The regional capital of Xinjiang in the northwest of China has seen an increase in violence for more than a year, attributed by the Beijing authorities to what they call Uighur terrorists.
The last attack was on 30 April, at the main railway station in Urumqi. On the same day as a visit by President Xi Jinping to the region, assailants with knives and explosives killed one person and wounded 79. Two of the attackers blew themselves up.
Bloody events such as this were limited to Xinjiang until a highly publicised first suicide bombing in closely-guarded Tiananmen Square in China’s capital in October 2013. Two victims died, around 40 were injured.
In an attack at a railway station in Kunming, Yunnan province in the southwest, two months ago, 29 people were killed and 143 were wounded.
Xinjiang region, rich in natural resources, lies at the frontiers of Central Asia. That’s the origin of its people, the Uighurs — Muslims whose language is closely related to Turkish. Rebellions against Chinese domination began to increase in frequency after 1954, and were always violently repressed. Beijing also moved ethnic Han Chinese into the region as part of its concerted modernisation of Xinjiang.
In July 2009, violent rioting in Urumqi resulted in some 200 deaths and saw businesses and property destroyed, in the worst such civil disturbance China had seen in decades.
An award-winning Uighur rights activist, Professor Ilham Tohti, was arrested in January this year and charged with separatist offences.
In an interview excerpt from some months earlier, Tohti enumerated longstanding Uighur ills: “Some problems have been building up throughout history. Some of them are about rights, including language rights, freedom of religion, serious human rights problems in Xinjiang, high unemployment among the Uighurs, poverty, inequality, discrimination problems all-round.”
Beijing’s strategy, policy, for the moment, to deal with these problems is repression. Elite troops are kept ready for rapid deployment to Xinjiang.
And prison sentences of as long as 15 years have been handed down to 39 people accused of distributing what the authorities called ‘terrorist videos’.