One of the key threats to China’s civil and political stability is the social unrest in western China’s Xinjiang region, which many Australians are only reading about for the first time this week, thanks to massive rioting and the related fatalities.

Australians have a vested interest in China’s economic growth. But problems like the ones in Xinjiang — formally called the Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region of China — are not going to go away and this week’s events have been a long time coming. Australia would best served to encourage China to face these problems head on and try to achieve some sort of political resolution, by acknowledging the hardships faced by the Uyghur people in this region.

During the Olympics, one of the government’s greatest fears was political acts of defiance by the ethnic Uyghur (pronounced wee-gur) community. Indeed, there was at least one bombing and several other bomb threats in the lead-up to the games. English-language Chinese TV was chock-a-block full of blatant propaganda, with Uyghurs paraded before TV cameras, professing their satisfaction with the Chinese government and illustrating their happiness in general with living in the motherland.

Two years ago, it was the tenth anniversary of the Gulja massacre, in which hundreds, possibly thousands, of Uyghur lost their lives during peaceful protests in the region. Many of our readers won’t remember this anniversary, or indeed the incident it memorialises, but the Uyghur community certainly does.

These are a proud people, who have their own language, dress and culture, totally different to the Han (ethnic) Chinese — it is in fact more similar to their Turkistan neighbours. While some are pushing for an independent homeland, which would be known as East Turkmenistan, others would settle for the recognition and celebration of their differences, as well as an end to the racism and prejudice they are often subjected to by their Han countrymen.

They are led by Rebiya Kadeer, a political dissident now in exile in the US. A successful businesswoman, with a fortune pinned on a laundry operation, she abandoned her life in China after six years in a Chinese jail on charges of “leaking state secrets”. But her family that remained has been subjected to constant harassment by the authorities.

The issues being faced in this region are not the only ones in China. There are wider democratic and freedom of speech issues, dissatisfaction with employment levels, unrest in Tibet (XiZang) and more. There are thousands of minority groups in China, which are often pockets of hardship and festering sores of discontent and unhappiness.

China would be best to try to try to take as many of these issues off its plate to pave the way for the sort of stability that can walk hand in hand with the economic growth the world is pinning its hopes on. Parading Uyghurs on TV to offer the pretence that everything is fine won’t work in the long-term, as we can clearly see from this week’s events.