News / Asia

China Considers Tougher Anti-terror Measures

Blood is seen on the ground outside after a knife attack at Kunming railway station, Yunnan province, March 1, 2014.
Blood is seen on the ground outside after a knife attack at Kunming railway station, Yunnan province, March 1, 2014.
Lawmakers in China are pushing for a national law to better protect the country from terrorism after a brutal attack earlier this month at a train station in the southwestern part of the country.

The assault at Kunming station occurred just days before the National People's Congress opened in Beijing, and left 29 dead and 143 injured. Critics say the incident underscorres the challenges the country faces in dealing with increasingly frequent unrest in Xinjiang, an area authorities say has become a breeding ground for terrorism.

Zhao Bingzhi, dean of the law school at Beijing Normal University, says recent terrorist attacks by groups such as the East Turkestan Islamic Movement show the reality of terrorism infiltrating Chinese society and that China must learn from other developed countries and establish a comprehensive, systematic and specialized anti-terrorism law.

To prevent terrorism more effectively, governments need legislation to strengthen their investigative powers, Zhao said.

Together with religious extremism and separatism, terrorism is considered one of the three main evils threatening China's stability. That is why discussions about terrorism are deeply linked with long-running unrest in Xinjiang, home to the Muslim Uighur ethnic minority. 

"To some extent China is filling in a hole which other countries have already filled in," said Barry Sautman, a professor at the Hong Kong University of Science and Technology. "But of course this does not mean that up till now China has not had a mechanism for punishing people who are convicted of terrorism.”

To prosecute crimes of terrorism, China has relied on a number of different provisions in its criminal code, and punishment has varied depending on the charges invoked by the court. Since 2001, amendments to the criminal code have included provisions to punish those who financially support terrorism, as well as more severe punishment for terrorist acts.

With violent acts, individuals have been charged with crimes such as leading a terrorist organization, murder, arson, or damaging property. In other instances, such as with Uighur scholar Ilham Tohti, individuals have been charged with separatism after they openly criticized government policy towards Xinjiang.

"It is not so much that the Chinese government feels it needs a greater set of laws to deal with terrorists actions," Sautman said. "Rather, it's to show that China is part of a war of terror in conjunction with similar other nations in the world who have similarly been affected by terrorists actions."

Ever since ethnic riots rocked Xinjiang's capital of Urumqi in 2009, violence has been steadily intensifying. Last year was particularly bloody, with dozens of attacks.

The Kunming train station attack and another incident in Tiananmen Square last October have raised concern that increasingly common dissent and violence in Xinjiang is now starting to spill over to other parts of China, threatening public safety.

Raffaello Pantucci, a senior research fellow at the Royal United Services Institute, says Chinese authorities are under pressure to do more to prevent terrorism.

"How do you counter messages that are being put out by a terrorist organization to persuade individuals to carry out certain acts?" Pantucci asked. "How do you prevent the development of ideological networks which turn into terrorist cells? How do you identify this range of things that necessarily end up in violent acts, versus ones that may end up as political acts? The Chinese system has not connected all the aspects of this."

The government says terrorism is orchestrated by terrorist organizations committed to using violence to split China apart.

Uighur groups in exile have questioned the official narrative and say violence usually grows out of personal disputes between Uighur families and local authorities. They say it is not separatism that drives attackers, but rather a general frustration within Xinjiang of China's heavy-handed policies and tight control of religious and cultural practices.

It is unclear whether a national law on terrorism will address the varying perceptions of what is fueling the violence.

Analysts say that by standardizing laws there will be more clarity on what constitutes a crime and what evidence needs to be presented for a court to convict a suspect. However, Hong Kong University of Science and Technology's Sautman says Chinese laws often are worded in a vague manner that leaves considerable room for political and judicial authorities to rule on a case-by-case basis.

Law-school dean Zhao Bingzhi says that because of the complex nature of the issue, agreement on a draft anti-terrorism law will take some time.

Anti-terrorism legislation in the United States and other Western countries has spurred controversy about potential infringement of citizens' rights, and Zhao says China faces similar issues.

At the moment, anti-terrorism legislation is not included in the list of bills up for discussion at the National People's Congress.

You May Like

Photogallery Belgian Security Measures Foreshadow New Normal for Europe

Rising threat of terrorism, disaffected Muslim populations and open borders, along with refugee, migrant crisis, are creating perfect storm for Europe, which some analysts fear continent is ill-suited to weather

Competing Claims of Responsibility for Mali Hotel Attack

Malian authorities ask public for help in identifying gunmen killed in attack, amid conflicting claims of responsibility from multiple jihadist groups active in the country

Debt-ridden Refugees Await Onslaught of Lebanese Winter

Aid agencies are attempting to reduce potentially devastating consequences of freezing conditions and snowstorms that killed eight last year, including three Syrian refugees

This forum has been closed.
Comment Sorting
by: Erkin Dolat from: Washington, DC
March 12, 2014 5:21 PM
Hi Rebecca,

Where is the Uyghur voice in your piece? You interviewed Chinese and foreign experts but not a single Uyghur representative? Why? This is something directly related to the life and death of the Uyghur people who, like Tibetans, live under the authoritarian and colonial rule of PRC. Please remember China calls HH the Dalai Lama a "terrorist" as well. You write about China as if it was a democracy like the U.S. China's treatment of Tibetans and Uyghurs are not any different than pre-WWII Nazi treatment of Jews. Remember that.
In Response

by: Wangchuk from: NYC
March 13, 2014 9:56 AM
Actually the article does mention the view of Uighur exile groups as the reason behind the violence being persecution of Uighurs. But everything else you say about China & how they treat Uighurs & Tibetans is correct. The CCP is the cause of the problem in E. Turkestan, not the Uighur people. The CCP will use "anti-terrorism" laws to oppress Uighurs, Tibetans and other dissidents.

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
After Paris Attacks, France Steps Up Fight Against ISi
November 24, 2015 3:04 AM
The November 13 Paris attacks have drawn increased attention to Syria, where many of the suspected perpetrators are said to have received training. French President Francois Hollande is working to build a broad international coalition to defeat Islamic State in Syria and in Iraq. Zlatica Hoke reports.

Video After Paris Attacks, France Steps Up Fight Against IS

The November 13 Paris attacks have drawn increased attention to Syria, where many of the suspected perpetrators are said to have received training. French President Francois Hollande is working to build a broad international coalition to defeat Islamic State in Syria and in Iraq. Zlatica Hoke reports.

Video US, Cambodian Navies Pair Up in Gulf of Thailand

The U.S. Navy has deployed one of its newest and most advanced ships to Cambodia to conduct joint training drills in the Gulf of Thailand. Riding hull-to-hull with Cambodian ships, the seamen of the USS Fort Worth are executing joint-training drills that will help build relations in Southeast Asia. David Boyle reports for VOA from Preah Sihanouk province.

Video Americans Sharpen Focus on Terrorism

Washington will be quieter than usual this week due to the Thanksgiving holiday, even as Americans across the nation register heightened concerns over possible terrorist threats. VOA’s Michael Bowman reports new polling data from ABC News and the Washington Post newspaper show an electorate increasingly focused on security issues after the deadly Islamic State attacks in Paris.

Video World Leaders Head to Paris for Climate Deal

Heads of state from nearly 80 countries are heading to Paris (November 30-December 11) to craft a global climate change agreement. The new accord will replace the Kyoto Protocol on Climate Change that expired in 2012.

Video Uncertain Future for Syrian Refugee Resettlement in Illinois

For the trickle of Syrian refugees finding new homes in the Midwest city of Chicago, the call to end resettlement in many U.S. states is adding another dimension to their long journey fleeing war. Organizations working to help them integrate say the backlash since the Paris attacks is both harming and helping their efforts to provide refugees sanctuary. VOA's Kane Farabaugh reports.

Video Creating Physical Virtual Reality With Tiny Drones

As many computer gamers know, virtual reality is a three-dimensional picture, projected inside special googles. It can fool your brain into thinking the computer world is the real world. But If you try to touch it, it’s not there. Now Canadian researchers say it may be possible to create a physical virtual reality using tiny drones. VOA’s George Putic reports.

Video New American Indian Village Takes Visitors Back in Time

There is precious little opportunity to experience what life was like in the United States before its colonization by European settlers. Now, an American Indian village built in a park outside Washington is taking visitors back in time to experience the way of life of America's indigenous people. Carol Pearson narrates this report from VOA's June Soh.

Video Even With Hometown Liberated, Yazidi Refugees Fear Return

While the northern Iraqi town of Sinjar has been liberated from Islamic State forces, it's not clear whether Yazidi residents who fled the militants will now return home. VOA’s Mahmut Bozarslan talked with Yazidis, a religious and ethnic minority, at a Turkish refugee camp in Diyarbakır. Robert Raffaele narrates his report.

Video Nairobi Tailors Make Pope Francis’ Vestments

To ensure the pope is properly attired during his visit, the Kenya Conference of Catholic Bishops asked the Dolly Craft Sewing Project in the Nairobi slum of Kangemi to make the pope's vestments, the garments he will wear during the various ceremonies. Jill Craig reports.

Video Cross-Border Terrorism Puts Europe’s Passport-Free Travel in Doubt

The fallout from the Islamic State terror attacks in Paris has put the future of Europe’s passport-free travel area, known as the "Schengen Zone," in doubt. Several of the perpetrators were known to intelligence agencies, but were not intercepted. Henry Ridgwell reports from London European ministers are to hold an emergency meeting Friday in Brussels to look at ways of improving security.

Video El Niño Brings Unexpected Fish From Mexico to California

Fish in an unexpected spectrum of sizes, shapes and colors are moving north, through El Niño's warm currents from Mexican waters to the Pacific Ocean off California’s coast. El Nino is the periodic warming of the eastern and central Pacific Ocean. As Faiza Elmasry tells us, this phenomenon thrills scientists and gives anglers the chance of a once-in-a-lifetime big catch. Faith Lapidus narrates.

Video Terrorism in Many Forms Continues to Plague Africa

While the world's attention is on Paris in the wake of Friday night's deadly attacks, terrorism from various sides remains a looming threat in many African countries. Nigerian cities have been targeted this week by attacks many believe were staged by the violent Islamist group Boko Haram. In addition, residents in many regions are forced to flee their homes as they are terrorized by armed militias. Zlatica Hoke reports.

Video Study: Underage Marriage Rate Higher for Females in Pakistan

While attitudes about the societal role of females in Pakistan are evolving, research by child advocacy group Plan International suggests that underage marriage of girls remains a particularly big issue in the country. VOA’s Ayesha Tanzeem reports how such marriages leads to further social problems.

VOA Blogs