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China Unrest Has Roots In History

This week's deadly clashes in Xinjiang province between ethnic Uighurs and China's majority Han are rooted in tensions that go back more than two centuries, an expert on the Uighurs says.

"Since the 1750s, essentially, there has been almost constant tension between the two groups," Sean Roberts, director of International Development Studies at George Washington University, tells Robert Siegel.

He says Uighurs, Turkic-speaking Muslims, have more of a historical and cultural connection with their neighbors to the west than with the Han to the east. Roberts adds that for the most part, Uighurs have remained distinct from the Chinese.

China says its role in Xinjiang province has been one of modernization. The economic development has made the region attractive to Han, who have moved there in large numbers. Roberts says not everyone has welcomed the change.

"I would say since the mid-1980s, late-1980s, there's been an incredible amount of development in Xinjiang, but that has not always been completely welcome ... [by] the Uighurs because the mode of economic development that's taking place is essentially displacing them from their traditional livelihoods," he says.

Roberts says he is surprised that the tensions between the two communities did not boil over sooner.

The violence is "not unusual because we do know there is incredible frustration in the Uighur population," he says. "And, I think, most people have predicted that this would happen, and in some ways were surprised that this type of thing had not happened previously."

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