A recent outbreak of ethnic violence in China’s Xinjiang region has left nearly 100 people dead as tensions continue to mount. In the attack, 39 civillians perished and 59 terrorists were killed in police clashes. It is said Uyghurs wielded knives and axes, assaulting civilians, destroying cars and damaging government buildings and police stations in an organized attack.
The Xinjiang Province, home of China’s Uyghur ethnic minority group, has seen violence like this before.
In 2009, nearly 200 people were killed when Uyghur ethnic groups clashed with the Han majority police.
Yet China’s infamous secrecy has shrouded the recent attacks, leaving many confused as to why this took place. Some claim that videos of the East Turkestan Islamic Movement had incited the minority group, which is dominantly Muslim. However, it took a week for the Chinese government to report the attack, and meanwhile journalists have been barred from the province.
Uyghurs have faced discrimination and ostracization from the Chinese government for years. In a number of well documented cases, including a report issued by Amnesty International, hasty trials and executions of Uyghur minorities have plagued the province. Repression of peaceful demonstration, religious and employment discrimination have also been rampant problems in this region.
Also, reports of Muslim women being accosted by police for wearing veils have been noted, along with Chinese programs, such as “Project Beauty” that attempt to persuade Muslim women that when they ‘cover their faces,’ they are squandering their beauty.
In no uncertain terms, the Chinese government has spoken out after this recent spate of violence, condemning the group using extremely troubling language. In a report, issued by the New York Times, Zhang Chunxian, the party secretary of Xinjiang, said he planned to “exterminate” the savage and evil army who are directed by overseas terrorists. “We have to hit hard, hit accurately and hit with awe-inspiring force…To fight such evils we must aim at extermination. To cut weeds we must dig out the roots.”
Other reports show the Chinese Government indirectly approving calls to kill and destroy the Uyghur community. On message boards, when angry citizens called Uyghurs ‘wicked criminals’ who wanted to ‘destroy the country,’ there was no effort by China to moderate these comments. Alif Seytoff, who runs the Uyghur American Association, responded to this hate speech:
“They do not delete them [the comments], but display them publicly and prominently to incite more Han Chinese resentment towards the Uyghur people. The Han Chinese who post such virulent comments are never punished by the authorities, whereas Uyghurs who respond to such nasty comments will be detained or arrested for ‘disturbing social stability’.”
He goes on to say that, “For the Uyghur people, China is an apartheid state. For being a Uyghur in China is like being a criminal – constantly being watched by police and suspiciously stared at by ordinary Han Chinese people… Some Uighurs try to ignore this reality and quietly live their lives. Some resist out of desperation and frustration. And those who have already reached the breaking point use political violence to resist Chinese rule.”
However, many researchers see the issue as a far more complex problem having to do with a separation of language, religion and militant factions inside Xinjiang. And while many agree that discrimination does take place on a institutional level, it does not excuse explosions, knife attacks or the violence that has occurred recently.
According to Amnesty International, “The ongoing human rights violations experienced by Uighurs need to be urgently addressed in order to achieve the ‘social harmony’ that the Chinese government claims to seek.”
However, like many of these conflicts brewed from a perfect storm of discrimination and violence, it is far easier said than done.