News / Asia

    Q&A: What is Driving Violent Attacks in China’s Xinjiang?

    Paramilitary policemen stand guard near the exit of the South Railway Station, where three people were killed and 79 wounded in a bomb and knife attack on Wednesday, in Urumqi, Xinjiang Uighur Autonomous region, May 1, 2014.
    Paramilitary policemen stand guard near the exit of the South Railway Station, where three people were killed and 79 wounded in a bomb and knife attack on Wednesday, in Urumqi, Xinjiang Uighur Autonomous region, May 1, 2014.
    Three people died and 79 were left wounded this week after a bombing near the main train station in Urumqi, the capital of China's restive region Xinjiang. The attack occurred shortly after China's president Xi Jinping completed a rare tour of the autonomous province, home to the ethnic Uighur minority.

    China blames violence on extremists who want to separate Xinjiang from China through acts of terror. But Uighur rights groups say discrimination and religious suppression are driving Uighur people into committing extreme acts. 

    Rebecca Valli spoke with Barry Sautman, a professor who studies China's ethnic policies at the Hong Kong University of Science and Technology.


    Q: Why we are seeing increasing violence in and outside Xinjiang?

    A: “Over the course of the last three or four years there have been more than one hundred attacks in Xinjiang and that means that scores of people have been killed and many others injured.
     
    “This appears to be not something that is a response to particular events happening in Xinjiang, but rather a fairly concerted campaign, the problem is because of the non-transparency of Chinese government security operations we don’t really know who is the campaign by, we know that Chinese government always attributes it to the East Turkestan Independence Movement but this is a kind of vague conception of probably an amalgam of groups with different positions and different connections internationally.

     
    Xinjiang province, ChinaXinjiang province, China
    x
    Xinjiang province, China
    Xinjiang province, China
    “But it does seem that this continuous series of attacks is the reflection of the fact that internationally there are a larger number of attacks by various kinds of Islamist groups, and that what's happening in Xinjiang is part of that international upsurge. One could find connections between what happened in Xinjiang and what's happened elsewhere in the Muslim work in terms of this upsurge of Islamists violence. It reflects the growth I think of Salafist currents within the Islamic world.”

    Q: In Xinjiang, China's President Xi Jinping met with government officials, schoolchildren and security troops. He compared terrorists to rats, but also spoke about the need for more integration between Han and Uighur people. What was the significance of Xi's visit, and what is the new leadership's policy in Xinjiang?
     
    A: “I think that the most important aspect of Xi Jinping's visit to Xinjiang is the fact that it took place at all. It's not often that the very top leaders of China pay a visit to Xinjiang and particularly that they pay a visit to Nanjiang, that is the South part of Xinjiang which is of course the place where most of the trouble occurs and is also the poor part of Xinjiang.
     
    “It seems to me that one of the reasons why this visit took place was precisely to set a tone for two kinds of increased activity in the near future. One of course would be to step up the fight against terrorism. And of course by coming to Xinjiang and meeting with people in the security apparatus this is a way in which the highest levels of the central government pledge to devote whatever resources are necessary to expand the fight against the terrorists.
     
    “But on the other hand there's the prong of trying to do more to develop Xinjiang especially Southern Xinjiang which is the area of maximum concentration of poor Uighurs. I think Xi Jinping's visit indicates that more resources will be channeled not just to development in general, as often has been the case with Xinjiang, but rather specifically to raise the level of incomes of poor Uighurs and diminish the gap that exists between Ethnic groups in Xinjiang, particularly between Han and Uighur in terms of standard of living, the access to resources etcetera.”

    Q: There were reports in the past few days of local authorities in Xinjiang asking residents to inform on neighbors who wore long beards on the grounds they could be connected with the most recent attack in Urumqi. What impact does this type of profiling have in Xinjiang?  

    A: “I do think that it's almost inevitable when there is an effort to root out group of people engaged in violent activity against the states that security forces are going to engage in some sort of profiling. In the context of Xinjiang of course they suspect that people involved in terrorism are first of all Uighur, second that they are Uighur with a particular orientation and that orientation may be toward for example Wahhabi Islam or maybe toward some other form of what they consider to be religious extremism and therefore they want to spot that people who may have that inclination.
     
    “Having a long beard for example may be a sign of wanting to confirm to the stereotype of people who are especially devout. But of course whenever there is profiling of this kind inevitably lots of people who are not engaged in any kind of illegal activities are singled out for scrutiny and this causes resentment. In fact there have been efforts on the part of the Chinese state to try to force people to not dress in a certain way, or be involved in certain kinds of legal activity that has some relationship to religious devoutness, for example telling students to not fast during Ramadan or government employees to not fast, telling them to not grow beards. For women not to veil their faces etcetera, the whole idea is to try to divorce them from the pattern of living that is connected with religious devoutness in order to try to separate them from so called religious extremists elements.

    “But this often has had the opposite effect from what was intended, that is people resent this kind of suppression and it may in fact make them more willing to take the path that authority doesn't want them to take.”
     
    Q: Recently we have seen reports of Uighur travelling illegally to countries in South East Asia. Are we witnessing a new trend in the way Uighur people leave China, is it an exodus?

    A: “It is probable that there is tightened security between Xinjiang and Central Asia, that border actually has been fairly open until recently. But obviously in the increase of the number of violent incidents occurring in Xinjiang that means that the border police and others have been more vigilant than in the past and it probably is more difficult therefore to leave Xinjiang if you don't have permission to leave than it has been in the past that is crossing over for example to Kazakhstan.
     
    “So that may be one reason why people leave to go to South East Asia rather than leaving the way they were leaving before. It is also possible that if you go to South East Asia that may be the gateway to going to destinations that were not traditional destinations for people who were entering the Uighur diaspora, they may be for example make their way to Australia or go to parts of South Asia, but we really do not know for sure."

    You May Like

    Video Rubio Looks to Surge in New Hampshire

    Republican presidential candidate has moved into second place in several recent surveys and appears to be gaining ground on longtime frontrunner Donald Trump

    UN Calls for Global Ban on Female Genital Mutilation

    Recent UNICEF report finds at least 200 million girls and women alive today have undergone female genital mutilation in 30 countries

    UN Pilots New Peace Approach in CAR

    Approach launched in northern town of Kaga Bandoro, where former combatants of mainly Muslim Seleka armed group and Christian and animist anti-Balaka movement are being paid to do community work

    This forum has been closed.
    Comment Sorting
    Comments
         
    by: Law
    May 05, 2014 8:13 PM
    It's just a platform for twisting facts and true, with selecting comment from someone unfriendly with China. It's disappointed.

    by: Wangchuk from: NYC
    May 05, 2014 4:46 PM
    The reason there is increased violence in the Xinjiang-Uighur region is b/c of Chinese colonialism & repression. The violence was there before but it was directed by the CCP against the Uighur people. Now some Uighurs are fighting back & the CCP response is more repression, which only causes more Uighurs to join the resistance. The CCP has turned Xinjiang into a giant police state & the Uighur people into 2nd class citizens w/ no rights.
    In Response

    by: law
    May 05, 2014 7:56 PM
    You mean killing innocent people is a kind of resistant? So can I said 911 is a resistant to US goverment suspession? Nonsense!

    by: Ian MacFarlane from: St. Petersburg, FL USA
    May 04, 2014 8:55 AM
    The conflict in Xinjiang is a product of both the Muslim majority natives of the region desiring to be independent of China and the Chinese colonization process that mirrors the one Beijing is using in Tibet: moving Han families into the region to dilute the "minority" nationalities and to make the area more ethnically Chinese. The USA did just about the same thing when we settled the west in our own country.

    by: george from: china
    May 03, 2014 10:26 PM
    Why the terrorizing now in Islamic china? Why are the muslim Islamics chopping up people and bombing people in crowded train stations in China??? Duhh, thats easy. The communists are bowing to the muslim pressure to stop the growth of Christianity in China.
    Note that the communist police have just torn down a big christian church in a christian area of China, suddenly, after the muslim attack with knives and bombs attack. And the leader of China, Xi, was given an islamic muslim cap to wear in his visits to the Islamic area. So Xi is really trying to make the Muslims of china feel welcome. There is a fast growth of Christianity in china right now and so suddenly these bombings by islamic groups to bring fear and terror at the sudden attacks and suddenly Xi is wearing a muslim cap and suddenly a big church in the middle of china is torn down????? So the communists are bowing to the islamic pressure on the communists to stop christianity growth in china, of course.

    by: SEATO
    May 03, 2014 3:07 PM
    Due to incessant brutal Chinese religious and cultural repressions and continuous influx of Han immigrants to the region,it is not surprising that some Uighur freedom fighters have decided to wage their own war of independence against the Chinese occupiers.The Chineseand Koreans did the same while under Japanese occupation .In 1909, Ahn Jung Geun shot and killed Hirobumi Ito,the first Japanese prime minister in Japanese occupied Korea,at a railway station in the North eastern Chinese city of Harbin. In January 1914 the Chinese have unveiled a monument to glorify that assasin as a hero. It is a total paradox.You can not condemn one incident as terrorist attack while glorifying another as act of heroism.Just like the popular communist propaganda :"Wherever there is injustice,there are uprisings !".
    In Response

    by: Law
    May 05, 2014 8:09 PM
    The fact is that they are killing innocent people but not a governor. That's not a fight for freedom,that's a terrorist attack! Please just not twisting the true.

    Featured Videos

    Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
    German Artists to Memorialize Refugees With Life Jacket Exhibiti
    X
    Hamada Elsaram
    February 05, 2016 4:30 PM
    Sold in every kind of shop in some Turkish port towns, life jackets have become a symbol of the refugee crisis that brought a million people to Europe in 2015.  On the shores of Lesbos, Greece, German artists collect discarded life jackets as they prepare an art installation they plan to display in Germany.  For VOA, Hamada Elrasam has this report from Lesbos, Greece.
    Video

    Video German Artists to Memorialize Refugees With Life Jacket Exhibit

    Sold in every kind of shop in some Turkish port towns, life jackets have become a symbol of the refugee crisis that brought a million people to Europe in 2015.  On the shores of Lesbos, Greece, German artists collect discarded life jackets as they prepare an art installation they plan to display in Germany.  For VOA, Hamada Elrasam has this report from Lesbos, Greece.
    Video

    Video E-readers Help Ease Africa's Book Shortage

    Millions of people in Africa can't read, and there's a chronic shortage of books. A non-profit organization called Worldreader is trying to help change all that one e-reader at a time. VOA’s Deborah Block tells us about a girls' school in Nairobi, Kenya where Worldreader is making a difference.
    Video

    Video Genius Lets World Share Its Knowledge

    Inspired by crowdsourcing companies like Wikipedia, Genius allows anyone to edit anything on the web, using its web annotation tool
    Video

    Video Former Drug CEO Martin Shkreli Angers US Lawmakers

    A former U.S. pharmaceutical business executive has angered lawmakers by refusing to explain why he raised the price of a life-saving pill by 5,000 percent. Martin Shkreli was removed from a congressional hearing on Thursday after citing his Fifth Amendment right to stay silent. Zlatica Hoke has more.
    Video

    Video Super Bowl TV Commercials are Super Business for Advertisers

    The Super Bowl, the championship clash between the two top teams in American Football, is the most-watched sporting event of the year, and advertisers are lining up and paying big bucks to get their commercials on the air. In fact, the TV commercials during the Super Bowl have become one of the most anticipated and popular features of the event. VOA's Brian Allen has a sneak peek of what you can expect to see when the big game goes to commercial break, and the real entertainment begins.
    Video

    Video In Philippines, Mixed Feelings About Greater US Military Presence

    In the Philippines, some who will be directly affected by a recent Supreme Court decision clearing the way for more United States troop visits are having mixed reactions.  The increased rotations come at a time when the Philippines is trying to build up its military in the face of growing maritime assertiveness from China.  From Bahile, Palawan on the coast of the South China Sea, Simone Orendain has this story.
    Video

    Video Microcephaly's Connection to Zika: Guilty Until Proven Innocent

    The Zika virus rarely causes problems for the people who get it, but it seems to be having a devastating impact on babies whose mothers are infected with Zika. VOA's Carol Pearson has more.
    Video

    Video Solar Innovation Provides Cheap, Clean Energy to Kenya Residents

    In Kenya, a company called M-Kopa Solar is providing clean energy to more than 300,000 homes across East Africa by allowing customers to "pay-as-you-go" via their cell phones. As Lenny Ruvaga reports from Kangemi, customers pay a small deposit for a solar unit and then pay less than a dollar a day to get clean energy to light up their homes or businesses.
    Video

    Video Stunning Artworks Attract Record Crowds, Thanks to Social Media

    A new exhibit at the oldest art museum in America is shattering attendance records. Thousands of visitors are lining up to see nine giant works of art that have gotten a much-deserved shot of viral marketing. The 150-year-old Smithsonian American Art Museum has never had a response quite like this. VOA's Julie Taboh reports.
    Video

    Video Apprenticeships Put Americans on Path Back to Work

    Trying to get more people into the U.S. workforce, the Obama administration last year announced $175 million in grants towards apprenticeship programs. VOA White House correspondent Aru Pande went inside one training center outside of Washington that has gained national recognition for helping put people on the path to employment.
    Video

    Video New Material May Reduce Concussion Effects

    As the 2016 National Football League season reaches its summit at the Super Bowl this coming Sunday (2/7), scientists are trying to learn how to more effectively protect football players from dangerous and damaging concussions. Researchers at Cardiff and Cambridge Universities say their origami-based material may solve the problem. VOA’s George Putic reports.
    Video

    Video Saudi Arabian Women's Sports Chip Away at Stereotypes

    Saudi Arabian female athletes say that sports are on the front line of busting traditions that quash women’s voices, both locally and internationally. In their hometown of Jeddah, a group of basketball players say that by connecting sports to health issues, they are encouraging women and girls to get out of their homes and participate in public life. VOA’s Heather Murdock reports.
    Video

    Video A Year Later, Fortunes Mixed for Syrians Forging New Lives in Berlin

    In April of last year, VOA followed the progress of six young Syrian refugees -- four brothers and their two friends -- as they made their way from Libya to Italy by boat, and eventually to Germany. Reporter Henry Ridgwell caught up with the refugees again in Berlin, as they struggle to forge new lives amid the turmoil of Europe's refugee crisis.
    Video

    Video Zika Virus May be Hard to Stop

    With the Zika virus spreading rapidly, the World Health Organization Monday declared Zika a global health emergency. As Alberto Pimienta reports, for many governments and experts, the worst is yet to come.