Tag Archives: Urumqi

More Unrest In Xinjiang As Bomber Hits Aksu

Though July’s anniversary of last year’s ethnic unrest in Urumqi passed with heavily enforced peacefulness, the tensions between Uighurs and Han Chinese in Xinjiang have not gone away. A bomb blast in Aksu, south west of Urumqi, has killed seven and injured 14, four seriously. According to a local official, a Uiqhur man drove a tricycle carrying the explosive device into a crowd at a busy street intersection.

In June, police said they had broken up a gang behind a number of attacks in Xinjiang over the past couple of years, including an attack in Kashgar in 2008 in which 16 Chinese border police were killed. The 10 men arrested were said to have been planning further attacks. A cache of explosives was seized.

Beijing has been fighting a low level civil war in Xinjing for decades against the  Uighurs, a Turkic-speaking group of Muslims whom they accuse of being ‘separatists’ led by the East Turkistan Islamic Movement, which is branded a terrorist organization though scapegoat terrorists would be a better description of an group that is a marginal threat at best. Most of the 8 million Uighurs in Xinjiang consider Beijing just uses ETIM as an excuse to crack down those who complain that their culture is being marginalized by Han immigration.

The response to last July’s riots that left nearly 200 dead was tighter security, mass arrests and billions of yuan poured into economic development in the province. The trouble is that the underlying causes of Uighur dissatisfaction can neither be repressed nor bought off.

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Security Cameras Blanket Urumqi

As the anniversary of last year’s deadly ethnic rioting in Urumqi approaches,  thousands of surveillance cameras have been installed across the city as part of a security clampdown that has also seen Xinjiang recruit 5,000 more police. The cameras, which have ‘riot-proof’ casings, have been installed at bus stops, schools, shopping malls and in more than 4,000 other public places in Urumqi, according to Xinhua. More than 3,000 buses have also been fitted with the cameras, which are being monitored by police around the clock.

The clashes between local Uighurs and Han Chinese on July 5 last year left 197 people dead and more than 1,700 injured, the most serious outbreak of violence in decades in China’s restive western reaches. Police in the city have been conducting drills over the past month to deal with a possible similar recurrence of trouble, and have launched a crackdown in recent weeks on what is described as violent crime, stepping up street patrols and vehicle searches. This seems to have included the break up of a group that is said to have planned terrorist attacks in southern Xinjiang last year around the time of the Beijing Olympics and which were behind the attack on a police station in Kashgar in 2008. Authorities linked the group to the banned East Turkestan Islamic Movement, a nebulous pro-independence organization long vilified as a terrorist group by Beijing.

At the same time a propaganda campaign is underway to promote the plans for economic development in the natural-resource-rich province announced earlier this year. Authorities are determined the anniversary will pass without significant disturbance but relations between the Turkic-speaking Uighurs and the Han Chinese newcomers remain tense, and unsettling for Beijing.

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Urumqi Riots Death Sentences Likely To Prompt More Protests

The death sentence imposed on a Han Chinese in connection with the fatal factory fight in Guangdong seen as the trigger of July’s ethnic riots in Urumqi was always only the prelude. Six men have now been sentenced to death for their involvement in the riots themselves, China’s most deadly violent protest in decades.

All six appear to be Uighurs. They were found guilty of murder, arson and robbery.  A seventh man, who cooperated with authorities, received a life sentence for the same offenses from the Intermediate People’s Court in Urumqi. Xinhua hints there will be more convictions to come, describing the seven as “the first to be sentenced over the riot”, after which hundreds were arrested.

Capital punishments were always inevitable but they will do little to bridge the growing chasm between Uighurs and Han Chinese in Xinjiang and are only likely to prompt more violent protests. We hear that security has been stepped up in Urumqi since Sunday with more than ten thousand paramilitary police on the streets.

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Urumqi Party Boss, Xinjiang Police Chief Sacked

As this Bystander expected, official heads have started to roll  over the revival of unrest in Urumqi. Li Zhi, party boss in Urumqi, has been sacked, Xinhua reports. So, too, Xinjiang police chief, Liu Yaohua. These sackings represent relatively rare cases of regional party leaders being held responsible for social unrest, but even Tibet hasn’t seen the same sort of Han backlash that Urumqi has experienced, and that backlash is deeply troubling for Beijing.

The next question is whether Li’s dismissal will be sufficient to take the sting out of the demands for axing Xinjiang’s party secretary Wang Lequan. Wang is also a member of the Politburo and an ally of President Hu Jintao, who visited the region late last month with Wang accompanying him on his inspection tour, so Wang’s firing would reverberate far beyond the region.

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Mysterious Syringe Stabbings Prompt More Urumqi Protests

This Bystander has little idea about what to make of reports that Uighurs in Urumqui are stabbing Han Chinese with hypodermic syringes beyond the obvious observation that tension between the two groups remains taut.

Xinjiang TV reported that 476 people, 433 of whom were Han, has sought treatment for such stabbings. This has brought “tens of thousands” of protesting Han Chinese on to the streets of Xinjiang’s capital where almost 200 people were killed in July’s ethnic riots. Xinhua has reported that 21 people have been arrested in connection with the stabbings.

Xinjiang has the highest rate of AIDS virus infections in China, which makes syringe stabbing particularly heinous. However, there have been no reports so far of deaths nor symptoms of infectious diseases, viruses or toxic chemicals having been administered.

Large numbers of police have been deployed in the centre of Urumqi, and Xinhua was reporting that calm had been restored by Thursday evening. But this is not a comfortable position for the Party boss in the province, Wang Lequan, particularly in the run up to Oct. 1’s 60th anniversary of Communist rule. To paraphrase Oscar Wilde, one riot may be regarded as a misfortune; two looks like carelessness.

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The Kazakhstan Dimension To Unrest In Urumqi

My thanks to my correspondent (as always e-mails welcome, but please also share with all via comments) who pointed out that Tuesday’s post, Uighurs, Repression, Assimilation And The Han Islanders, gave too little weight to the question of regional instability on China’s western borders and beyond. And in particular, in Kazakhstan.

Tibet, Inner Mongolia and Manchuria are buffer zones beyond which lie India, Russia and Korea and Japan respectively; and all geopolitically impassable. However, Xinjiang has become more of a gateway to Central Asia with its energy resources and trade routes to points further west. Chinese firms, including state owned enterprises, have steadily expanded their activity in Kazakhstan (see: Loan-For-Oil Deal Struck With Kazakhstan). Beijing is also improving transport links so oil can flow east and goods west.

In doing so China is moving into what has traditionally been a Russian buffer state against China. Indeed, Kazakhstan was formerly part of the Soviet Union. Moscow has been wary of this. If Chinese economic activity turns into political influence, for which read expansionism, wariness would turn to concern, or more. Uighur unrest spreading west from Urumqi to Central Asia’s other Muslim areas would offer opportunists in Moscow an excuse to reestablish Russian domination — yet one more reason for Beijing to come down hard and fast in Urumqi.

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Hu Heads Home To Restore Party Credibility

President Hu Jintao’s return to China, cutting short his attendance at the G8 meeting in Italy, reinforces how seriously the Party leadership takes the challenge to its credibility caused by the ethnic unrest in Xinjiang.

Security forces will be able to reassert control, if not necessarily peace, in Urumqi, but the risk of further outbreaks there and elsewhere (one elsewhere being Tibet) is rising. One question is how well authorities can control Han Chinese if they decide to take matters into their own hands. Han vigilante groups were reported on the streets of Urumqi on Wednesday in defiance of the authorities’ requests, and protesters from both sides have been out, with Uighurs complaining about the heavy handed crackdown.

Tensions are clearly still running high. Tens of thousands of police and soldiers have been deployed and Uighur quarters of the city cordoned off (to residents and foreign press) as a sweep for those involved in Sunday’s riot continues. Execution has been promised for the ringleaders. The city remains under curfew, quaintly described by state media as ‘traffic control’. The official death toll has risen to 156, mostly Han, but unofficial and unconfirmed reports have put it as high as 600, mostly Uighurs.

Hu, who has promoted a closing of the economic and social gap between the rich coasts and poor interior under his ‘harmonious society’ policy, now has to restore his regime’s credibility as well as regional stability. Further west, Kazakhstan and Kyrgyzstan, both of which have Uighur minorities, will be looking on with concern at events in Xinjiang, if not to quite the same degree as they are being viewed from Beijing.

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Uighurs, Repression, Assimilation And The Han Islanders

You don’t think of the Han Chinese as a beleaguered island people, whose imperial diaspora takes them to distant overseas shores, but that is one lens through which to look at recent events in Urumqi.

Last year, I squirreled away a snapshot of the map below that appeared on a financial blog by John Mauldin. It shows the area of China where the bulk of Han Chinese have traditionally lived. It is an area half the size of the U.S. and today contains more than a billion people. (The population of Xinjiang, btw, is roughly the same as Madagascar’s.)

Traditional Han Area of China

Traditional Han Area of China

That sea of blue has always been where population pressure has pushed Han migration while at the same time being the place where, in the word’s of ancient maps, there be sea monsters. Maintaining control over the non-Han buffer zone has always been an imperative for Beijing. Yet it creates two Chinas within China:  the relatively wealthy coastal areas and the often still desperately poor interior. That is a recipe for instability (especially likely, Mauldin presciently pointed out, if China’s exports fell).

There is another paradox to China’s treatment of minorities. There are some 50 within China, not just Uighurs and Tibetans. On paper, they have been granted considerable rights and privileges; semi-autonomous provinces, economic subsidies, religion guarantees, schooling in native languages, etc.; all sorts of affirmative action that go beyond anything done in the old Soviet Union or in today’s United States.

In practice, China’s minorities are being corralled into second class citizenship; there is no upward mobility for non-Mandarin educated Chinese, and a lot of the economic development in the semi-autonomous provinces, which are still party controlled, doesn’t trickle down very far. That, along with feeling economically and politically swamped by Han migration, is why Uighurs and other minorities feel oppressed, while Han Chinese don’t understand why minorities don’t feel more grateful for being made more Chinese.

One group’s assimilation is another’s repression; combine that with China’s insular geopolitics and inevitably every so often those incompatibilities will break out violently.

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Urumqi Riot Death Rockets Up To 140

It is astonishing that state media has attributed such a high casualty toll to Sunday’s riot in Urumqi — 140 dead, at least 828 injured and the death toll expected to rise, Xinhua says. It is even more astonishing that it did it so quickly. Only yesterday the death toll was reported as three. Beijing is signaling the seriousness of the events, if with what purpose it is difficult yet to say. If most of the dead turn out to be reported to be Han Chinese, then the intent will be clearer.

That the blame has been been attributed to exiled Uighur separatists is less astonishing. “Initial investigations showed the violence was masterminded by the separatist World Uyghur Congress led by Rebiya Kadeer, according to the regional government.” Xinhua said, using what looks like a sentence prepared earlier. This Bystander is tempted to think that Beijing is using its Tibet playbook with the Uighurs, though there are as many differences between the two situations as there are similarities.

Xinhua says several hundred have been arrested and the hunt is on for 90 fugitive “ringleaders”. Urumqi is now under effective lockdown by the authorities and has had its communications with the outside world cut; no Internet connection so further reports of the protest, and organization of more of it, cannot be spread via, blogs, forums, message boards or Twitter.

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Riot In Urumqi After Uighurs Protest Guandong Beatings

It isn’t at all clear how what seems to have started as a peaceful protest erupted into a riot in Urumqi on Sunday. But events, according to state media, left three Han Chinese dead, and, according to exiled Uighur activist groups, one demonstrator dead and dozens arrested.

Police used batons, fire hoses and tear gas to disperse what had started out as a gathering to demand an investigation into a brawl last month between Uighur and Han Chinese workers at a toy factory in Guangdong in which two Uighurs were reportedly beaten to death.

Flash points are many given the continuing tension between the Muslim minority and Chinese, and police efforts to disperse the crowd, which had swollen from 300 to nearly 1,000i were met by attacks on buses, cars being set alight and police barriers overturned. Photos on Twitter show several blazes in the city, though it id impossible to tell what is on fire.

The riot subsided after two hours, and hundreds or reinforcements, police and army, were drafted into the city overnight to start mopping up operations. This is far from the first violent incident between the authorities and the Uighurs, who complain about the Hanisation of their region. We expect the usual pro-indepence suspects will soon be detained and castigated for their terrorism.

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