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  • Dec 21, 2014
  • Updated: 5:35am
CommentInsight & Opinion

Xinjiang violence a sad indictment of Beijing's policy

Raffaello Pantucci says the promised economic boom isn't trickling down

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 03 July, 2013, 12:00am
UPDATED : Wednesday, 03 July, 2013, 4:52am

It is proving to be another hot and violent summer in Xinjiang . In quick succession, incidents of violence have erupted across the autonomous region, leading to double-digit casualties. Beijing seems torn between blaming the incidents on foreign terrorists and pointing the finger at domestic turmoil, a focus that ultimately misses the point that whatever is being done to fix the region's problems is not working.

The problem is complicated. First, there are individuals in Pakistan's badlands who are plotting to attack China. Just last week, a video emerged on jihadist forums in which the emir of the Turkestan Islamic Party praised the incident in April in Bachu county, just outside Kashgar , in which 15 policemen and officials and six attackers were killed. Last month, the group published a video in which a senior al-Qaeda ideologue gave them advice in their struggle.

This relatively limited group, however, seems far apart from the violence erupting in the province. In incidents reported from Hotan , it seems a mob launched an assault on a police station.

This sounds like a replay of events in 2011 when a group attacked a police station in the prefecture, leading to 18 deaths and dramatic pictures beamed around the world in which armed police were photographed trying to take their station back.

The violence is a sad repetition of history that is becoming a marker of Xinjiang's summers.

It is not as though Beijing has not made efforts to try to improve the region's lot. The annual China-Eurasia Expo brings billions of dollars of investment into the province, aspiring party cadres agree to relocate to the region to try to bring their expertise to bear on developing its economy, and foreign investors are courted by Xinjiang officials. The decision to appoint governor Zhang Chunxian after hardliner Wang Lequan's removal was seen as a conscious effort to give the region new leadership, and one that would be more open in a media age.

Founded on good intentions, this strategy has, nonetheless, not been working. Rather than a reduction in violence since the grim 2009 riots in Urumqi that claimed some 200 lives, trouble has spread.

Travel around Xinjiang and you can see construction, and an effort being made to rebuild. Talk to local officials, often cadres sent from other provinces, and you find competent staff eager to engage and create opportunities in the region. Yet, clearly, it is not working.

Part of the problem may be that entrenched interests there are not allowing economic development to flow in as it could. Talk to most Uygurs in the province and you will find people who do not feel they are personally benefiting from the economic boom that is purportedly happening. The trickle-down effect isn't working.

Furthermore, while the government tries to advance quite progressive policies towards minorities, there is still clearly a strong sense that their voices are not being heard. In numerous accounts recently, individuals have reported that trouble was sparked by the imposition of regulations regarding religious conduct. A sense of persecution is evident.

There is no easy solution. However, it's clear that the economically driven strategy is not having the desired effect. Trouble continues to escalate, whether or not outside forces are helping to stir things up. The long-term answer lies in local security, and that is what Beijing's new leadership needs to focus greater attention on.

Raffaello Pantucci is a senior research fellow at the Royal United Services Institute in London

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