Tag Archives: Xinjiang

China’s New Problems With Total Marginalisation Of Minorities

REPORTS SUBMITTED BY by Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch to the UN Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination that up to 1 million Uighurs are being held in camps in Xinjiang ‘under the pretext’ of counterterrorism sent this Bystander to our archives. In April last year, we wrote:

China’s anti-terrorism policies are based on the same techniques as Beijing uses to crack down on political dissent, which may betray a fundamental misunderstanding of the problem being faced.

We have also noted the shortcomings of such an approach when it comes to winning hearts and minds. Religious restrictions only serve to feed a vicious cycle of repression and violence. If counter-terrorism policy aims to alleviate the conditions and reduce the underlying factors that give rise to radicalisation and recruitment among the domestic population, then characterising all Uighurs as being somewhere on the terrorist/separatist spectrum is not going to achieve that.

Beijing denies the allegations that Uighurs are held in detention camps and accused foreign media of distorting the Committee’s deliberations, but has made a rare admission that “those deceived by religious extremism… shall be assisted by resettlement and re-education”.

It could be in this particular case that an original accusation that the extensive state security presence in Xinjiang has turned the Uighur autonomous region into something that resembles a massive internment camp has morphed into an allegation of detention camps being set up. For the record, the UN committee’s published comment of concern was:

The arbitrary, prolonged and incommunicado mass detention of Uighurs under the pretext of countering terrorism and religious extremism, with estimates of the numbers of detained ranging from “tens of thousands to upwards of a million”.

Such accusations are long-standing. There is no denying the massive security operation and mass state surveillance in Xinjiang that reaches into every aspect of daily life and that Uighurs are detained for what authorities call ‘preventive security measures’. The lower end of the range cited by the UN committee could be accommodated without the need for special camps.

Authorities argue that their actions have prevented Xinjiang becoming ‘China’s Syria’ or ‘China’s Libya’,  That strikes this Bystander to be over-egging the pudding by the output of a battery farm.

True, Beijing has been fighting a low-level but increasingly violent insurgency in its natural-resources-rich western reaches for decades. Today, that self-evidently poses a threat to Xinjiang’s role as a critical logistics hub for the Belt and Road Initiative.

Yet, the 8.4 million-strong Uighur minority in Xinjiang, mostly Turkic Sunni Muslims, are far from universally supportive of the tiny separatist groups that would like to re-establish a republic of East Turkestan.

They do resent the growing Han dominance of the province, which was once more four-fifths Uighur but is now majority Han Chinese, and a majority that does not understand why the new minority does not feel more grateful for being forcibly made more Chinese.

 

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China’s Islamic State Dilemma

THE KILLING OF a Chinese hostage by the self-described Islamic State poses a dilemma for Beijing. It does not want to get dragged into the Syria-Iraq front of a war on terror it does not see as its fight and in which at best it would be a junior partner, not the equal on the world stage that it wishes to portray itself as. At the same time, it needs to preserve the narrative that Mother China — for which read the Party – looks after all its citizens when they venture abroad.

It is unclear under what circumstances Fan Jinghui fell into Islamic State’s hands. Described as a freelance consultant from Beijing, he was captured in September, according to Islamic State, which demanded a ransom for his release. That he has perished shocked Chinese. President Xi Jinping said in Manila, where he is attending the APEC summit, that terrorism was the “common enemy of humanity” and that “the Chinese government is opposed to all forms of terrorism, and will firmly crack down on any violent and terrorist activities.”

There have been unconfirmed reports that China is considering joining the Russian-led coalition against Islamic State in Syria and Iraq, but at best any presence is likely to be token and focused on humanitarian operations. China’s foreign minister Wang Yi summed up Beijing’s dilemma when he told the UN Security Council session in New York earlier this month that “the world cannot afford to stand by and look on with folded arms, but must also not arbitrarily interfere”.

What Xi’s condemnation may turn out to mean is a further crackdown on Uighurs on the excuse that a handful of the Muslim minority in Xinjiang has gone to fight for Islamic State in Syria and Iraq. On Friday, state media said that security forces had disbanded a ‘terrorist group’ in Xinjiang that was “directly guided by an overseas extremists group”, and during the 56-day operation had killed 28 people allegedly responsible for a deadly attack on the Sogan coal mine in Asku on September 18 in which 16 people died. Update: Flamethrowers were used to flush out militants hiding in a cave, who were then shot, according to the BBC.

Update: Chinese are reportedly among hostages taken by an al-Qaida-affiliated group that attacked a Radisson hotel in Mali on Friday. Later update: Three China Railway Construction Corp. managers were among the 21 hostages reported killed in the siege; four other Chinese hostages survived.

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Settlement And Security In Xinjiang

REPORTS EMERGING FROM Xinjiang about a deadly attack at a coal mine by suspected Uighur separatists in mid-September have got this Bystander thinking of that peculiar state organization, the Xinjiang Production and Construction Corps (XPCC). Also known as the Bingtuan (‘military corps’), the XPCC is a paramilitary economic development agency that has widespread administrative and judicial authority in the semi-autonomous region.

Some 50 people were reportedly knifed to death in the attack on the Sogan colliery in Aksu prefecture. Most of the casualties were Han Chinese, including workers and police. If the casualty numbers and identity of the attackers turn out to be true, it would have been both the most deadly single attack by Uighur militants and the first time they had struck at an industrial site.

Politburo member Yu Zhengsheng, speaking at the 60th anniversary celebrations on October 1 of Xinjiang’s founding as an autonomous region, said that long-term stability and security is the top priority in Xinjiang, with counterterrorism as its focus.

“We must be fully aware of the severe situation we are facing,” he said probably with the attack in mind though authorities have not acknowledged that it has happened. “The three forces (separatism, terrorism, and extremism) are the biggest threats for Xinjiang… We must clench our fists tight and take the initiative to crack down on violence and terror activities.”

Aksu prefecture is one 14 areas in Xinjiang that have cities, settlements, and farms under the control of an XPCC regiment, belying its military roots. The headquarters of the regiment in Aksu is in Aral, a town of more than 200,000 people built by the XPCC on the edge of the Taklamakan desert. The prefectural capital of Aksu is Aksu City, a stop on the ancient Silk Road that is little more than a three-hour drive from Aral in the direction of the border with Kyrgyzstan.

The XPCC dates back to the 1950s. It was a Mao Zedong initiative, rooted in a centuries-old tradition of sending military units to settle and cultivate remote border regions. The aim was to combine the economic development of frontier regions with border defense and the keeping of minorities from being troublesome. Production and Construction Corps, comprised of former soldiers, were dispatched to Inner Mongolia and Heilongjiang as well as Xinjiang.

The XPCC fell victim to the Cultural Revolution, being disbanded in 1975. However, Deng Xiaoping revived it in 1981 in response to fears about Soviet encirclement and rising militant Islam in Central Asia. Turkic-speaking, Muslim-majority Xinjiang was seen as a vulnerable frontier.

There was forced migration from the East, particularly of women to provide wives for the soldier-farmers. The region’s remoteness and harshness also made it ideal for political banishment. Ai Qing, the poet father of artist Ai Weiwei, was exiled to a Bingtuan-run penal colony in the late 1950s. Generations of dissidents have followed him to labour-reform farms and prison factories.

To this day, the XPCC has a role with the army and armed police in combating separatism through its militia. Nonetheless, its line of authority is civilian, jointly to central and provincial government, though the Xinjiang authorities leave the Bingtuan to its own devices. The corps has a bureaucratic status equivalent to that of the provincial government.

It is a state within a state, its role a blend of American Peace Corps and West Bank settlers. The analogy with Israel is appropriate in another way. The Bingtuan has made the desert bloom. Over the years, it has built the irrigation and other rural infrastructure that lets its farms, stockbreeding, and commercial enterprises now generate upwards of an estimated $24 billion or one-sixth to one-seventh of Xinjiang’s economic output.

The Bingtuan has also built half a dozen cities. It is a far cry from the early days of hunger and hardship when teams of ex-soldiers would yoke themselves together to pull ploughs by hand to break the desert soil.

As of the end of 2013, the Bingtuan had 176 regiments, 14 divisions, an area of 70,600 square kilometers under its administration. More than a million hectares of farmland and more than 2.7 million people — overwhelmingly Han Chinese and equivalent to one in eight of Xinjiang’s total population — fall under the XPCC’s jurisdiction.

Its 1-million-strong workforce is primarily engaged in growing cotton, fruit and vegetables and in light industry, the XPCC having handed most of its mining interests over to the Xinjiang provincial authorities.

It has more than 4,400 businesses ranging from food processing to paper manufacturing, cement and electricity, with 11 of them publicly listed and trading under the umbrella of the China Xinjian Group. It also runs two universities.

Increasingly it is building cities. It controls ten, four of which have become cities since 2011. Urbanization is a central prop of the XPCC’s counter-terrorism strategy. In April last year, President Xi Jinping visited the Bingtuan and called to strengthen its role due to meet what he called the new conditions. As the Sogan colliery attack shows, the mission of the soldier-settler-farmer-colonists is far from complete.

Footnote: This history of the Bingtuan was produced by the government in 2014 to mark the 60th anniversary of the XPCC’s founding.

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Lessons Of Kunming Station

THE SINGULARITY OF the knife attack at Kunming station makes this Bystander wary of extrapolating its impact on both the public and authorities — and in particular whether it represents an escalation of Uighur dissent against Beijing that will require an escalation of the authorities’ efforts to suppress it.

Twenty-nine people were reportedly killed and more than 130 wounded, 20 still critically so, when a group of masked assailants wielding long knives hacked at the crowd of train travelers on Saturday evening. Police shot dead four and took one suspected assailant, reportedly an injured woman, into custody. The remainder, said at the time to number five, fled. Authorities now say it was three and that they have all been captured.

The attack was blamed in short order on separatists from Xinjiang. No evidence has been offered so far to support that claim. Equally there is nothing to discount it.

Beijing has been fighting a low-level but increasingly violent insurgency in its natural-resources-rich western reaches for decades. The 8.4 million-strong Uighur minority in Xinjiang, mostly Turkic Sunni Muslims, though far from universally supportive of the tiny separatist groups, resents the growing Han dominance of the province. It feels its culture and economic prospects being increasingly diminished. Anti-Han riots in Xinjiang’s capital, Urumqi, left some 200 dead in 2009, and ushered in another crack-down by Beijing as well as the installation of 40,000 riot-proof cameras on the streets of the city.

The Kunming station attack set several precedents, if it indeed was by Uighur separatists. First, the casualty toll was far greater than in previous attacks. Second, the attack was against the public rather than police or officials. Third, it took place in Kunming, capital of southwestern Yunnan and more than 1,000 miles from Xinjiang, though there was a suicide car bombing in Tiananmen Square late last year, said to have been carried out by Uighurs.

State media are being made to walk a fine line between reporting a deadly act of terror that has shocked China and keeping questions from being raised about why the authorities didn’t prevent it happening in the first place and why Uighurs are so resentful of Han Chinese. Staging the attack in the openness of a large railway station makes it more difficult for officials to control the information flow; the first pictures of the event were posted widely on social media, and bloody. The most gruesome have been taken down. Online comment has been curtailed.

The openness of the attack also makes it more difficult to control the public narrative about the event. Hitherto, the state narrative has portrayed ethnic-religious violence in the country as terrorism originating outside China. The finger has been readily pointed at places such as Pakistan, Turkey and, more recently, Syria. The point being made is that it is not home-grown. This has proved an effective tactic for making it more difficult for dissenting ethnic minorities within China to make common cause.

Early comments in state media about the attack being “China’s 9/11” have been toned down. Such remarks misunderstand both the 9/11 attacks in the U.S. and the one in Kunming station. Washington has, however, changed its description of the Kunming station attack from an act of violence to an act of terror. Beijing will welcome that as an aid to its portmanteau crack down on dissent — and to its continuing struggle with Washington over the issues of human rights. That may turn out to be the Kunming station attack’s most lasting impact.

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China Scraps Disasterous Cotton Stockpiling

CHINA’S COTTON INDUSTRY has run head-first into the law of unintended consequences. In 2012, the world’s largest cotton importer bought millions of tones of cotton fibre from local farmers to stockpile in an effort to drive up rural incomes, particularly in Xinjiang. Domestic cotton prices hit 40% above global market prices. China’s textile mills, unable to buy freely on world markets because of import quotas, cried foul — or at least those that had not gone out of business because they were no longer price competitive.  Stocks reached a peak of 10.5m tones, accounting for more than half world inventories and one and two third times 2013’s total crop —  6.3m tonnes, down 7.7% from the previous year, according to official data published this week.

After unloading some of the cotton at a loss over the course of last year and months of head scratching over what to do with all the rest, authorities have now decided to scrap the scheme in favor of direct subsidies to cotton farmers next year starting with a pilot scheme in Xinjiang. Details of the size and scale of the subsidies remain unclear, however. The stockpiling scheme for soy will also cease, but those for wheat, rice, corn, rapeseed and sugar, which have not experienced cotton’s problems, will continue.

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Religious Extremism Said To Be Surging In Western China

More trouble on China’s western borders, this time inside them. Eight people have been killed in another clash between police and suspected Uighur separatists in Hotan, the prefecture containing the Xinjiang city of the same name close to the border with the Pakistan-controlled part of Kashmir. In July, 14 people died in a firefight in the city after a group of 18 men took over a police station in the city, replacing the Chinese flag flown there with a pro-Jihadist banner. The militant East Turkestan Islamic Movement (ETIM) subsequently claimed responsibility for the attack, and for two attacks in Kashgar the same month.

In this latest incident, police say they rescued two hostages whom they say “violent terrorists” had kidnapped in a remote mountainous southern area of the prefecture, killing seven of the kidnappers and wounding four others. One police officer died and another was wounded in the operation, which took place overnight Wednesday/Thursday. Earlier this month, another kidnapping and killing had been reported, of a Uighur man accused of drinking alcohol. State media links both incidents to what it calls “a surge in religious extremism” in the Muslim ethnic Uighur-dominated area that borders Kashmir. The “extremists are becoming bolder, and their attacks more brutal,” Xinhua says.

China is desirous of a return to the stability along its borders that it had grown accustomed to until recently where it touches Pakistan and Burma. While it can only exert diplomatic pressure on those two countries, enforcing social order within its own territory is within its own hands. Previous outbreaks of ethnic violence in resources rich Xinjiang, which is heavily Muslim and has more in common culturally with Central Asia than with much of China to its east, have been met with crackdowns, even as Beijing has poured billions of yuan of development investment into the region. However, much of the fruits of that has gone to newly arrived Han Chinese, who now constitute a majority, only deepening the divide with native Uighurs, as does Beijing’s campaign of cultural assimilation.

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China Conducts Third Round Of Mass Vaccinations Against Polio

China is conducting a third round of mass vaccinations in the wake of the fatal outbreak of polio in July in Hotan Prefecture in Xinjiang near the border with India and Pakistan, the source of the outbreak. The vaccinations started on Nov. 15 and will take a week. They are being given to 3.8 million children in Xinjiang–all under 15 years olds in the outbreak areas and all under fives in the other parts of the province, as well as to 4.5 million 15-39 years olds in southern Xinjiang. They are the same groups that received the second round of vaccinations in late September and early October.

Preventive programs are being conducted in all provinces across the country in an effort to again rid China of polio, which had previously seen its last case in 1999. Eighteen cases of polio have been confirmed in the latest outbreak in Xinjiang, 12 in Hotan prefecture, 5 in Kashgar prefecture and 1 in Bazhou prefecture. Nine cases are children under three years of age and nine young adults between 19 and 31 years old, according to the World Health Organization. One infant has died.

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