Concentrate on rights, not development

PUBLISHED : Monday, 01 August, 2011, 12:00am
UPDATED : Monday, 01 August, 2011, 12:00am


Analysts are calling for Beijing to revamp its strategy of keeping Xinjiang under control, urging the central leadership to shift from its heavy focus on economic development to giving more respect to minority culture and religion.

They said two violent attacks that occurred within 24 hours in Kashgar, the most important mainland Muslim city in the restive region, raised alarm over Beijing's existing strategy and warned of more sporadic attacks.

However, they added that in the long term, the region was unlikely to spin out of control.

Joseph Cheng Yu-shek, a professor of public and social administration at the City University of Hong Kong, said the central government had poured money into the region for development, especially after fatal riots in Urumqi in 2009.

'Some people believe the development programme may benefit state-owned enterprises more,' he said. 'Besides, Beijing has not changed its education, language and religion policies in the region.

'It is unfortunate that the central government has not learned from the previous incidents.'

Xinjiang witnessed a deadly attack at a police station in Hotan on July 18, and the city's residents had said they believed an attempt by the authorities to gradually ban local Uygur women from wearing black veils and traditional Islamic black outfits was one of the reasons behind that incident.

'Some of the locals believe they are not enjoying more freedom,' Cheng said.

Pan Zhiping, director of the Institute of Central Asia at the Xinjiang Academy of Social Sciences, said poverty was not necessarily the root cause of the violence.

'There are many other places that are poorer than Xinjiang, but have experienced no violence. The problem in Xinjiang has more to do with ethnic issues,' he said. 'These problems are deep-rooted; it may take a generation or more to solve them.'

Pan said it was difficult to avoid sporadic cases of violence in the region, but a major riot was unlikely.

Li Wei, director of the Centre for Counterterrorism Studies at the China Institute of Contemporary International Relations, thinks rioters are losing support within Xinjiang, prompting them and the militant East Turkestan Islamic Movement to continue attacks in the region to get international attention.

'From that perspective, more attacks will happen in the region. This is the way the rioters can raise concerns,' he said. 'But the foundation for stability in Xinjiang will not be undermined by such attacks.'

Zhou Xiaozheng, a sociology professor at Renmin University, said: 'The Communist Party still has a strong grip of the region. If there is any sign of unrest, it will spare no effort to contain it.'

He said the fact that the government survived the 2009 riots that killed nearly 200 people proved 'individual attacks will not shake its base'.