When ethnic disturbances broke out in western China last week, bringing the worst violence the country has seen in years, international reaction proved curiously mild. The violence in Urumqi, the capital of Xinjiang province, resulted in the deaths of at least 184 people, with some putting the number much higher. The events alarmed China's leadership, prompting President Hu Jintao to suddenly leave the G-8 summit in Italy. As for the rest of the world, the sense of alarm, if there was one, seemed rather muted.
World leaders remained eerily quiet or spoke in tones strikingly deferential to China, despite pleas from Uighur activists and expressions of support from Tibetans, who are intimately familiar with the perils of asserting a minority identity inside the giant Asian nation. The Urumqi events and the international reaction demonstrate how effective China's foreign policy strategy has proven in pursuit of Beijing's two paramount goals in the global arena.
Despite the extent of the unrest and the sheer size of the body count, most of the world didn't have much to say about the incidents. The European Union, which has proven so outspoken regarding events in places such as Iran or the Palestinian Territories, suddenly reverted to the old diplomatic maxim of respect for the domestic affairs of other countries. The EU representative in Beijing, Serge Abou, described the troubles, which had been threatening to boil over for many years, as "a Chinese issue, not a European issue." Abou had little more to say on the matter, since "we would not like other governments to tell us what is to be done" when Europe experiences problems with its minority populations.