Beijing May Turn Grievances Caused By Repressive Ethnic Policies Into Stronger Ethnic Hatred, Leaving Xinjiang More Vulnerable to Jihadism

Beijing May Turn Grievances Caused By Repressive Ethnic Policies Into Stronger Ethnic Hatred, Leaving Xinjiang More Vulnerable to Jihadism
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Beijing has taken a variety of actions in its efforts to tame ethnic unrest in Xinjiang. While there are plans targeting economic inequalities between Han Chinese and Muslim Uighur–plans which would likely improve ethnic relations–many policies impose increased restrictions on Uighurs, which may further escalate tensions. Particularly, some rallies and policies resemble the tactics used in the Chinese Cultural Revolution era, and they may deepen the mistrust and the divide between the government and Uighurs.

Massive migration of Han Chinese into Xinjiang from other parts of China has been encouraged for the past few decades. Equally massive investments into infrastructure and industrial development have greatly increased the economic output of Xinjiang, ranking it among the top performing provinces in China. But jobs created have gone overwhelmingly to Hans, who now make up more than 40% of the province’s 22m people.

Besides economic inequality, Uighurs grievances have been exacerbated by officials’ intolerance of Islamic traditions and their emphasis on Chinese instruction in schools. For example, during Ramadan, officials put pressures on teachers, students and civil servants not to observe fasting rituals.

The most recent unrest in Kashgar prefecture on July 28, the end of the holy month of Ramadan, is the bloodiest in Xinjiang since the riots in 2009. More than 100 people died and more than half of these deaths were alleged terrorists gunned down by police. Beijing blamed terrorists for this action, but Uighurs activists abroad claimed it was sparked by the enforcement of bans against fasting.

After this tragedy, one city in early August temporarily banned people who donned certain Muslim clothing from taking public buses during a sporting event hosted by the city. Public signs illustrated the banned styles, and portrayed women in full and partial veils and headscarves and men with full beards and even modest goatees. It is worth noting, however, that is was a city-level policy and not publicly endorsed by the central government. It is possible local officials enacted such rules to impress Beijing. Even before the July 28 incident, the capital Urumqi had banned bus passengers from carrying items ranging from cigarette lighters to yogurt, with restrictions similar to those of airlines.

There is a rising concern that Chinese policies include excessive use of deadly forces in controlling Uighur militants. In some cities, patrolling SWAT units have already been authorized to shoot dead suspected terrorists without warning. A recent Associated Press review of articles by China’s state media found that at least 323 people have died in Xinjiang-related violence since the escalation of the unrest started in last April. Almost half of those deaths were inflicted by police gunning down alleged perpetrators.

The government’s increasingly repressive security measures make it difficult to clearly understand what fueled the July 28 incident and whether the deaths of alleged perpetrators in associated episodes are justifiable. Police routinely stop foreign journalists from approaching trouble-spots. Social media are rigorously censored. Kashgar police stop motorists going into and out of Uighur sections of the city, checking identity cards and belongings. Crimes meriting detention can include carrying too much petrol–the substance could be used for bomb-making.

Beijing likes to claim that Uighurs live in harmony with Han Chinese. In reality, while Uighurs resent Hans for the economic inequality and cultural restrictions, Hans often feel that Uighurs are ungrateful to the generous provided by Beijing. Wang Lixiong, a Chinese scholar and minority rights activist who sees tensions in Xinjiang as rapidly descending into “Palestinization,” in which there is mutual ethnic hatred between groups.

Despite the strikingly amateurish appearance of most of the attacks (rarely do perpetrators use anything other than knives), Beijing’s rhetoric on every violent episode is focusing on the “rare minority” terrorists who practice jihadism and the external influence of Islamist militancy seeping across the border from Afghanistan and Pakistan.

The Economist cautioned Beijing in its coverage of the July 28 tragedy that in making jihadism the core of the Uighurs’ militancy, China may risk changing the current home-grown grievance into the complex religion-embedded conflicts that are much harder to settle. As seen in recent months, the violence has been morphing, spreading beyond the region itself and taking on some of the hues of jihadism elsewhere—through suicide-attacks and indiscriminate killing of civilians.

People are put into jails on terrorism-related charges. Singapore Asia One reported that some mass public sentencings are reminiscent of China’s Revolutionary-Era rallies. Authorities have encouraged neighbors and friends to inform on each other. Urumqi policy in May posted rewards for tips on everything from terrorism training to growing long beards. Last Thursday, China’s state media revealed the newest rewards scheme, offering up to one million Yuan (US$160,000) for terrorism-related tips.

Such grassroots security monitoring is undeniably important in preventing further damages, but this kind of spying is risks deepening the mistrust between Han Chinese and Uighurs as well as causing the deterioration of relationships even within exclusive communities. Alleged terrorists are called “People’s Enemy.” This term was last used over 50 years ago during the Revolution-Era for landlords, counter-revolutionaries, vagabonds, prostitutes, capitalists, marketeers, foreigners and intellectuals. That movement to crush landlords in the countryside consequently disintegrated the close-knit communities that had previously existed.

While the damage to Uighur-Han Chinese relationships from these rewards-for-tips schemes are speculative, the real damage was done on July 30, when Ilham Tohti, a prominent Uighur scholar, was charged with separatism. Mr. Tohti is widely considered a moderate advocate for better treatment of Uighurs (never called for separation or violence). His prosecution will silence moderate Uighurs who hardly embrace jihadism but are still angry about the ethnic policies. However, this estranges Uighurs further and leaves them more vulnerable to fall prey to extremists.

Opinion by Tina Zhang

Congress Kills the Postal Service by Objecting to Its Diversification of Service–If Approved to Provide Payday Loan Services, USPS Can Help People Avoid Loan Sharks

Congress Kills the Postal Service by Objecting to Its Diversification of Service--If Approved to Provide Payday Loan Services, USPS Can Help People Avoid Loan Sharks
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The Postal Service recently reported a $2 billion loss in the third quarter of fiscal 2014. While this loss has provided evidence for people who advocate downsizing USPS further, there are other numbers outside of the media spotlight that show a more complicated matter.

The design that USPS is directly reporting to Congress is the root reason for its grievous financial condition and its inability to get its books out of the red. Although technological advancements have reduced the traditional mail volume over the years, the Postal Service was in very healthy financial shape back in 2006 and therefore attributing the decline fully to the internet may not convince all. In 2006, Congress and the White House passed a law that forced the USPS to prefund retiree health benefits for all its employees in the next 75 years by 2017. As the only federal agency burdened with such an obligation, USPS has started its decline since then.

In the third quarter of fiscal 2014 the Postal Service made $10 million in operating profit, and the loss of $2 billion only appeared after fulfilling its prefund obligation as required by the 2006 law. The loss was $750 million for the same period of last year. Since the beginning of fiscal 2014, USPS has made more than $1 billion in profit but ended up with a net loss of $3.7 billion.

USPS’ efforts to diversify services have been greatly limited by Congress, which has insisted that the service not compete directly with private companies. In 2000, USPS began operating a secure system that would have allowed it to remain the primary conduit for most American’s monthly payments. But the Internet industry objected, and Congress successfully pressured the USPS to abandon it.

The same pattern has repeated several times over the last decade, with the Postal Service identifying a way to cope with the decline of traditional mail, only to have companies–and ultimately Congress–object. Even as companies like FedEx and UPS have encroached on the Postal Service’s turf, Congress still placed limitations on its direct competition.

As a result, USPS has failed to expand its service to banking, insurance, retailing, etc. which are routinely offered in a post office in Europe or Asia. Rounds of bills aiming at saving the Postal Service have been debated and voted. Many mail processing centers and post offices were closed. But cutting service alone, without increasing revenue, will not solve the financial troubles. And revenue increase is not possible when Congress refuses to grant USPS the freedom and flexibility.

In the latest report from the Postal Service’s Office of Inspector General proposed that the USPS offer expanded financial services–including bill payments, prepaid cards, and small-dollar loans. Financial service is not new to USPS. From 1911 to 1967 it offered savings accounts; today it provides more domestic paper money orders than any other sources.

The proposed service of small-dollar loans has the potential to save millions or billions of dollars for under banked Americans. One quarter of Americans are unbanked or under banked. Under banked people have regular banking accounts but also use payday lenders for brief and low amount loans.

It is expensive to use the payday loan service. The average under banked Americans earn about 25,000 per year, but pays 9.5 percent of that in interests and fees for this service. It is not unusual for payday loans to have an annual interest rate over 800 percent.

On August 10th, Last Week Tonight with John Oliver on HBO exposed the profitability of the payday lending industry and the difficulties to regulate it for consumer protection. Aside from the high interests for people who cannot pay back the loan soon, high hidden fees sometimes can plague people who can.

Aware of these issues, many states attempt to regulate the interest rates and fees the industry can charge. Even in states that overcame the pressure from the industry to have strict rules, such as Kansas, the industry avoided the rules by changing names, changing business registration categories, etc.

Consumers are not blind to the pitfalls of payday loan but they still need the financial relief this service can offer. If Congress allows USPS to offer similar service that charges a reasonable fee, consumers in need could rejoice.

In the world, the traditional mail delivery declined 20 percent over the last decade, but postal financial service increased 28 percent over the same period. Three out of four postal operators worldwide offer financial service and one billion people in 50 countries use them.

USPS still has the second most civilian employees in US (after Walmart) and its number of offices rivals that of Walmart, McDonald’s and Starbucks combined. With such giant infrastructure presences, limiting it to the mail delivery service is unconvincingly wasteful.

Opinion by Tina Zhang


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Coke, Pepsi and Dr. Pepper Snapper Reported Second Quarter Sales and Profits Showing Consumers Prefer Stevia and Sugar over Aspartame, the Artificial Sweetener in Most Diet Varieties–But Scientists Are Still Debating About Sugar

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Last week, Coca-Cola, PepsiCo and Dr. Pepper Snapper all revealed their second quarter earnings report. Coca-Cola’s soda sales were flat in North America and its revenue fell 1.4 percent, despite a sales volume increase in other parts of the world. PepsiCo suffered a two percent fall in both profit and soda sales volume. Dr. Pepper Snapper reported an increase of over one percent of revenue and its soda sales volume climbed two percent. These numbers reflected consumers’ attitudes on different types of sweeteners.

For the decline in profits, Coke and Pepsi both blamed the weak market for diet soda. The artificial sweeteners in diet soda were supposed to win over consumers who are concerned over the negative impact of high sugar intake. But the safety and quality of artificial sweeteners became a stronger concern, causing a continuous and accelerated fall in diet soda sales. As the new report revealed, the sales volume for regular Coke actually rose one percent in North America, while Diet Coke sales dropped further.

Aspartame is the artificial sweetener used in most diet sodas for Coke, Pepsi and Dr. Pepper brands. It has very little nutrient value, and thus is nonfattening. And it is much sweeter than sugar gram for gram, which is interesting because the two amino acids used in forming this substance do not taste sweet. Individuals with phenylketonuria, a genetically transmitted disease, are unable to break down one of the two amino acids in aspartame and thus must avoid it. Explicit warnings are placed on such products.

FDA considers aspartame to be safe for the vast majority of consumers, and approved the sweetener in 1981. Although a few cases of adverse side effects have been attributed to aspartame, exhaustive reviews have failed to show an unequivocal and direct connection between the symptoms and the sweetener. Coke ran a national print ad, “The safety of aspartame is supported by more than 200 studies over the last 40 years,” in the summer 2013. The continuous declining in diet soda sales shows it is an uphill battle to assure consumers of the safety of this artificial “chemical.”

Dr. Pepper Snapper’s soda sales volume increase was largely due to the brands Canada Dry, Peñafiel (in Mexico) and Schweppes. The latter two offer carbonated water in addition to sugary drinks. All three brands do not have artificial sweeteners, but use sugar or high fructose corn syrup instead.

For low and mid calorie soda, all three companies are working hard. Dr. Pepper Snapper introduced ten lineups in 2011 which use only small quantities of high-fructose corn syrup, and from March this year started to test soda that has 60 calories per can with only the natural sweetener stevia and sugar. Coke and Pepsi both failed before with non-natural sweeteners— “C2” from Coke in 2011 and “Pepsi Edge” from Pepsi in 2005. Coke released “Coca-Cola Life,” which contained stevia in Argentina and Chile last year, and will market it in UK this autumn. Pepsi Next does not use aspartame and has 30 percent less sugar than regular Pepsi.

Stevia is  rising start as a natural sweetener. This non-caloric sweetener is found in the leaves of Stevia rebaudian (one species in the genus Stevia in the sunflower family). Native to subtropical and tropical regions from western North America to South America, local populations have used these sweet leaves for centuries. It has a slower onset and longer duration in comparison to sugar. With negligible effects on blood glucose, it is attractive to people on carbohydrate-controlled diets. Stevia causes a bitter or licorice-like aftertaste at high concentrations and therefore is often used together with sugar.

Sugar seems to be the devil people know. But how much is really known? It became a part of the human diet after the domestication of the sugarcane in 8,000 BC. “Sugars” include honey, sucrose (table sugar), high-fructose corn syrup, fruit juice concentrate and agave nectar. There is a direct relation between intake of dietary sugars and the dental caries (decay and crumbling of a tooth or bone) across the life span.

Other than these, not much can be agreed on regarding the role of sugar and its recommended intake. The linkage between high sugar intake and obesity and other health complications is inconclusive, according to the Institute of Food Technologists (IFT), the world’s largest food science organization. At IFT’s annual meeting in New Orleans at the end of June, a discussion panel stated that government and health organizations’ recommendations for sugar intake have varied significantly based on different studies and different methodologies to evaluate those studies.

While sugar intakes in the US have decreased over the past 10-15 years, obesity has continued to increase. The North American branch of the International Life Sciences Institute (ILSI), a nonprofit organization in Washington, DC, has undertaken a project to better understand the interplay between sugar in the diet and health outcomes and to identify research gaps.

Some of the questions ILSI plans to address with respect to sugar and health are: What is the long-term effect of a reduction in sugar intake on body weight and/or fatness in overweight/obese adults and in children? Do dietary sugars impact how the body accumulates fat differently than other energy-yielding nutrients? What is the effect of sugar intake on satiety and hunger mechanisms? What are the mechanisms in the brain linking sugar consumption to a reward system/insulin and glycemic levels (“addictive behavior” or “sugar addiction”)?

These answers will aid the emergence of an evidence-based and more meaningful sugar intake recommendation. Still beverages–non-carbonated drinks such as energy drinks, fruit juice and flavored water–have seen a quick rise in market shares since they are deemed healthier than the carbonated sugar bombs. But it is not unusual for natural fruit juice, with no sugar added, to have as much sugar and calories as traditional Coke at the same volume. A deeper and more comprehensive understanding of sugar will help a concerned and confused public, and impact the future of all sugary drink industries.

By Tina Zhang



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