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The Rupp Report
Jürg Rupp, Executive Editor

The Rupp Report: When Cotton Becomes A Threat

By Jürg Rupp, Executive Editor

According to sources from Hong Kong and within certain human rights groups, thousands of cotton farmers in Xinjiang in northwest China protested in front of a police station at the end of September. The farmers demolished doors and windows in a demonstration against cotton price-fixing by the Chinese People’s Liberation Army (PLA). They also are said to have damaged a police car and engaged in fights with the police.

The trouble began in an area controlled by the 7th division of the Xinjiang Production and Construction Corps, a unique economic and paramilitary organization set up to colonize Xinjiang in 1954. A riot broke out September 22 at a cotton farm in Ili, 600 kilometers away from the regional capital of Urumqi in Northwestern China. This fact was reported by the Hong Kong-based Information Centre for Human Rights and Democracy.

It was reported the police went to search for and to confiscate cotton hidden by some of the farmers who have tried to sell their cotton directly on the market for better prices. The army had earlier set up roadside checkpoints to make sure no cotton would be smuggled out of the area.

The farmers, who are under direct administration of the PLA, can legally sell their harvest only to the army, which sets a fixed price for the cotton. The army pays only 55 cents per pound, while the price on the free market could fetch some 82 cents per pound.

The Ili raid and arrest and imprisonment of a farmer infuriated the locals, who rallied together and gathered at the police station the following day to protest for the farmer’s release. After a few hours, violence broke out. Between 50 and 60 police officers were required to disperse the protesters at the police station, and 40 people were injured. At least 25 farmers were detained, according to the sources.

Costs Of Growing Cotton Are Increasing
According to local people, there are several reasons for the conflict: The main problem is that the purchase price for cotton is set too low, while the costs of growing cotton are increasing. The farmers cannot put up with this anymore. Apart from the price-fixing, the military had failed to pay the farmers on time, and the situation was explained to be unacceptable.

The cotton farmers had sent representatives to Urumqi to petition high-level authorities. A resident was quoted as saying people on both sides were injured in the conflict. The corps is the de facto administrative authority over several medium-sized cities as well as settlements and farms. It has its own administrative structure and is largely independent from the government of the autonomous region.

October 30, 2007