Tuesday, May 6, 2014

China: A Question of Survival

On May 1, as the Bangalore–Guwahati Express entered Chennai Central station, two low-intensity improvised explosive devices (IEDs) exploded in adjacent sleeper coaches. It was 7.15 AM. Immediately, the news flashed nationwide that a young woman was killed and 14 others were injured.
As often in India, Grace played its role: the fact that the train was running 45 minutes late may have saved many lives; in a train on the move, casualties could have been many times more.
Soon, fingers were pointed at Pakistan. The arrest of a Sri Lankan national Mohammed Zakir Hussain in Chennai a few days earlier tends to indicate a link between the Pakistani ISI and some elements in Sri Lanka. Hussain is said to have confessed having been recruited by one Amir Zubair Siddiqui, Counsellor (Visa) at the Pakistan High Commission in Colombo to gather information on vital installations in Tamil Nadu and Karnataka.
Whether it is confirmed or not, may take months or years.
A few hours earlier, a similar incident occurred in Xinjiang, China.
Though a terrorist attack can’t be graded, the one at the Urumqi’s railway station might have far more serious consequences for China than the one in Chennai for India.
Let me explain! Urumqi is the capital of Xinjiang, known till late 1940s’ as Eastern Turkestan.
The Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region, as it is called today, is since 1950 part of the People's Republic of China. With a territory of 1.6 million sq. km, Xinjiang has strategic land borders Russia, Mongolia, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, Afghanistan, Pakistan and India. Further, it has China's largest natural gas reserves.
The Uyghurs, a Muslim population of Turkish origin are still the ethnic majority as they represent 43% of the 21 million inhabitants of the province. But Han migrants are catching up fast: they make today 41% of the population. This explains the strong resentment of the local inhabitants against the Chinese State.
The explosion, in which 3 people lost their lives and 79 were injured occurred at the rear entrance of the railway station at a special moment: President Xi Jinping had just completed a 4-day visit to the troubled region.
Police said knife-wielding assailants attacked passengers and set off explosives shortly after 7 pm.
In contrast to India, it took more than 5 hours for Xinhua news agency to ‘break the news’ of the incident.
The news came out as China’s State television was broadcasting a speech of the Chinese President vowing to deploy a ‘strike first’ strategy against terrorism to ‘deter enemies and inspire the people’.
The South China Morning Post (SMPC) in Hong Kong commented: “Three times now in six months, terrorist outrages blamed on Muslim ethnic Uygur separatists have had a national political context,” adding that the latest one in Xinjiang, termed by Xi as the ‘front line of terrorism’ has “left no doubt the assailants are seeking more international attention for their cause and escalating confrontation with Beijing by showing that they can attack at will.”
In October last year, a suicide car-bomb attack killed two tourists in Tiananmen Square and in March this year, a knife attack at a railway station in Kunming in Yunnan Province left 29 innocent people dead.
The SMPC says: “The indiscriminate nature of attacks at public venues tends to confirm a common purpose.”
Xi Jinping’s inspection tour in Xinjiang was a crucial one, not only because he went to Kashgar to meet the Chinese troops posted opposite India in Ladakh, but also because of the volatile situation in the predominantly Muslim province. An indication of the importance of the visit, which occurred two days after a crucial Politburo meeting, was the composition of Xi’s team. He flew to Xinjiang with 5 others members of the Politburo; to name them: Yu Zhengsheng, Xi’s colleague in the Standing Committee (also Chairman of the Central Working Coordination Small Group on Xinjiang); General Fan Changlong, senior vice-chairman of the Central Military Commission; Zhang Chunxian, Party Secretary in Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region, Wang Huning, Mr. Xi’s confidant and Li Zangshu, Director of the General Office of the CPC Central Committee, a sort of super Cabinet Secretary.
Six members of the all-powerful Politburo must be a record in itself.
Xinhua says that Xi Jinping has mentioned the word ‘terrorism’ in no less than six speeches in the last two months only.
On April 25, during the meeting of the Politburo, Mr. Xi spoke of the importance of safeguarding national security and social stability ‘in the face of the new situation and new challenges’. Xi told his 24 colleagues: “The fight against terrorism matters for national security, for the vital interests of the masses, and for the overall situation of reform, development and stability. …China should resolutely crack down on terrorism and secessionism.”
Already on March 2, soon after the stabbing incident at Kunming's railway station, Xi Jinping asked the Party “to take effective measures to crack down resolutely on violent and terrorist criminal activities.”
On April 9, Xi Jinping visited near Beijing, a Police Academy specialized in anti-terrorism and attended a drill by top anti-terrorist commandos. Later, he commended the exercise and presented a flag to the ‘Falcon Commando’ special forces of the People's Armed Police (PAP).
He reminded the commandos that the PAP was an important national counter-terrorism force. He asked the force to be conscientious in implementing the decisions and following the orders of the Party. He urged the troops to be resolute in cracking down on violent terrorist crimes. Their job was to safeguard national security and social stability, he said.
Xi also asked the public to build a ‘wall of bronze and iron’ to fight terrorism, adding “China must make terrorists become like rats scurrying across a street, with everybody shouting ‘beat them!”
In Kashgar Mr. Xi lectured the PAP: "The more you sweat in peacetime, the less you bleed in wartime."
In other words, practice and be ready to deal with 'terrorists'.
Xi also visited the City's Public Security Bureau (police station). He inspected video surveillance cameras and other equipment to be used against ‘terrorists’.  Xi who is also the Communist Party General Secretary stated: "I am very concerned about your equipment and training to deal with violent terrorist criminals. You must have the effective means. You must train in real combat environment."
Why so much emphasis on ‘terror’? A premonition?
While the risk of implosion of the State hardly exists in India, (perhaps thanks to the chaotic democratic system), China faces an extremely serious dual detonator of ‘separatism’ and ‘terrorism’.
It has become a question of survival for the Middle Kingdom.
Though Mr. Xi seems aware of the imminent danger, will he be able to differentiate between the understandable resentment of the Uyghur population and a real terrorist threat? Nobody knows the answer.

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