Heat to be cooled off

Another of Hong Kong's temperamental summer visitors came and went. Tropical cyclone Soudelor skirted the South China Coast swiftly last week. Despite Signal No.3 being hoisted, this was not a particularly violent storm. Yes, there were a couple of squally thunderstorms, but those were all but over in a day. Instead of bringing lots of rain and destruction as most other typhoons do, this one served to make a welcome change to the weather, cooling off the stifling heat that had turned Hong Kong into a cauldron earlier in the week.

Before I played tennis Friday evening, my wife called to remind me to drink lots of water. What sound advice it turned out to be. I was to learn from the news on the next day that a man collapsed and died while playing tennis that same evening. That was one of the two deaths caused by heat on Friday.

Over 150 deaths were caused by a different kind of heat in Xinjiang. The mass unrest prompted by a dispute between Uighur and Han Chinese workers in a Guangdong toy factory in June has led to 156 dead, thousands injured and 1,500 arrested. This and last year's riots in Lhasa brings into question the picture painted by China that the majority Han Chinese are getting along harmoniously with the ethnic minorities. To what extent such violence will intensify ethnic separatism or disrupt social stability remains to be seen, but the fact that President Hu Jintao cut short his visit to Italy for the G8 summit to return to China understates the perceived seriousness of the issue.

Is this really a happy, unified nation? Is China's policy towards minorities of official recognition, limited autonomy and unofficial control working? Has it always been in the minds of these minorities that those autonomous regions are by right their own land taken from them by force at some historical points of times? Ongoing developments in Tibet and Xinjiang may continue to throw light on these questions.

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