Three alls: “eat all, rob all and distribute all”(Part five of seven)
By Cao Chang-Ching 曹長青
The Taipei Times
October 15th, 1999
Twenty of the 25 poorest counties in China are in Xinjiang. Corruption is so rampant that even overseas aid can get whittled down to virtually nothing after the `experts' and bureaucrats are finished with it
The area of Xinjiang is about one-sixth the size of China, or 44 times that of Taiwan. Xinjiang is also rich in oil and other natural resources. But today, 20 out of China's 25 poorest counties are in Xinjiang, according to official Chinese reports.
"The communists have always said they are the saviors of China," said Abdulhekim, Executive Chairman of the East Turkestan National Center. "However, after ruling Xinjiang for almost half a century, they're still unable to address the basic issues such as water, fodder and food. The Chinese are exercising a policy of resource exploitation in Xinjiang. The Xinjiang Production and Construction Corp (XPCC, 新疆生產建設兵團) controls the best land, the most fertile ranches, the best strategic positions and water resources. They are also in charge of suppressing local separatist activities."
The XPCC was established in the early 1950s and its 2.4 million members are almost homogeneously of Han ancestry. The bulk of the army was divided into 11 divisions and 150 regiments, and stationed around almost all of Xinjiang's major cities.
While working as a reporter for the Urumqi Evening News (烏魯木齊晚報), Abdulhekim once had access to go over the petition letters from the public in the Autonomous Region's government office. Looking through the letters, he became aware that during a period of six months the government had received about 500 petitions and most of them were Uighurs' complaints about the expropriation of their land, ranches and water resources by the XPCC.
"The Americans seized the land of the Indians and made it a first-class country," said a former Uighur teacher from Urumqi who had just arrived in Istanbul three weeks before. "The British occupied Hong Kong and turned it into a prosperous port city. But the Chinese took over Xinjiang, only to strip it of all resources, to impoverish the region, and to annihilate the ethnic groups."
The unemployment rate is also rising in Xinjiang. "We call a layoff (下崗) an `Uighur-off' (下維) because while many ethnic Turkic people are losing their jobs, the Chinese are not only thriving but also swarming into Xinjiang."
Along with the economic development, multifarious taxes and levies have become harsher and harsher everywhere in China, and the situation in Xinjiang is worse. According to the official Xinjiang Legal Daily (新疆法制報), there were 37 different kinds of taxes in Xinjiang, including a "weather forecast tax," that is, one has to pay a tax in order to get information about when it's going to rain or snow.
The older-generation of the Uigurs lament that the living standard in Xinjiang is worse than that of the 1930s. The younger generation, like 28-year-old food sciences student Ahemat, complains about poverty in his home town. "People in Hetian (和田) live in terrible penury," said Ahemat, in Istanbul, where he studies. "The average per capita income there is only US$50."
With a population of 1.4 million, Hetian is one of the poorest regions in Xinjiang. It is true that the Beijing government also wants to improve the situation there and began to receive aid and loans from institutions like the United Nations and the World Bank. However, according to insiders, a huge amount of funds has been embezzled by the many layers of bureaucracy in both Beijing and Xinjiang.
Reports on corruption appear in newspapers everywhere every day in China. The problem, which is caused mainly by systematic failures, has been widespread despite the government's constant campaign to curb it. In the case of Xinjiang, it was said, "`The heaven is high and the emperor is far away' (天高皇帝遠); there is no help for it." So, the officials in Xinjiang are emboldened to misappropriate funds in ways that are not necessarily opaque.
Ayxem is a native Uighur who worked at the Xinjiang Uighur Autonomous Region Women's Union (新疆婦女聯合會) before coming to Istanbul about two month ago. Her office handles 10 to 15 foreign aid programs every year. In an interview in Istanbul she said that she and the director of the office pocketed a five percent management fee from each program on the sly.
"A Canadian aid program alone provided 300,000 renminbi each year to help Xinjiang fight poverty," Ayxem explained, then emphasized, "but what we took was really chicken feed compared to what they ripped-off in the other departments. They are more greedy and daring."
As a graduate of the China Agricultural University in Beijing, Ayxem was among the best educated among the cadres. Thus, when three UN officials in charge of the United Nations Development Program (UNDP) came to Xinjiang on a survey mission in 1997, Ayxem was assigned as a Chinese official representative to escort the UN officials to visit a needy family in Saybag village of Karabash County (Moyu 墨玉), in Hetian prefecture.
"The UN officials could not help but shed tears when they saw the indigent family," Ayxem said in a sorrowful tone. "The level of poverty struck them as unbelievable. The couple and their five children all slept on one big brick bed. There was no mat, and a thin piece of cloth served as a sheet covering the bricks, and all seven people shared one blanket. The family was so poor that they could have only one meal per day."
It was decided at once that the UN should provide aid to the area, and a fund of US$1.7 million was granted. Nevertheless, the money traveled a long route and was chipped away under all sorts of pretexts by all the bureaucracies from the central government in Beijing to "Poverty Assistance Offices" (扶貧辦）in Xinjiang province, Hetian prefecture and Moyu County. When the aid finally reached Saybag village, US$1.7 million shriveled away to 1.2 million renminbi (about US$145,000).
"Of course, one can always concoct various ingenious titles for padding the bill," said Ayxem. "For example, they have to set up a team of experts to do research. At the provincial level alone, there were about 10 people, such as `women specialists,' `animal husbandry experts,' `farming experts,' and others. These experts' daily wage was 100 renminbi," that is half of Ayxem's monthly salary at the Women's Union. And the expert team "researched" for three whole months.
Even what was left -- the US$145,000 -- was not applied to the needy families. A local Moyu County official told Ayxem privately that they had loaned the money to a rich local farmer to set up a ceramic factory. However, the factory went bankrupt soon afterwards, and the money was never returned to the government. Sources alleged that the county officials had teamed up with the rich farmer and embezzled the money in the guise of a bankruptcy.
The Chinese authorities are not totally unaware of the unscrupulousness, but they just turn a blind eye to it so long as the Uighurs do not oppose the government. "Compared to `splittism,' corruption is not a big problem," said Ayxem.
"Suppressing the East Turkestan separatist movement is their first priority," Ayxem said.
As it applies everywhere in China, "stability first," is also the Chinese authorities' top policy for Xinjiang.
Obviously, other than the so-called "splittism," nothing seems critical to the current government's rule.
"All Xinjiang's officials are corrupt, whether they're Han or Uighurs or other nationalities," Ayxem concluded. "Everybody seizes the opportunity and takes advantage of political power to pocket money."
"The private slogan for the corrupters is a new `three-alls policy' (三光政策) : eat all, rob all and distribute all (燒光,搶光, 殺光)," borrowing from the phrase "burn all, kill all, loot all," once reportedly said by the Japanese invaders in China.
(This is part five of a seven-part series by Cao Chang-Ching.)