News / Asia

China Blames ‘Religious Extremists’ for Xinjiang Province Attack

Innocent or not, Xinjiang's ethnic Uighurs claim the Chinese government treats them as second-class citizens

Heavily armed Chinese paramilitary police men march past the site of the late April explosion outside the Urumqi South Railway Station in Urumqi in northwest China's Xinjiang Uygur Autonomous Region.  China blames Islamic extremists for this and other recent deadly attacks.
Heavily armed Chinese paramilitary police men march past the site of the late April explosion outside the Urumqi South Railway Station in Urumqi in northwest China's Xinjiang Uygur Autonomous Region. China blames Islamic extremists for this and other recent deadly attacks.
Sarah Williams

An Islamist militant group called the Turkistan Islamic Party (TIP) claimed responsibility for a deadly bomb attack at a train station in China's western city of Urumqi in late April that killed three people and injured 79.
 

China had said the attack in its restive Xinjiang region, home to the Muslim Uighur ethnic group, was carried out by two religious extremists who were among those killed in the blast.
 

The government of the Xinjiang Uighur Autonomous Region (XUAR) identified one of the alleged assailants as Sedirdin Sawut, a 39-year-old man from southern part of the region, home to the country's mostly Muslim Uighur ethnic minority who complain of oppressive Chinese policies and strict religious controls.  
 
China cities Urumqi, Guangzhou and Kunming
China cities Urumqi, Guangzhou and Kunming

Other attacks, expanding government concern

Earlier, police in Xinjiang were seeking assailants who brutally killed three Han officials in late April. Radio Free Asia reported Thursday that the brutal slayings appeared to have been timed to the visit of President Xi Jinping, who urged greater integration between the Uighurs and the China’s majority ethnic Han.    A bomb explosion on the final day of Xi’s four-day visit was widely interpreted as a rejection of his conciliatory comments.

Recently,  violence has spread to other cities.  Ethnic Uighurs were blamed for violent attacks at railway stations in Guangzhou and Kunming.

Authorities in major cities such as Beijing and Shanghai have increased surveillance in public transportation centers following the attacks.  In October, five people were killed in an assault at Beijing’s Tiananmen Square which officials blamed on the East Turkestan Islamic Movement.

Reasons behind unrest

The reasons for the unrest among Uighurs in Xinjiang are varied, according to Nury Turkel, Uighur-American attorney and former president of the Uighur American Association. 

“Since [Beijing’s] occupation of the Uighur’s homeland that the Uighurs called East Turkestan,  which is referred to as the Xinjiang Autonomous Region,  all forms of political repression have escalated, particularly since 9-11, and then they reached a new level after the July 5 [2009] ethnic clash in Urumqi,” Turkel said.

“Instead of looking at reexamining its minority policy, the Chinese government mistakenly believed that they can subjugate the Uighurs and they can continue to make the Uighurs second-class citizens,” he said.

Others say the government and Uighur extremists have both contributed to the current tense situation. Yan Sun, a political science professor at the City University of New York, says both the Chinese government and the Uighur extremists have contributed to the current tense situation.

Sun says the Chinese government’s policy in regard to Uighur religious practices has been brutal.  “The policy has been draconian, especially on youngsters under the age of 18, who are not allowed to have legitimate Islamic education,” she said. 

Sun, who visited Xinjiang last fall, believes the restrictions have encouraged some parents to seek underground madrassas for their children.  These same madrassas, she notes, have Central Asian, Wahabi, Pakistani and Afghan influences that can encourage radicalism.

“I have actually visited some of the underground sites, some of them have weapons, they teach violence, they teach jihad,” Sun adds.  “I would say the overwhelming majority of Uighurs are squeezed in between the draconian policies of the Chinese government and the fundamentalists.”

But religious and cultural issues are not the only sources of tension.  Sean Roberts, associate professor of international affairs at The George Washington University says China’s continuing development in Xinjiang is also a factor in the unrest.  He says the expansion is related to Beijing’s economic and natural resource interests in the west and south. 

“I think a lot of Uighurs right now feel that they are marginalized in the areas they see as their homeland, “ Roberts says.  “They feel as though they are being pushed aside in Xinjiang.”

“I think that’s something that’s often overlooked in terms of reasons that there might be a lot of discontent among the Uighurs,” says Roberts
.
Turkel suggests China’s president does not understand the concerns of Xinjiang’s residents.  He says the recent arrest of writer and scholar Ilham Tohti for inciting separatism fuels those concerns.

Turkel says the arrest of a moderate scholar who promotes cultural understanding between the Uighurs and the majority Han Chinese, has caused many Uighurs to feel “hopeless.”

“The hopelessness sometimes leads you to making poor judgments, and doing something not so acceptable in various societies and various cultures,” he said.

But Sun believes that the Chinese government has tried to help the Uighurs through affirmative action. “I don’t think it’s fair to arrest [Tohti],” she said. “On the other hand…the [government’s] biggest harm is to actually deprive Uighurs of the motive of finding some way to work to this transition to the market; economic liberalization has not been kind to a lot of people, Han people too.”

Beijing says its policies have brought economic development and a higher standard of living to Uighurs in Xinjiang.  But Roberts says the improvements have come at a cost.

 “I think the Chinese government is attempting to do various things to integrate the Uighurs more into the PRC and into the general idea in the PRC of what is a better life, the question is whether that’s appealing to all Uighurs, I think it is to some, but not to all,” he said.

Last week’s attack in Guangzhou coincided with the release of an academic review of China’s national security, which said that the country’s terror threats are growing.

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Comment Sorting
Comments
     
by: Negishabi from: Canada
May 16, 2014 1:03 AM
The Islamist militant group called the Turkistan Islamic Party (TIP) is a terrorist group, using violence and killing innocent civilian people, they are also separatists.

There are also separatists in North America (e.g. Canada) and European countries (e.g. UK), but they should not kill innocent civilians no matter what type of reasons.

Chinese government treats minority much better than majority in education, working and promotions, compared to other countries, including some developed countries. See wiki, Uyghur population increases faster than Han majority people in Xinjiang province, so China government actually encourage Uyghur populations in the past tens of years. Don't attribute all brutal violence and terrorism of these separatists to China government.

Some terrorists attacked USA in the past years, but we cannot only blame USA government and encourage terrorists, is it right? The same principle holds true for China, please don't encourage violence and terrorism by these terrorists in China.


by: uighur from: somewhere
May 15, 2014 10:47 PM
The Sub is telling a lie here. I am a uighur, I live in yoghurt heartland. There is no underground madress with weapon as sun said. Police search everyhouse at anytime without permission, it is impossible to have madress with weapons. Another point which Reveal his fake statement is his so called visit to such madress. If I am not wrong, you have Chinese face. Those days if there is such madress, do you think they let a Chinese visit it? Police killing people, arresting for just being suspicious, in this situation, how did you able visit underground madress which is enough crime being jailed for life or to dead?
Clearly, that sun guy is trying to support Chinese government as much as he can. Just like his another statement that government try to help uighur. This is another pure fake. Try to help what? Help us to lose everything we have, land, language, culture, faith, everything.
His so cakes integration of uighur to rest of China is another name for forced assimilation. You can cheat someone who dose not know situation kaybe, but not us Anymore. If such occupy other country and integrate them to yours is justice, then China should do that to whole world, after all you have population to outnumber others. But China will be kicked his ass in east Turkestan.
Any kind of Tactics you use, such as, using your so-called experts abroad, using police, army in east Turkestan, both no longer useful.
People will not buy your lie any more.


by: Chi Ly from: USA
May 15, 2014 8:07 PM
Rise up the heroic Uighurs! Never trust Han's reconciliation; it is just a tactic. Fight them. That was how the Vietnamese found their independence after a thousands years of resistance.

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