Events in Xinjiang
Andrey ARESHEV | 21.03.2013 | OPINION

Events in Xinjiang

As the session of the National People's Congress was being held in Beijing, conflicting reports were once again starting to come out of the Xinjiang-Uyghur Autonomous Region – a region situated in the northwest part of China which borders Central Asian post-Soviet republics and is populated, for the most part, by Muslims and members of other Turkic nations... (1) Among other things, it was reported (by Radio Free Asia) that the authorities had tightened up security in central and southern areas of the autonomy (to the point of introducing a curfew), allegedly in response to a recent incident in the city of Korla in which five people were killed.

Official Chinese authorities described the incident as being of a local nature (2), remarking that safety in Xinjiang remained at a "normal level" and police patrols in the streets of Ürümqi and other cities in the region were a usual occurrence (3). The interpretation by pro-Western sources of what took place, however, was completely different. With reference to unconfirmed reports and the Information Centre for Human Rights and Democracy based in Hong Kong, it was alleged that unidentified people had carried out an attack on a police station in Hotan, while the incident in Korla was characterised as an interethnic conflict (4). The World Uyghur Congress, which has been established in Munich, reported that several dozen Uyghurs had been arrested (5). At the same time, Radio Asia published a considerable and biased report on the religious policy of the Chinese authorities in Xinjiang (6). The New York Times, which also did not overlook the incident in Korla, pointed out that this region to the south of Ürümqi is a centre of oil production (7).

In recent years, the authorities of the People's Republic of China have been counting on the accelerated development of western and southwestern provinces, as well as the creation of new urban settlements and farming enterprises. Radical elements among the Uyghur population have begun to resent the influx of immigrants from China's central provinces and the development of local mineral deposits. In particular, Uyghur activists are taking note of the preferences given to Han migrants, including subsidies on grain and fertiliser and provisions for the free use of farming equipment and other resources unavailable to Uyghurs (8). 

To a large extent, the situation is being influenced by an external factor: western and southwestern regions of the People's Republic of China share borders with five states - Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, Afghanistan and Pakistan. Against this background, a number of observers believe that the noticeable increase in ethno-religious tensions in the Muslim part of former British India (in Pakistan) is a response to the Anglo-Saxon masters' Big Game to strengthen Beijing's links with Islamabad and Tehran (9) in recent years. According to this logic, as well as blocking communications from the shores of the Indian Ocean to Western China, the consequences of destabilising Pakistan may also be export instability in the Xinjiang-Uyghur Autonomous Region. Incidents in Kashgar in 2012 were carried out with the involvement of militants who, according to the Chinese authorities, were trained in Pakistan (10). 

During a recent session of the UN Human Rights Council in Geneva, a US representative accused China of undermining the linguistic, cultural and ethnic traditions of religious minorities, which is allegedly heightening tensions in Xinjiang and Tibet (11). It is possible to suppose that amid the escalating rivalry between Washington and Beijing, the ethno-religious diversity of China's population (primarily in the country's western and southwestern borderlands - Xinjiang and Tibet) will be taken full advantage of in order to undermine the political stability of the Celestial Empire. There are currently a number of extremist groups operating in the Xinjiang-Uyghur Autonomous Region, including the East Turkestan Islamic Movement (ETIM), the East Turkestan Liberation Front and several others. They all maintain close links with the Taliban and al-Qaeda. In October 2012, Global Times, quoting sources within the Chinese security services, reported on the involvement of ETIM and East Turkestan Solidarity Association militants in armed conflicts in Syria (12). 

The director of the Pakistan Institute for Peace Studies, Muhammad Amir Rana, expressed his opinion that ETIM has an "extremely effective network in the region" (13). According to a professor of history at Nanjing University, Chen Qianping, some overseas political forces are still looking for opportunities to ignite problems in Xinjiang (14). 

At the latest session of the National People's Congress, problems surrounding the Xinjiang-Uygur Autonomous Region were a subject of special discussion. It was noted that the region is facing a new problem – the targeted distribution of false information. Information coming out of Xinjiang is being interpreted "to the contrary" and certain "facts" are simply being made up, observed the head of the region’s party organisation. The current international situation is conducive to the well-known "three forces" infiltrating the region (in China's political jargon, these are separatism, terrorism and extremism). 

China's leadership policy for the accelerated development of Xinjiang in combination with the strict suppression of any displays of religious-based separatism and extremism will not tolerate change. On 12 March, a steel plant was put into operation in Kashgar – one of the autonomy's least developed regions – with an annual production of one million tonnes of steel and rolled steel just in the first stage (15). In Ürümqi, a factory is being built at an accelerated pace by the joint venture automobile company Shanghai Volkswagen – the first project related to the production of passenger cars in Xinjiang (16). For the natives of Xinjiang, there are increasing possibilities to receive an education in Beijing and other key centres in China (17). At the same time, local leaders in Xinjiang are being encouraged to study the Uyghur language.

However, attempts to disrupt the development programmes worked out for Xinjiang in Beijing will undoubtedly continue. The "three forces" – separatism, terrorism and extremism – will play a direct role in this, but it is also important to remember that, at the end of the day, they are only a tool for the American superpower to implement their strategic plans regarding the Eastern Hemisphere.

(1) According to official statistics, members of non-Han ethnic groups make up 60 percent of the province's 21 million population.
(2) According to the official version, a farmer addicted to gambling decided to take revenge on society following an argument with his family, see: Knife-wielder killing 5 arrested in Xinjiang // Four of those killed were Hans and one was a member of the Hui Muslim minority. One of the people injured was an Uyghur. China charges ethnic Uighur man with 5 murders // AP, 15 March.
(3) Xinjiang Official Says Police Patrol "Normal" in Korla City //
(4) Under Tight Security After Police Confirm Attacks //
(5) Xinjiang Placed on Red Alert After Violence //
(6) Xinjiang Raids Point to Religious Controls //
(7) Killings Stir Fears of Ethnic Tensions in Chinese Region //
(8) Han Migrant Influx Threatens Uyghur Farms //
(9) Including a pipeline project from Iran to China, see: Iran-China pipeline route via restive regions //
(10) Uighurs and China's Xinjiang Region //
(11) China castigated for Tibet self-immolations at UN Session //
(12) Mass media: East Turkestan Islamic Movement militants are fighting in Syria //
(13) Terrorists are increasingly getting involved in actions against China //
(14) Xinjiang city of Korla not on high alert, no curfew imposed: official //
(15) Xinjiang Steel Mills to Face Raw Material Shortage //
(16) Many Chinese automotive companies are starting to build factories in Xinjiang //
(17) 'Xinjiang class' helps to mold tomorrow's leaders, deputy says //