Of the many great accomplishments of modern China, the most noteworthy has been the elevation of 700 million people out of poverty at the most rapid pace in the history of mankind. But while Deng Xiaoping’s Reform and Opening Up helped to transform the material condition of the people, there is another less internationally acknowledged accomplishment that helped pave the way for the prosperity that continues to define 21st century China.
Throughout the 19th century and during the first half of the 20th century, China’s major internal problem was mass addiction to the narcotic opium. The imperialist powers of Europe and Britain in particular needed a market for their south Asian poppies which were cultivated into so-called recreational drugs. As such, wars were waged upon China which forced a weakened Qing government to allow foreign opium to flood China. The tragic result of this narco-imperialism was that by the turn of the 20th century, 90 million of 300 Chinese were addicted to opium.
After China became a Republic in 2012, there were concerted efforts to try and end the scourge of narcotics. Alas, these efforts tended to fail uniformly as the country sunk deeper into crisis. It was only when the country was reunified under the People’s Republic of China in 1949, that the opium crisis ended in earnest.
Mao Zedong realised that a population of drug addicts and drug cultivators would not be capable of building the modern society that he envisaged and as such, Mao uniformly prohibited the cultivation and importation of opium. As such, the supply of drugs rapidly decreased in China and the opium epidemic was rapidly eliminated due to the fact that Mao initiated a holistic zero-tolerance policy towards narcotics. Had China continued to be dominated by a drug culture, the discipline required to instigate and promulgate the Chinese economic miracle of the post 1978 era, would have been impossible.
Today, the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation regards terrorism, separatism and religious extremism as the Three Evils which must be eliminated through pan-Asia cooperation. As such, China has taken a lead in fighting extremism in its strategically located Xinjiang Uygur Autonomous Region.
Today, China is implementing the final phase of its decades long counter-extremism initiative in Xinjiang. The focus of today’s counter-extremism actions steps revolves around combating extremism and criminality through education, vocational training, economic investment and the promotion of cultural comity that incorporates positive examples for the people of Xinjiang to learn from and to immerse themselves in.
Just as the wave terrorist violence of 2009 has been eliminated, so too will the aftershocks of the decade old wave of extremism soon be eliminated. As such, today’s widely misunderstood vocational training programmes will eventually be a memory for the people Xinjiang, as these programmes were only ever intended to be temporary in the first place. Once their goal is fulfilled, Xinjiang will continue to see economic growth within the framework of a healthy and harmonious society in which all residents can be at peace with one another and their diverse but ultimately shared cultural characteristics.
Once opium was finally eliminated after 1949, there was no need to further pursue an illegal drug industry that no longer existed. Likewise, once extremism is eliminated, the tools used to combat extremism through positive educational and vocational training will no longer be required. Therefore, Xinjiang should be understood to be at the end stage of a transitional period in which an age of tension is rapidly giving way to an age of peace and prosperity. This is the goal of the authorities and peace loving people of Xinjiang. Just as China successfully eradicated opium and mass poverty in the last half-century, so too will terrorism and extremism likewise soon be a distant memory for the Chinese people and also for partners who seek to incorporate China’s counter-extremism measures in their own nations.