The Rupp Report: When Cotton Becomes A Threat

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