News / Asia

Xinjiang's Deadliest Violence in Years Renews Focus on Ethnic Tensions

The deadliest unrest in China's western Xinjiang region in four years is drawing attention to long-running tensions between the area's ethnic Uighurs and its Han Chinese rulers.

The state-run Xinhua news agency said 27 people were killed in a riot early Wednesday in Xinjiang's Shanshan County. It said unidentified rioters stabbed people and set fire to police cars, killing nine security personnel and eight civilians before police opened fire and killed 10 assailants.

It was the highest reported death toll from a violent incident in Xinjiang since ethnic riots involving Uighurs and Han Chinese killed about 200 people in the regional capital, Urumqi, in 2009.

Since then, there has been sporadic but deadly violence.  Most recently, in April of this year, 21 people were killed in Kashgar during a confrontation between Chinese police and Uighurs.  Most of the dead were Uighurs.

The Uighurs are a Turkic-speaking ethnic group indigenous to Xinjiang, a Chinese autonomous region that some refer to as East Turkestan. Most Uighurs are Muslims, while a small number are Christians.

Population struggle

The Chinese government says Uighurs make up about 45 percent of Xinjiang's population, while about 40 percent of residents are Han Chinese who have settled in the region for decades.

The Uyghur American Association, a Washington-based advocacy group, disputes those figures. It says the number of Han Chinese is much higher than officially reported, likely accounting for around 50 percent of Xinjiang's population.

Han Chinese settlement long has been a source of resentment for Uighurs, who accuse Beijing of turning them into a minority in their homeland and suppressing their culture and economic opportunities.

The Chinese government has increased investment in Xinjiang since 2009 to deal with what it considers to be the root cause of the ethnic tension: poverty.

Xinjiang Communist Party Chief Zhang Chunxian also has said it is Chinese government policy to protect the legitimate practice of religion. At the same time, he has pursued a years-long security crackdown against Uighurs whom authorities accuse of using Islam to incite violence.

Uyghur American Association president Alim Seytoff said Beijing is ignoring the legitimate grievances of Uighurs.

"We see from (Wednesday's) unfortunate violence, and from recent instability in the region, that the Chinese government's method of using force and money to buy stability is not working. So China should change this highly intense repressive policy," he said.

Trading blame

Xinhua did not immediately identify the rioters responsible for Wednesday's violence in Shanshan's Lukqun township, saying police were investigating and chasing suspects.

But, Chinese authorities said April's violence in Kashgar involved Uighurs whom it labeled "separatists" and "terrorists." Beijing has blamed much of Xinjiang's unrest on Pakistan-trained Uighurs belonging to the banned East Turkestan Islamic Movement (ETIM).  

Last year, Xinjiang's number-two leader Nur Bekri said Xinjiang extremists have "a thousand and one links" to Taliban militants in Pakistan.

Seytoff denied that any Muslim fundamentalists operate in Xinjiang. "This is the usual fabrication of the Chinese government to justify heavy handed repression. Instead of (acknowledging) its repressive policies as the root causes of instabilities here, the government is blaming the religious faith of the Uighur people."

US position

The U.S. State Department designated ETIM as a terrorist organization in 2002.

Terrorism analysts have said Washington obtained information about ETIM from Uighurs who were captured in Afghanistan and Pakistan after the 2001 terrorist attacks on the United States and then transferred to the U.S. detention center in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba.

Most of those Uighurs have since been released, indicating that U.S. authorities determined they were not members of any terrorist organization. The detainees have been resettled in places such as Albania, Bermuda, El Salvador, Palau and Switzerland.

Beijing had demanded the repatriation of the Uighurs from Guantanamo, but Washington refused, saying it believed they would face almost certain persecution in China.

U.S. State Department spokesman Patrick Ventrell said Wednesday the Obama administration is "closely following" reports of Xinjiang's latest violence.

"We urge Chinese authorities to conduct a thorough, transparent investigation of this incident to provide those detained the due process protections to which they are entitled under China's constitution, laws, international human rights commitments," Ventrell said.

He also said Washington remains "deeply concerned" by what he called "ongoing reports of discrimination and restrictions" against Chinese Uighurs and Muslims.

Seytoff said tension is likely to remain high in the region in the run up to July 5, which will mark the fourth anniversary of the start of the 2009 riots.

"The Chinese government already has initiated a lot of pre-anniversary clampdowns, house to house searches and detentions of people," he said.

Michael Lipin

Michael covers international news for VOA on the web, radio and TV, specializing in the Middle East and East Asia Pacific. Follow him on Twitter @Michael_Lipin

You May Like

Hong Kong Democracy Calls Spread to Macau

Macau and Hong Kong are China’s two 'special administrative regions' which gives them a measure of autonomy More

After Nearly 2 Years, Pistorius Remains Elusive

Reporter Anita Powell reflects on her experience covering the Olympic athlete's murder trial More

Kenyan Coastal Town Struggles With Deadly June Attacks

Three months after al-Shabab militants allegedly attacked their town, some Mpeketoni residents are still bitter, question who was really behind the assaults More

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Obama to Ramp Up Anti-Ebola Efforts in Africai
X
Luis Ramirez
September 15, 2014 11:01 PM
President Barack Obama on Tuesday will unveil his plan to ramp up efforts against the spread of the Ebola virus in Africa. VOA White House Correspondent Luis Ramirez reports.
Video

Video Obama to Ramp Up Anti-Ebola Efforts in Africa

President Barack Obama on Tuesday will unveil his plan to ramp up efforts against the spread of the Ebola virus in Africa. VOA White House Correspondent Luis Ramirez reports.
Video

Video West Trades Accusations Over Ransoms

As world leaders try to forge a common response to the threat posed by Islamic State militants in Iraq and Syria, there is simmering tension over differing policies on paying ransoms. In the past month, the jihadist group has beheaded two Americans and one Briton. Both countries refuse to pay ransom money. As Henry Ridgwell reports for VOA from London, there is uncertainty in the approach of some other European nations.
Video

Video Scotland Independence Bid Stokes Global Interest

The people of Scotland are preparing to vote on whether to become independent and break away from the rest of Britain, in a referendum being watched carefully in many other countries. Some see it as a risky experiment; while others hope a successful vote for independence might energize their own separatist demands. Foreign immigrants to Scotland have a front row seat for the vote. VOA’s Henry Ridgwell spoke to some of them in Edinburgh.
Video

Video Washington DC Mural Artists Help Beautify City

Like many cities, Washington has a graffiti problem. Buildings and homes, especially in low-income neighborhoods, are often targets of illegal artwork. But as we hear from VOA’s Julie Taboh, officials in the nation's capital have come up with an innovative program that uses the talents of local artists to beautify the city.
Video

Video US Muslim Leaders Condemn Islamic State

Leaders of America's Muslim community are condemning the violent extremism of the Islamic State group in Iraq and Syria. The U.S. Muslim leaders say militants are exploiting their faith in a failed effort to justify violent extremism. VOA correspondent Meredith Buel reports.
Video

Video Americans' Reaction Mixed on Obama Strategy for Islamic State Militants

President Barack Obama’s televised speech on how the United States plans to “degrade and destroy” the group known as the Islamic State reached a prime-time audience of millions. And it came as Americans appear more willing to embrace a bolder, tougher approach to foreign policy. VOA producer Katherine Gypson and reporter Jeff Seldin have this report from Washington.
Video

Video Authorities Allege LA Fashion Industry-Cartel Ties

U.S. officials say they have broken up crime rings that funneled tens of millions of dollars from Mexican drug cartels through fashion businesses in Los Angeles. Mike O'Sullivan reports that authorities announced nine arrests, as 1,000 law enforcement agents fanned out through the city on Wednesday.
Video

Video Bedouin Woman Runs Successful Business in Palestinian City

A Bedouin woman is breaking social taboos by running a successful vacation resort in the Palestinian town of Jericho. Bedouins are a sub-group of Arabs known for their semi-nomadic lifestyle. Zlatica Hoke says the resort in the West Bank's Jordan Valley is a model of success for women in the region.


Carnage and mayhem are part of daily life in northern Nigeria, the result of a terror campaign by the Islamist group Boko Haram. Fears are growing that Nigeria’s government may not know how to counter it, and may be making things worse. More

AppleAndroid