While the factory fight may have triggered the clashes, elements threatening harmony within the Xinjiang region have been brewing for quite some time. At least five times the size of Germany, Xinjiang has more autonomy than any other in China and its distance from the capital has led to it being called the final frontier. Home to about 20-million people – the Uighur and Han Chinese are now almost equally divided where once the Uighur were in the majority.Traditionally, agarian based, Xinjiang’s economy now hinges on its vast mineral and oil deposits which Beijing recently decided to develop. Government calls to “go west” and huge investment to increase agricultural and industrial output has attracted a steady stream of migrant workers to Xinjiang and in turn stoked ethnic tensions.
Militant separatists calls for independence have also increased. This video released days before the Beijing Olympics allegedly threatened violence during the games. Days later, the same Islamist group was blamed by authorities for carrying out a bombing that killed 16 people in an attack on Xinjiang’s border police.But Human Rights Watch says Beijing labels anyone in opposition a terrorist in order to justify its crackdowns.
Amidst international apathy, most experts say the human rights situation in Xinjiang is unlikely to improve and China’s strong grip on law and order will reduce any sustained unrest.