Terrorism should have no role in dissent
The particular grievances of the ethnic Uygur family that drove through a fence into Tiananmen Square, ploughing through crowds of tourists before setting the vehicle ablaze remains unknown. A police investigation is continuing, and at least five arrests have been made in what is believed to be a terrorist plot.
Whatever the perceived injustice was, though, it is now of no consequence. Those who target the lives of innocent people for the sake of a cause do not deserve a fair hearing; their actions can only be condemned.
There can be no disputing the motive of the apparent suicide attack was maximum shock value. Tiananmen Square is the symbolic heart of the nation and its cultural and political centre. Nowhere in China is as popular with tourists. When the attack occurred just after noon on Monday, all seven members of the Politburo Standing Committee were at an event in the nearby Great Hall of the People, where the Communist Party will hold its third plenum from November 9 to 12.
But whatever the significance of the square in history or protest, and however wronged by Beijing the Uygurs of the western autonomous region of Xinjiang feel, staging assaults on authority or national symbols will never further their cause. Nor will it garner Chinese or international sympathy. The world has experienced too much anguish at the hands of terrorists since the World Trade Centre attack in New York 12 years ago to tolerate such tactics. Instead of support there will only be revulsion and a hardening of resolve by mainland officials and police to crack down on dissenters.
Beijing has been more open to the concerns of Muslim-majority Uygurs since clashes with Han Chinese left 197 dead and more than 1,000 injured in the Xinjiang capital Urumqi in 2009. But despite Uygur-friendly policies that have improved incomes and infrastructure, the underlying reasons for discontent - economic inequality, ethnic prejudice and religious repression chief among them - remain. These matters can only be settled through discussion and negotiations. Unlawful behaviour has no place in such a process.
Foreigners were among the dead and injured in the Tiananmen attack. Authorities are understandably worried about copycat incidents. But they need not fear support for the ways of an extremist few. Violence is never an excuse for righting perceived wrongs.