By CHRIS BUCKLEY, HONG KONG (NY Times): China’s Communist Party leadership has started a security crackdown in the far western region, Xinjiang, vowing to apply “high-pressure” methods after two outbursts of violence there in recent days pitted members of the Uighur ethnic minority against police forces, state television reported on Saturday.
China’s president, Xi Jinping, and other members of the Politburo Standing Committee — the seven-member inner-circle of power — met on Friday to discuss the spasm of violence in Xinjiang, the television report said. They demanded a tough response to what the Chinese government calls separatist terrorism, and used words that underscored their jitters about Xinjiang, days ahead of the sensitive anniversary of deadly ethnic violence four years ago.
The party leaders acknowledged entrenched problems in Xinjiang, according to the report. But their immediate emphasis was on tighter security.
Despite rapid economic growth in Xinjiang, the leaders said, “ethnic separatist forces at home and abroad continue to intensify their activities, and deep-seated problems harming social stability in Xinjiang remain fundamentally unsolved,” according to the report, citing a summary given by Yu Zhengsheng, the central leader in charge of dealing with ethnic minorities. “Recently, there has been a succession of cases of violent terror attacks planned and carried out by a small number of criminals.”
Members of the Uighur minority in Xinjiang complain that their Muslim beliefs, Turkic culture and economic prospects are threatened by intrusive Chinese controls and an inflow of Han Chinese workers. And proponents of Uighur self-determination and many human rights advocates say that China’s accusations of orchestrated terrorism are greatly exaggerated and ignore the local roots of Uighur discontent, especially poor job prospects and harsh policing.
Mr. Yu, the party leader, flew to Xinjiang, and called together regional officials to demand tougher policing and security checks, the report said. “We must maintain a high-pressure attack against violent terrorist crimes,” Mr. Yu told the officials on Saturday. “Form a powerful deterrent.”
The Chinese government’s worries about Xinjiang deepened after a riot by Uighurs on Wednesday in Turpan Prefecture left 35 people dead, according to state media. Rioters killed 24 people, and police officers fatally shot 11 rioters, said the reports.
On Friday another violent confrontation broke out in Hotan Prefecture, in southern Xinjiang. Reports about that clash were sparse; a bulletin from the region’s news agency said no members of the public were killed or injured. The English-language edition of Global Times, a Chinese newspaper, said more than 100 people wielding knives attacked a police station. The reports could not be verified; calls to local government offices went unanswered.
Most Uighurs adhere to relatively moderate forms of Sunni Islam, although some have embraced stricter forms. They account for a little under half of Xinjiang’s 22 million civilian residents, and Han Chinese for 40 percent, according to government data.
The ripples of unrest in Xinjiang have come days before the fourth anniversary of widespread bloodshed in Urumqi, the regional capital of Xinjiang, on July 5, 2009. In that case, the police broke up a protest by Uighurs, and then Uighur rioters attacked Han Chinese residents on streets and buses. At least 197 people were killed. Han Chinese protesters later used cleavers and rocks to attack Uighur neighborhoods.
The 2009 bloodshed also triggered sweeping arrests of Uighur men, and deeply scarred ethnic relations in Xinjiang. Mr. Yu, the party leader, suggested that pervasive security could prevent a repeat. Human rights groups have said heavy-handed security measures merely serve to further alienate many Uighurs.
“As soon as any criminal acts of fighting, smashing, looting or arson occur, they must be sternly punished according to the law,” Mr. Yu told the officials in Xinjiang. “Overall protection and control of society must be comprehensively strengthened.”