local officials in ethnic autonomous regions to some extent ignores China’s basic laws. On the other hand, China’s basic laws and institutions, no matter how imperfect, have protected Han citizen rights in Han regions.

The juxtaposition of ethnic autonomous laws in ethnic regions and basic laws in Han regions has resulted in bifurcated law enforcement on the ground, and has strengthened the divide between Han and non-Han.

The majority Han culture is seen to represent China as a political entity: The state, officials, and scholars have officially and publicly promoted Han language, clothing, culture, cults, and fashion. Meanwhile, due to their distinct cultural and ethnic features, the Uyghurs and other non-Han groups are perceived as less Chinese, or even un-Chinese, and are pushed towards nationalization (i.e., Hanification) through clothing, cultural, and language reforms.

The bifurcated law enforcement is most evident in Xinjiang, where the Uyghurs have been deprived of their constitutionally guaranteed rights as Chinese citizens, such as practicing their religion and obtaining passports.

This already suggests the danger of alienating non-Han peoples in China. Since the 1990s, when Wang Lequan came to power as party secretary, the legal status of Xinjiang Uyghurs has deteriorated.

Instead of enforcing China’s basic laws and ethnic autonomous laws in Xinjiang, Wang’s Urumqi government instituted a series of local laws restricting Uyghur religious practices from publication, prayer, and public gatherings.

These local laws are in opposition to China’s basic national laws and deprive the Uyghurs of their rights as Chinese citizens. More seriously, they have not been discussed or passed by China’s National Congress. Here we see an official separatism supported by various local policies and regulations in the name of maintaining stability and sovereignty.

Wang Lequan is not the first to try to instate military rule in Xinjiang. His warlord predecessors endeavored to make themselves king of Xinjiang by creating tensions and conflicts in this borderland region when China was in turmoil from 1911 to 1949.

It is not coincidental that during Wang Lequan’s tenure as king of Xinjiang, relations between the Uyghur and the government have quickly worsened, as represented by the open conflict in Gulja in 1997.

Even China’s national campaign (the so-called “strike hard” campaign), whose goal in other provinces is to reduce ordinary crimes, has been twisted and manipulated by the Urumqi government, and positioned as a political campaign against the “evil forces” of separatism, extremism, and terrorism.

The bifurcated law enforcement in China, warlord legacy in Xinjiang, and lack of a national-level agency (such as the Department of Homeland Security, FBI, or CIA in the United States) indicate that Urumqi – not Beijing – has exercised sovereignty since the 1990s with regard to China’s Uyghur policy and anti-terror campaign. It is clear that China is not a complete and regular modern nation, not to mention a complete global power.

The 9/11 attacks on the United States provided a timely justification for Urumqi’s policies towards the Uyghurs. China’s opportunistic siding with the United States on anti-terror was a victory for the Urumqi government’s ongoing repressive Uyghur policy.

Beijing and Washington’s joint designation of the East Turkestan Islamic Movement (ETIM) as a terrorist group substantialized Urumqi’s long-held campaign against separatism, extremism, and terrorism. When China established an Anti-Terror Coordination Team and set up an anti-terror bureau in the Ministry of Public Security, Urumqi’s policy was promoted to a national level.

China’s opportunism, however, proved to be nearsighted. The new administration in Washington quickly corrected the previous administration’s “anti-Islamic fascism” campaign, clarifying that it was targeting terrorists represented by Osama Bin Laden. Later, the ETIM was removed from the terrorist organizations list, which to some extent embarrassed Beijing.

Beijing changed its Anti-Terror Coordination Team (with the United States) to an Anti-Terror Leadership Team in 2013, and it is now focused on the unrest in Xinjiang.

From the perspective of Uyghurs and other Muslims in Central and South Asia, this anti-terror war is the Chinese translation of a mujahideen movement. A prolonged regional guerilla conflict with the goal of revenging China’s Uyghur policy will likely develop in Xinjiang and elsewhere (as recent deadly attacks in Kunming, Beijing, and Urumqi suggest) if China continues to allow the Urumqi government to implement its repressive policies.

Photo Credit: Uyghur Turkistan via Compfight cc

Haiyun MaHaiyun Ma is a former task force leader on minority welfare in China, and currently teaches in the history department at Frostburg State University in Maryland. His teaching and research interests are Chinese History, Islam and Muslims of China (including Xinjiang), China-Middle East relations, and China-Central Asian Relations.


by HAIYUN MA and I-WEI JENNIFER CHANG for ISLAMiCommentary on JULY 15, 2014:

The common saying that “you are what you eat” suggests that food is closely tied to one’s social identity—and what one eats and when can often be key indicators of particular ethnic and/or religious traditions. Therefore, the gradual erosion of a group’s food traditions, coupled with the adoption of new ones, is tantamount to erasing a central component of social identity. In terms of policy measures, one way that majoritarian governments,have sought to assimilate its ethnic minority groups, has been to change the latter’s eating habits in order to make them resemble the food traditions of the dominant ruling group. Such cultural assimilation tactics seek to facilitate the state’s ability to govern and control these ethnic minorities, and to create loyal, obedient citizens for the country and majority ethnicity dominated government.

The Han Chinese-led government in northwestern Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region is one such government that has instituted food policies in its approach to dealing with its restive Uyghur population, who are Turkic-speaking and predominately Muslim. This year the Xinjiang government has continued Wang Lequan’s (the former party secretary of Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region) anti-religion policy and has instructed Muslim students, teachers, and civil servants in public institutions to forgo Ramadan fasting, and instead eat free meals monitored or provided by the government during daylight hours.

Since the dominant Han Chinese population does not fast during Ramadan (they are not Muslim), such measures in Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region appear to be a direct attempt to re-socialize the Uyghurs (the largest Muslim ethnic group in Xinjiang) to be less culturally Muslim and more Han Chinese. The ban aims to weaken Uyghurs’ religious and cultural affiliations by assimilating them first into Han food customs and later into Han society. (The Han make up more than 90 percent of China’s population)

During the holy month of Ramadan, which began on June 28 and lasts until July 28 of this year, pious Muslims around the world are expected to abstain from food and water from sunrise to sunset — often reaching more than 15 hours a day without eating or drinking. Fasting during Ramadan is one of the five pillars of Islam that is required by Islamic teachings for all healthy and able Muslims. The Uyghurs are thus expected, according to their religion, to observe fasting during Ramadan, just like their Muslim brethren elsewhere.


But Ramadan fasting has now become a domestic political issue. China’s harsh response appears to be in reaction to rising Han-Uyghur tensions and violent acts committed this year by Uyghurs in both Xinjiang and other Chinese provinces and cities including Beijing and Kunming.

This year, with China’s announcement on May 25 of a one-year anti-terror campaign in Xinjiang, local government agencies, state run companies, and public schools in Xinjiang are taking more stringent measures to impose and enforce the ban on Ramadan fasting among Muslim civil servants, teachers, and students than in previous years.

They are provided free meals for breakfast and lunch, while officials monitor them for compliance, namely, observing whether they ate their meals and thus broke their fast. These government measures claim to protect their health, especially students’ growing bodies. The local government also organizes parties and celebrations offering food during the daylight hours throughout Ramadan.

In many parts of Xinjiang, local officials have mobilized all resources necessary to prevent them from fasting. Pishan (Guma nahiyisi in Uyghur) County’s Industry and Commerce Department went so far as to hold “sincere conversations” — meetings to ask its employees not to fast. Ethnic-religious offices and *United Front officials in Hami (Qumul in Uyghur) have held meetings on how to strengthen its control over fasting during Ramadan. (The *United Front is a political consultative unit trying to unite all non-Communist influential individuals to embrace communism)

To add insult to injury, Muslim business owners in Xinjiang are punished if they close their shops or restaurants during the day, as is customary in many parts of the Muslim world during Ramadan.

There is no specific unified all-China policy on Ramadan. Local government policies on Ramadan fasting by Muslims in other regions of China, while varied, is thought to be more liberal.

From Assimilation to Alienation

Assimilation measures have long been justified by the Xinjiang government and government scholars who have run a huge “identity” industry since the 1990s.

In 2004, Xinjiang local government and official scholars developed patriotism education withthe so-called “four identities study campaign” that clearly targeted the Uyghurs. These murky identities include: [1] the great Chinese motherland; [2] the Chinese people/nation; [3] Chinese culture; and [4] Chinese socialism. Since Han Chinese people eat every day and night in the Chinese motherland, the Xinjiang government perceives Ramadan as being at odds with the Chinese nation, culture, and political system. From this perspective, Uyghurs who do eat during the fasting hours of Ramadan are seen as open to cultivating a more Chinese (Han) identity.

The contentious relationship between Uyghurs, on the one hand, and the Han and the Chinese government, on the other hand, is rooted in the historical territorial conquest of Xinjiang (since 1949 known as the Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region), and the subsequent administrative policies toward the Uyghurs by the Chinese state.

The Xinjiang region, which Uyghurs consider their historical homeland, and which they call “East Turkestan,” was incorporated into Chinese territory and administration under the Qing Dynasty in the 1750s. Successive Republican and Communist governments in China strengthened their control of the region and its peoples. In response, Uyghurs have engaged in rebellions and revolutions, even establishing two short-lived independent republics in southern and northern Xinjiang in the 1930s and 1940s. Following the founding of the People’s Republic of China in 1949, the Chinese Communists created the Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region in 1955 in an attempt to both dilute the Uyghurs’ aspirations for self-determination and ease tensions between the Uyghurs and the Chinese state by offering a semblance of ethnic autonomy. There was relative peace for three decades.

However, since the 1990s, in the context of China’s ‘Great Power Diplomacy’ — a policy shift from supporting developing countries (under Mao) to developed countries (an economic development focus that began with Deng Xiaoping) — first the former Soviet Union and then the U.S have had an unprecedented influence on China’s domestic policies.

The collapse of the Soviet Union (a major ally of China after 1989) and the subsequent formation of the Central Asian Turkic republics into their own countries hit too close to home for the Chinese government, which was already keeping a watchful eye over possible Uyghur separatism. It is not surprising that hardliner leader Wang Lequan was appointed as the Xinjiang party secretary in 1990s and harsh policies were implemented in Xinjiang, in hopes of suppressing spreading Turkic ethnic-nationalism in Central Asia.

Following the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks on the U.S., the Chinese government embraced the U.S. War on Terror and declared its own war on Uyghur “terrorism” and “religious extremism,” thus changing the focus from Uyghur nationalism to Uyghurs’ religion.

The Xinjiang government started imposing numerous invasive measures against Uyghur religious behaviors. All Uyghur and other Muslim youth are now prohibited from attending all mosques, and the Xinjiang government has not given a reason. Older Uyghur villagers are only allowed to pray at a mosque of their own village and cannot go to other villages’ mosques to pray. (Note that all mosques are state-controlled and administered) Unofficial publications of Islamic texts are labeled and targeted as “pornography.” Local police uncover Uyghur women’s heads and remove their veils, and force Uyghur men to shave their long beards. Last, but not least, Uyghur families are routinely subjected to surprise, warrantless, searches of their homes (akin to break-ins) by the local police.

An unintended consequence of the Ramadan fasting ban, and other assimilation measures, is the further alienation of some Uyghurs who have worked for the government and have already have been integrated into Chinese officialdom and Chinese elite culture.

As many Xinjiang observers have noticed, the local government’s repression of religious behaviors has helped revive Islam among secularized Uyghurs, not only as a religious identity, but more importantly as a political symbol of anti-Chinese resistance. As the Xinjiang government’s intrusive measures against Uyghurs continue, the ban on Ramadan fasting for Uyghur civil servants, teachers and students is doomed to drive Uyghurs farther from Chinese culture and identity, not closer to assimilation. More seriously, this policy that originally targeted only the Uyghurs now has wider ramifications and has affected other Muslim groups as well.

- See more at:

华盛顿 —
从6月28号到7月28号,全世界的穆斯林都在进行斋月的宗教活动,但在新疆的穆斯林,却被禁止守斋。除此之外,许多中国政府的政策都和穆斯林的信仰有所抵触。而在缩紧对新疆政策的同时,中国政府还拒绝了支持温和派维吾尔学者伊利哈木土赫提的美国学者史伯岭(Elliot Sperling)入境。






* 激进温和派均遭打压 新疆政策意在何方*




Posted: 2014年07月11日 in Other authors





在穆斯林斋戒月,中国新疆维吾尔族自治区政府采取了诸多饮食政策,试图处理与维吾尔人之间的关系。 新疆政府的饮食政策,包括禁止国家机构的工作人员和在校学生封斋,并为他们在白天提供饮食。因为作为主体民族的汉族,在斋戒月期间无须封斋,所以这些规定本质上是重新社会化维吾尔人的一种举措,试图通过破斋来弱化维吾尔人的穆斯林属性,增强他们的“中国”属性。








Posted: 2014年06月9日 in Other authors


專論/通過內遷維吾爾人來解決新疆問題?——歷史的反思/馬海雲撰 2014-06-09 17:45:10







China’s Strategic Middle Eastern Languages
by Haiyun Ma , I-wei Jennifer Chang
published in MER270

Palestine, Israel and the Arab-Israeli Conflict: A Primer
Though the People’s Republic of China has extensive commercial ties in the Middle East, its three strategic partners in the region are Saudi Arabia, Iran and Turkey. It is not surprising, therefore, that the major Middle Eastern language programs in China today are Arabic, Persian and Turkish. The growth of Middle Eastern language and area studies in China has tracked with the changes in the political ties of the People’s Republic to the region.

The first Middle Eastern language to be studied extensively in China was Arabic, the language of the Qur’an. Several Chinese Muslim intellectuals — notably, Ma Jian — studied at al-Azhar and other Arabic-language universities in the 1930s and 1940s. Following the establishment of the People’s Republic in 1949, these Muslim intellectuals returned to pioneer Arabic programs at China’s top universities, including Peking University, as well as research institutes and religion departments that laid the foundation for contemporary Arab and Islamic studies in China. Today some of China’s leading Arabic instructors are first- and second-generation students of Ma. Most of the Arabic programs are accompanied by Arab or Islamic studies centers.

Egypt was as the first Arab country to recognize the People’s Republic, and for some time Beijing’s strongest ties in Arab capitals were with Cairo. In the 1980s, oil-rich Iraq took Egypt’s place, as China served as the major supplier of arms and military equipment to Iraq (and Iran) during the Iraq-Iran war. As a consequence of the 1990-1991 Gulf war, Saudi Arabia replaced Iraq as China’s key Arab partner.

Saudi Arabia was the last Arab government to recognize the People’s Republic, having recognized the Republic of China on Taiwan as the legitimate government of China since 1957 and disliking the communist regime’s atheist ideology. Saudi Arabia was also suspicious of China because of the Communist Party’s tense relations with its large Muslim populations, particularly the Uighurs in Xinjiang. During the Cultural Revolution of 1966-1976, Chinese Muslims were among the victims of the national campaign to eliminate “feudalistic” and “traditional” elements, resulting in widespread protest from Muslim countries around the world. China also violently clamped down on alleged secessionist struggles in Xinjiang. An arms deal in which China sold DF-3 (Dongfeng) intermediate-range ballistic missiles to Saudi Arabia marked a turning point, paving the way for full diplomatic relations in 1990.

Saudi Arabia, with a quarter of the world’s proven oil reserves, is a natural choice to meet China’s energy needs. During a visit to Saudi Arabia in 1999, former president Jiang Zemin called the bilateral relationship a “strategic oil partnership.” In 2004 state-owned Sinopec reached an agreement that granted a concession for exploring and producing natural gas in the Empty Quarter, in a process from which US firms were notably excluded. Sinopec is projected to invest $300 million in the initial exploration phase. China replaced the United States as Riyadh’s largest oil customer in the same year, and remains among the top three, along with the US and Japan. One fifth of China’s oil imports now come from Saudi Arabia.

The Persian language is widely used by Hui and Uighur Muslims, especially by imams and Sufi communities. China officially established its first Persian program at Peking University in 1957 and began to recruit undergraduate students. At least three universities — Peking, Shanghai International Studies and Xinjiang — offer Persian at present. In addition, Iranian studies centers have been established at Shanghai International Studies University, Yunnan University, Northwest University in Xi’an and Southwest University in Chongqing.

Early Persian studies in China focused on literature, history and culture. Following the Islamic Revolution in 1979, however, “Persian” studies in China transformed into “Iranian” studies, in order to better understand the revolution, the policies of Iranian regimes and Iran’s relations with the rest of the Muslim world, as well as China. More recently, much attention is paid to the Iranian nuclear issue and China’s energy interests in Iran.

China was one of the earliest and most important countries to support the Islamic Republic, particularly its nuclear program. From 1985 to 1997, China provided light-water reactors, machines, uranium products, atomic laser assistance and uranium conversion facilities to Iran. The Chinese government and supplier firms were mainly motivated by commerce. China was not involved in nuclear weapons activities with Iran, and the International Atomic Energy Agency did not object to Sino-Iranian nuclear cooperation.

From the US perspective, however, China’s assistance was allowing Iran to circumvent US efforts to limit Iran’s nuclear research program and other weapons procurement. A series of controversies tested US-Chinese relations. Soon after the Iran-Iraq war broke out, China sold Iran Silkworm surface-to-surface anti-ship missiles, one of which was fired at oil tankers escorted by the US Navy in the Persian Gulf. Washington pressured Beijing to verbally pledge to stop such shipments. Eventually, at the 1997 US-Chinese summit, China agreed to end its nuclear cooperation with Iran amid intense US pressure. Beijing was driven by a desire to improve relations with the US and to gain assistance with its own civilian nuclear program.

The pattern of Chinese accommodation with the US over Iran was complicated by the parallel emergence of China’s energy relations with the Islamic Republic. In October 2004 China reached a $70 billion energy deal with Iran, which allowed it to buy an annual total of 10 million tons of liquefied natural gas and 150,000 barrels per day of oil from Iran over 25 years. Sinopec was given a 51 percent stake in the Yadavaran oilfield in western Iran. Despite the UN sanctions on Iran and Washington’s efforts to isolate Tehran, including attempts to limit China’s energy imports from Iran as a means of punishing the country for its nuclear program, Iran remains a critical supplier of crude oil, and China’s major trade partner in the Middle East, second perhaps to the Gulf Cooperation Council economies.

The first Turkish program was established at Beijing Foreign Studies University in 1985. Later Shanghai International Studies University began to recruit undergraduate students into its Turkish-language program in 2011. The next year, Xi’an International Studies University introduced a Turkish major. In 2013 Peking University added Turkish language to its Oriental languages programs. Other specialized universities, such as military schools, also provide Turkish-language instruction. The increase in Turkish language study attests to the improvement of Sino-Turkish relations.

Prior to 1971 Chinese-Turkish relations were strained by Turkey’s Cold War alliance with the West and Ankara’s protection of Uighur leaders and activists of the East Turkestan Republic (ETR), who fled to Turkey after the creation of the People’s Republic. President Richard Nixon’s opening to China laid the groundwork for the establishment of formal diplomatic ties between Ankara and Beijing in that year. But Turkey’s tilt toward Europe and sympathy for the ETR were still stumbling blocks.

Since 2000, when the second obstacle was removed, relations have been much better. The Turkish government, during a visit from Zemin, announced that it respects China’s sovereignty and territorial integrity, indicating that it would move to restrict Uighur activities in Turkey, particularly those of Uighur separatists.

The September 11, 2001 attacks and the US war on terror served to strengthen Sino-Turkish ties further. The governments increased their cooperation against “East Turkestan terrorists,” after China, the US, the European Union and the UN agreed to designate the East Turkestan Islamic Movement as a terrorist organization. Details about this organization — said to be headquartered somewhere in Afghanistan or Pakistan — are murky at best.

Relations have continued to improve. In June 2009, Hamid Gül was the first Turkish president to visit Urumqi, capital of the Xinjiang Uighur Autonomous Region. There he signed seven economic agreements resulting in more than $1.5 billion in contracts. The Uighur-Han clash on July 5, 2009, which Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan called “genocide,” tested relations. But soon afterward, bilateral relations picked up where they had left off. In 2010 the Chinese and Turkish air forces held a joint military exercise in Turkey, the first time China had so collaborated with a NATO member nation. In 2011 a Turkish industrial park was planned in Urumqi, and Turkey agreed to train 50,000 Chinese imams that same year. A more recent example of expanding strategic cooperation is a Chinese defense company’s $4 billion contract to build Turkey’s long-range missile defense system.

As these strategic ties between China and the Middle East thicken, so will the development of Middle Eastern area and language studies proceed apace in China.