By Siân Ruddick
Downloading PDF. Please wait... Issue 2160

Chinese state crackdown brings more fear

This article is over 14 years, 4 months old
Violent clashes in the Xinjiang region of China have thrown a spotlight on ethnic divisions in the country and the role of the heavily militarised Chinese state.
Issue 2160

Violent clashes in the Xinjiang region of China have thrown a spotlight on ethnic divisions in the country and the role of the heavily militarised Chinese state.

Official figures now say that more than 180 people have died as a result of the violence. Hundreds more are still in hospital with serious injuries.

Many of the dead were killed in riots last week and in fighting between Uighur and Han Chinese people.

Reports suggest some have also been killed or injured by state forces in the region.

The Chinese military admitted this week to shooting dead two Uighur “lawbreakers” and injuring a third.

China hopes to present itself to the world as a unified nation. But the riots in Xinjiang mean that many of its existing tensions have been exposed.

The Uighurs have been oppressed and discriminated against in this region of China for decades. Recent state-encouraged mass migration of Han Chinese has brought tensions and, more recently, violence.

The inter-ethnic clashes have pitted one group of workers against those of a different ethnicity.


But the Chinese state is not a neutral “peace-keeping” force.

The police usually have a heavy presence in Xinjiang.

Chinese rulers have attempted to incorporate the territory for centuries. It was incorporated into Mao’s China in 1949. Revolt in the region—as in most parts of China—has been met with state repression.

So the deployment of large columns of armed police will not have reassured many ordinary people in the region.

Some news footage showed people cheering the troops’ arrival in Xinjiang. But as they arrived the bus station was full of Uighurs and other ethnic minorities queuing for tickets to get out of the main city, Urumqi.

The state has failed to make these people feel safe.

And it is little wonder. While dropping leaflets appealing for calm from helicopters in the hours and days following the rioting, the state started to threaten harsh punishment for anyone deemed to be involved in the violence.

“Wanted” posters started to appear all over Urumqi.

Li Zhi, leader of the ruling Chinese Communist Party (CCP) in Urumqi added to the grim threats by saying, “To those who commit crimes with cruel means, we will execute them.”

The role of the Chinese state in ethnic conflicts is not new and should not be underestimated.

The military was deployed in similar strength in Tibet last year after protests and riots against Chinese repression and for independence. Fifteen months on those troops remain in the region, clamping down on separatist activities.

It is likely that a similar strategy will be followed in Xinjiang.

The Uighurs are mostly Muslim. Last week many defied the authorities to gather at Friday prayers—despite announcements from the state that the prayers had been cancelled.

Members of the army barred the entrances to mosques, refusing entry. Crowds gathered demanding admission and were eventually allowed in.

Although the crackdown in Xinjiang may create a temporary lull in violence, the tensions—and the oppression of the Uighurs—that lie behind the recent fighting will remain.

Struggle is on the rise across China—as workers pay the price for China’s economic expansion.

There have been almost 60,000 incidents of strikes, protests or roadblocks so far this year.

But there is nothing automatic about how people’s frustrations and anger will express itself—as the brutal ethnic violence in Urumqi shows.


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