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China Tightens Security in Xinjiang Ahead of Anniversary

Armed paramilitary policemen stand in formation during a gathering to mobilize security operations in Urumqi, Xinjiang Uighur Autonomous Region, June 29, 2013.
Armed paramilitary policemen stand in formation during a gathering to mobilize security operations in Urumqi, Xinjiang Uighur Autonomous Region, June 29, 2013.
Chinese authorities are ramping up security and offering rewards to informers in the predominantly Muslim Xinjiang region, in response to a wave of deadly incidents that killed at least 35 people last week.

The Xinjiang Uighur Autonomous Region government announced it will pay up to $16,000 (100,000 yuan) to people who provide information that helps solve investigations into recent attacks or leads to the capture of perpetrators.

The notice appeared on the government website on Tuesday. It adds that those who fail to report relevant information or assisted criminals would be held criminally responsible.

On July 5 this week, capital city Urumqi will mark the anniversary of the 2009 riots that killed 200 people.

Police deployment

Yang Guoqiang, a press officer at the Xinjiang government in Urumqi, said that new security measures have been implemented to restore order after armed gangs repeatedly targeted police buildings.

“We decided to deploy armed police and police forces to protect people’s security” said Yang.

Images on the Internet show thousands of officers from the People’s Armed Police took to the streets in Urumqi wearing anti-riot gear, in what appears to be the biggest deployment of security forces since the deadly riots of 2009.

Paramilitary soldiers also were deployed in several other cities.

Yang said “patrols are in force basically in every city. In certain main areas, we have increased patrolling strength.”

Wave of violence

On June 26, assailants attacked police and government offices in Lukqun town, in the east of Xinjiang. The clash lead to the death of 35 people, including 11 attackers that were labeled as part of a violent gang of Muslim extremists.

On Friday in the southern city Hotan, media report says some 100 people clashed with police after a raid in a local mosque.

Since the 2009 riots in Urumqi, the government has poured investments into Xinjiang and implemented new ethnic policies to boost living conditions for ethnic minorities and defuse tensions.

Raffaello Pantucci, senior research fellow at the Royal United Services Institute in London, said the recent round of violence indicates that those investments have not paid off.

“If we go and look on the ground in Xinjiang, certainly when I was there last year one of the most extraordinary changes was the volumes of constructions that you were seeing in cities like Kashgar or Tashkurgan,” he said. “And so it’s quite worrying from the Chinese government perspective that this big economic drive that they had toward the province doesn’t seem to have had the desired effect yet."

However, Chinese authorities believe the government is properly addressing local grievances. Professor Yang Shengming of Central University for Minorities in Beijing said that Chinese policies are allowing minority groups to catch up, and only a few are dissatisfied with government’s efforts.

“Ethnic minorities are developing fast and the gap with Han people is increasingly smaller” he said. “But policies are aimed at the majority, they cannot make everybody happy.”

Those who are now trying to disrupt social order are lead by hostile forces, according to Yang.

Terrorism allegations

China routinely blames a Xinjiang terrorist group for much of the violence in Xinjiang. On Tuesday, the Syrian ambassador to China told the state-backed Global Times newspaper that members of the Xinjiang-based, East Turkestan Islamic Movement are now in Syria.

Ambassador Imad Moustapha said that at least 30 people trained at the Pakistan-Afghan border by the East Turkestan Islamic Movement traveled to southern Turkey, and now are most likely fighting in the Syrian city Aleppo.

Pantucci, at the Royal United Services Institute, said the allegations are plausible, but that the root of the violence in Xinjiang is centered on local disputes.

Security is expected to remain tight.
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