Beijing security expert calls for greater openness and transparency in Xinjiang
Officials need to be more transparent, he says, but religious polices are not to blame for unrest
A top security expert at a government-affiliated think tank has called for openness and transparency in the mainland's war against terrorism in Xinjiang, where officials have been blamed for maintaining an "information blockade".
Li Wei, head of the security and arms control unit of the China Institutes of Contemporary International Relations, also defended China's religious policies, arguing that they have not led to an eruption of violence.
"We need to show to the public openly and transparently that the fight against terrorism is necessary in Xinjiang, so people will understand what we are doing," Li told reporters in Beijing on Thursday. "It's important that people have the right to be informed about these kind of things."
Li blamed the East Turkestan separatist movement for most of the violence in the autonomous region that borders eight countries. He said more information would help people understand the rationale behind the government's measures.
"Terrorism exists in China mainly through the presence of terrorists in Xinjiang … who sow panic and instability," Li said. "They're the biggest terrorist threat to China."
The institute is affiliated with the Ministry of State Security and overseen by the Central Committee of the Communist Party.
The Paris-based non-governmental organisation Reporters Without Borders said in a report in July that Beijing was tightly controlling information in the most heavily monitored area of the country.
"Xinjiang remains targeted by a programme of censorship and monitoring directed from Beijing. Acts of violence still under way cannot be covered independently by the Chinese or the foreign media," it said.
"Since president Xi Jinping came to power, he has perpetuated a policy that has made Xinjiang virtually an information 'black hole'," it said.
Li said he was against censoring Xinjiang media reports on terrorist attacks, but said the decision did not come from Beijing.
"Some local officials I've spoken to are concerned about the impact such negative coverage might bring to their businesses, especially this time of year when it's peak tourism season," he said. "I don't think that's sound logic."
Jiang Zhaoyong, a Beijing-based expert on minority affairs, said most incidents are eventually reported in Xinjiang media, though some news takes longer to emerge than others. "If they don't tell them like it is, there will be many rumours," he said.
A police officer was among at least 16 killed in a clash between law enforcement officers and "terrorists" in Kashgar on August 20, the Kashgar Daily reported eight days later. It made no mention of other casualties.
The Washington-based Radio Free Asia said local community leaders estimated the death toll was 22.
The mainland's religious policies towards ethnic minorities, such as reported bans on head scarves, beards or civil servants fasting during the holy month of Ramadan, have been blamed on the violence. But Li said this was not the case in Xinjiang.
"I haven't seen any regulations against Muslims wearing head scarves," he said. If they exist, they were likely set by the local communities, he said.
"People say our policies towards ethnic minorities are problematic, and we have been studying the issue, but I think our policies are relatively good."
A new national anti-terrorism taskforce met for the first time in Beijing on Tuesday.