Monday, October 12, 2015

Xinjiang : The Thorn in China’s Might

YU Zhengsheng and delegation arrive in Urumqi
My article Xinjiang: the thorn in China’s might appeared in NitiCentral.

Here is the link...

The dust had hardly settled down on the Potala Square in Lhasa where the celebrations for the 50th anniversary of the foundation of the so-called Tibetan Autonomous Region (TAR) were he, that the Chinese leadership moved to Xinjiang to commemorate the 60th anniversary of the Xinjiang Uygur Autonomous Region.
According to the Chinese media, everybody rejoiced in Tibet, but it was not the case in the restive far-western region of China.
In Tibet, the Communist leadership openly said that Tibet had entered the Golden Age, it is not the case in Xinjiang.
On September 10, an article in China Daily had proclaimed: “The now-50-year-old Tibet autonomous region has every reason to rejoice: The national regional autonomy mechanism is working well and benefiting ordinary Tibetans,” adding that even though: “the 14th Dalai Lama and those in Dharamsala of India will not be sharing the festive mood.”
In Xinjiang, the situation is more difficult, in fact extremely thorny for the Communist Party. Though like in Lhasa, a large delegation of Party cadres landed in Urumqui for the ‘festivities’, nobody spoke of the Golden Age.
Yu Zhengsheng, Chairman of the Chinese People's Political Consultative Conference (CPPCC) and member of the Politburo’s Standing Committee led the delegates, without fanfare.
Vice-Minister Liu Yandong was also there like in Lhasa, but the other lady member of the Politburo Sun Chunlan was ‘missing in action’, though she is the powerful Director of The United Front Work Department which overlooks Xinjiang affairs. Why she was missing is not clear.
Surprisingly, Zhang Qingli, a former infamous Party boss in Tibet, who had called the Dalai Lama ‘a wolf in monk’s garbs’ had come as a CPPCC’s Vice-Chairman. Zhang Chunxian, current party chief of the Xinjiang Uygur Autonomous Region was the host of the party, though nobody was in a festive mood.
A few days earlier, Reuters had reported a fatal attack which occurred in a coal mine, in which 50 Chinese Hans lost their lives. As he arrived, Yu Zhengsheng warned that everything was not under control in the region. He stated: “We must fully recognise that Xinjiang faces a very serious situation in maintaining long-term social stability, and we must make a serious crackdown on violent terror activities the focal point of our struggle,” and he invited the local cadres ‘not to rest on their laurels’, while Beijing faces a grave ‘threat from militants and separatists’.
In recent years, the energy-rich Muslim province has witnessed hundreds of deaths in ‘separatist’ violence.
Mid-September, Radio Free Asia (RFA) had reported that “at least 50 people died in an attack on a Chinese coal mine in the far-western region of Xinjiang”. The incident occurred at the Sogan colliery in Aksu; all the casualties belonged to the Han Chinese majority.
Although local police have immediately blamed the attack on knife-wielding separatists, the incident was not reported by state media; at that time the Chinese television beamed happy ‘ethnic minorities’ dressed in colourful outfits dancing and celebrating the great Chinese Motherland.
While the Chinese government put the blame on a handful of Muslim fundamentalists, Uyghur exiles and rights groups point out that Beijing “never presented convincing evidence of the existence of a cohesive militant group fighting the government, and that much of the unrest can be traced back to frustration at controls over the culture and religion of the Uyghur people who live in Xinjiang”.
According to Radio Free Asia, when police officers arrived at the mine, attackers “rammed their vehicles using trucks loaded with coal”.
One police officer, Ekber Hashim later told RFA: “Nearly all the workers who were not on shift at the time were killed or injured. …Some workers were sleeping, while others were preparing to work when the attackers raided the building after killing the security guards.”
According to RFA, the colliery has 3 separate coal mine shafts with a six-storey dormitory to house some 300 or 400 workers - around 90 per cent being Han.
This new incident shows that gravity of the situation.
Despite the extremely tight security in place since weeks for the 60th anniversary’s celebrations and the announced visit of Yu and his colleagues in Urumqi, the attack could still occur.
It is not the first time that this has happened.
Last year, in May, as President Xi Jinping was wrapping up a high-profile four-day visit to the restive region, a bomb attack in Urumqi railway station killed three people and injured 79.
It was the third major incident in seven months targeting civilians, following earlier fatal attacks in the heart of Beijing and Kunming
A few weeks later another terrorist attack in Urumqi, left 31 people dead and a large number of Han Chinese was injured. At that time, Xi ordered troops in Xinjiang to deliver a ‘crushing blow’ to terrorism.
This time, Xinhua quoted Yu as saying In Urumqi: “Firmly fighting violent terrorist activities should be the priority of our battle at present.”
Yu was accompanied by General Zhao Keshi, a member of the all-powerful Central Military Commission, also head of PLA's General Logistics Department, and Lt Gen Peng Yong, Commander of the Xinjiang Military District.
Yu, who oversees the United Front Work including the Xinjiang affairs addressed the troops and highlighted the role of the PLA for Xinjiang stability, saying troops should play a bigger role in fighting separatism, terrorism and extremism.
During the special meeting, Yu spoke to all senior military officers from the Xinjiang Military Area Command, the Xinjiang Division of the Chinese People's Armed Police and Xinjiang Production and Construction Corps (XPCC), an economic and semi-military organization, about the gravity of the situation. Yu even spoke of a protracted war.
Already last month, Yu had announced a government-backed aid programme to send professionals to Xinjiang whose aim would also be to curb ‘terrorism’.
Interestingly, General Zhao Keshi did not visit the Indian border (let us remember that the Xinjiang Military district borders Ladakh/Aksai Chin of India); he only went to Turpan, in Xinjiang’s northwest on September 29 to meet the ‘local residents’.
The Indian border is clearly not the priority in Xinjiang, like it is for Tibet. Zhao’s colleague, General Zhang Yang, a member of the ‘central leaders’ delegation to Tibet for the TAR’s 50 anniversary had visited the ‘border’ a few weeks earlier.
It is worth noting that the PLA posted in the unruly region has been recently ordered to ‘teach folk dances and songs as part of efforts to improve relations with the minority people’ (i.e. the Uyghurs).
Reuters, quoting the People’s Liberation Army Daily, says that the PLA in Xinjiang are at the ‘centre of the storm’ when it comes to fighting militants and separatists: “Their job is more than just fighting,” said the article, “pointing to the thousands of activities they have arranged in the last five years going into villages to ‘explain the party’s ethnic and religious policies ... and refute rumours.” It is not an easy task to force Communism down the Uyghurs’ throats.
Another telling sign: on the occasion of the Grand Parade for the 70th anniversary of the end of WWII, Xi Jinping had announced a cut in China’s military forces and a readjustment of the ratio between its army, navy and air force.
WantChinaTimes, published in Taiwan says: “If the adjustment is made, the number of troops in the navy and air force will be increased while the army will be reduced from 1.6 million to 1 million,” adding, “Sources claimed the troops to be cut may be transferred to form ten armed police tactical units and 100 armed police warfare groups, with both likely to be stationed in the restive Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region.”
The situation is definitively not rosy in the restive ‘Autonomous Region’, especially with a neighbour like Pakistan at the door.
The giant Chinese Dragon is indeed terribly unstable.

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