News / Asia

China’s Xinjiang Violence Highlights Tensions with Uighurs

In this August 2, 2011 photo, a policeman patrols near the site of an attack in Kashgar in China's far western Xinjiang Uigur Autonomous Region.
In this August 2, 2011 photo, a policeman patrols near the site of an attack in Kashgar in China's far western Xinjiang Uigur Autonomous Region.
VOA News
Deadly clashes this week in China’s western province Xinjiang that killed 21 people have again drawn attention to the long-running tensions between the predominantly Muslim Uighur community and the Han Chinese majority.
Officials say Tuesday’s incident began in a rural town near Kashgar, when a group of social workers and police visited a home allegedly occupied by a gang of thugs. After authorities found weapons stashed inside, they say the home’s occupants set their house on fire and attacked.
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Click to enlarge
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Chinese officials called the incident a premeditated terrorist act.  State media outlets portrayed the assailants as separatist extremists.
But Ilham Tohti, a Uighur scholar at the Beijing-based Minzu University, is doubtful of the official version, calling it unlikely that a group of terrorists would hide together in their own home.
Xinjiang authorities have had a very poor record in similar situations, with limited information provided about what really happened, Tohti said.  
U.S. officials called for a transparent investigation and expressed concern about reports of discrimination of Uighurs and other Muslims in China.
Uighur rights groups in exile say the incident is more likely related to the struggle of the nine-million-strong Uighur minority in Xinjiang against a regime they deem oppressive.
In recent decades the region has seen an influx of Han Chinese, brought to the resource-rich province by a central government scheme that encourages investment and development.
Resentment over economic discrimination and cultural repression peaked in 2009 when violent riots in Xinjiang's capital Urumqi left 200 people dead and triggered an increase in security forces and surveillance. Since then, there have been only sporadic episodes of violence.

According to Tohti, although many Uighurs in Xinjiang do not dare protest against Chinese rule out of fear, the majority of them chafe at the policies of local authorities.
This silence does not mean that they agree with local authorities, he said, adding that now many are speaking out.
Linking al-Qaida affiliates
Although no group has formally been accused for Tuesday's attack, previous incidents in the region have been ascribed to the East Turkestan Islamic Movement, an al-Qaida affiliated group accused of fomenting separatist actions among Uighur communities in Central Asia.
Rohan Gunaratna, head of the International Center for Political Violence and Terrorism Research in Singapore, believes that the latest incident in Xinjiang was in fact an act of terrorism and said the East Turkestan Islamic Movement and al-Qaida have worked together against China in the past.
They already attempted a number of attacks during the Beijing Olympics, he said.  Since then they have been recruiting and training a very small, but significant, number of Uighurs on the Afghanistan-Pakistan border.
In March, China sentenced 20 men on charges of terrorism and inciting secession in Xinjiang. According to the court, some of the men had plotted to kill local policemen, and had been distributing propaganda material related to the East Turkestan Islamic Movement.
Raffaello Pantucci, Senior Research Fellow at the Royal United Services Institute in London, said there is almost no tangible evidence that the East Turkestan Islamic Movement and al-Qaida are working together to strike China.
Pantucci said although some Uighur organizations exist in Pakistan's tribal areas, China has been effective in preventing them from crossing over to neighboring Xinjiang.  Pantucci added those who are launching attacks appear to be more domestically radicalized.

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Comment Sorting
by: Wangchuk from: NY
April 26, 2013 10:10 AM
The tension in Xinjiang is due to the Chinese occupation of East Turkestan which was independent in 1949. Since then the CCP has colonized this territory & treated Uighurs as 2d class citizens & discriminated against them. Uighurs were the vast majority in 1949 but due to Chinese resettlement projects, they are now less than 50%. China gave Uighur land to ex-PLA soldiers to farm.

There's a huge economic disparity between Uighurs and Chinese in Xinjiang and the Chinese police harass & persecute Uighurs for their political & religious views. Amnesty Int'l & Human Rights Watch have condemned the PRC's human rights violations in Xinjiang. The PRC uses the excuse of terrorism to deny Uighurs their basic civil rights. As long as the PRC treats Xinjiang as a colony & mistreats Uighurs, there will be strife in that land.

by: believe what you see
April 26, 2013 8:17 AM
I grew up in Xingjiang province. I saw friendship between Han and Uighur since girlhood. Some Han and Uighur can even speak two languages. We sharing each cultural gifts, foods and weddings. And we even learned and still remembered some polite uighur words in middle school, for example, thanks, pls sit, bye bye in Uighur words. My mother worked in a professional college, teaching plant genetics. A young Uighur teacher comes home often, sharing the teaching experience together.

And we sometimes visited their fruit yard, enjoying the delicious fruits, which is part of my wonderful memory. And I still remembered an uncle who was deputy mayor of a county. He said when Han people killed a person, this will be sentenced quickly; but when minority people killed a young kid and his old grandpa, the county court and mayor dare not decide the sentence, waited for the supervisor to decide a year later. Now I already left Xinjiang and I felt so sorry for those terrible killings in 2009. I hate those ones who used innocent lives to win their political purpose. We have peaceful life and friendship, who has time and money to break them??

by: Batur from: Mongolia
April 26, 2013 2:43 AM
VOA comment blog should not offer free space for those Chinese who are writing here on behalf of Chinese secret services !

by: Job from: Sichuan
April 26, 2013 12:12 AM
VOA Shame on you! I am a student from a Minzu university. And I am Minority.If you don't know truth,don't misleading people.

by: li from: beijing
April 25, 2013 8:16 PM
I can not understand why VOA hold a dual criteria on terrorist attack took place in US and China? That bias attitude hurt Chinese feeling severely, and also the credibility of VOA.

by: Sebastian V. from: USA
April 25, 2013 4:40 PM
My tax dollars for VOA is definitely worthwhile. Hope people do a bit more research... and see the differences...

by: Aeris from: Henan
April 25, 2013 3:38 PM
Ilham Tohti, a Uighur scholar at the Beijing-based Minzu University

The description of this kind made me confused and so I asked my friend in Minzu University of China, her answer "the scholar is neither a professor nor a teacher of the university, simply a graduate, now banished by government for crimes" LOL

VOA. You could turn a terrorist act into a clash, good enough

by: ChasL from: Seattle
April 25, 2013 12:39 PM
Should the Chinese say "tension" wrt Boston bombing? Does anything excuse violence like this anywhere?

I can't believe my tax dollar is funding VOA propaganda like this. Shame on you.

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