On August 25, 2017, the local government in Cherchen (in Chinese, Qiemo) county in Xinjiang’s Bayin'gholin Mongol Autonomous Prefecture announced its “Uyghur-Han Marriage and Family Incentive Strategy,” which gave 10,000 yuan to Uyghurs and Han Chinese couples who intermarried.

The policy marked the first time in 68 years since China’s ruling Communist party exerted control over the vast Xinjiang region that the government explicitly proposed increasing intermarriage between the majority Han and the country’s indigenous people.

Tursun Emet, the head of Cherchen county’s Office of Ethnic and Religious Affairs, told RFA the policy was announced after seeking the opinions of local people.

“Before the announcement was made, not only was my office asked for input, but the entire public was asked for input and feedback, including stakeholders and religious officials,” he said.

“The people have not shown any adverse reaction, since the policy was announced after public feedback. This wasn’t an announcement that was randomly enforced. Everyone had a say in the policy before it was announced,” added Emet.

Emet, who demurred when he was asked whether he would want his children to marry Han Chinese, said it was too early to evaluate the program.

“It’s unlikely that there will be a sudden rise in such marriages immediately following the policy announcement. The intention here is to encourage interracial marriages,” he told RFA.

A Uyghur woman is shown with her children in Kashgar, Xinjiang, in a file photo. PHOTONONSTOP

Less than a month after he took over as Xinjiang Communist Party Secretary in August 2016, Chen Quanguo began pushing a related “Uyghur-Chinese One Relative” policy, under which Chinese are made “relatives” of reluctant Uyghurs.

“I have Han relatives. One family was selected based on economic need, and the other based for socio-political reasons. We are ‘relatives’ with two [Han] families,” said a Uyghur woman based in a southern county in the Uyghur region, who spoke to RFA on condition of anonymity.

“They were assigned to us as ‘relatives’ by my employers. Due to the shortage of Han Chinese colleagues, we were assigned to interact with them as relatives and to see them as relatives,” she said.

“It’s happening here, too – the practice of adopting the ‘Uyghur-Chinese One Relative’ policy,” said a worker from southern Xinjiang.

“The government’s intention here is to lessen the big difference that currently exists between the two races. It might start as a government requirement, but give it a month or so and people will begin interacting with one another freely, and learn to treat one another as kin,” said the worker.

A Uyghur cleaning worker from the city of Aksu (Akesu) said she meets her designated Han relative weekly to eat dinner.

“Yes, I do have a Han relative. She is so pleasant to be around, and we invite each other for dinner all the time,” she said.

She said she had no problem sharing pots and pans with her Han relative, even though Chinese foods like pork are forbidden under the Muslim faith followed by most Uyghurs.

“They don’t really eat those things [pig] regularly anymore so I don’t usually ask about them. Plus, water has the ability to purify anything, so I am not concerned about that,” the worker said.

A Uyghur lawyer based in Urumqi told RFA that Han officials in the Xinjiang capital are becoming “relatives” with religious leaders and imams, making frequent visits to each other’s homes.

“I’ve seen it on TV, Uyghurs visiting their Han relatives’ homes, and Han visiting their Uyghur relatives. It’s happening in Urumqi,” said the lawyer.

“Uyghur-Han relatives often brag about helping one another, things like ‘Oh, I brought them food; they helped me solve such-andsuch problem; they helped me put my child through school…” he said.

“I think by now the public has understood, you know, after all those essays and electronic mail [about Uyghur-Chinese One Relative’], the people understand it now,” added the lawyer.

A Uyghur family at home in Xinjiang's Kashgar Prefecture, Aug. 16, 2013. Photo: Imaginechina

Despite such signs of understanding, one Uyghur farmer based in Hotan (Hetian) said that refusing to take on a “Han relative” led to his losing his wages.

“I’m just a farmer. I know about the Uyghur-Chinese One Relative policy and I know people who have Han relatives,” the farmer told RFA.

“I’m constantly being told about the benefits of being a ‘relative’ of Han Chinese people. Every farmer around here is being told to adopt a Han relative,” he added.

London-based Uyghur analyst Enver Tohti said he sees the policy as part of an assimilation strategy which views the Uyghurs, who live in a geographically strategic location, as “a serious obstacle for China’s national ambitions.”

“Whether it be economic or political ambitions, the Uyghur region has become a ‘choking point’ for China,” Tohti told RFA.

“Because of its large population, China is likely looking to expand westwards, and the Uyghur region has become a choking point in its ambitions to do so,” he added.

“Ethnic cleansing of the Uyghur people in the region is no longer an option for China, because the world will be watching. Therefore, the strategy it has adopted to eliminate such an obstacle is through assimilation,” said Tohti.

“China doesn’t have much more time left, and it is aware of such time constraints. Therefore, it plans to quickly and quietly resolve the issue by forcefully integrating Uyghur people with the Han Chinese population, whether it be through interracial marriages or through the Uyghur-Chinese One Relative policy,” he added.

American researcher Patrik Meyer, a visiting professor at Peking University, said Chen’s policies underscore “the difference in China’s tolerance towards other Muslim groups versus Uyghurs.”

“Many religious activities deemed illegal or terror-related in the Uyghur region are accepted as legitimate and entirely legal religious practices by Hui people,” he said, referring to Chinese Muslims who generally enjoy wide latitude to practice their faith.

“China’s zero-tolerance attitude towards Uyghurs who engage in the same activities, as well as the anti-terrorism campaigns carried out in the Uyghur region, can be seen as a crisis against the Uyghur identity,” said Meyer.

“This is why I believe China’s recent policies in the region will not only fail to make Uyghurs more friendly towards Han Chinese. On the contrary, I think these measures will further alienate Uyghurs, making them more anti-Han Chinese.”