President Xi Jinping's visit to Xinjiang may signal new anti-terror laws are coming
President's Xinjiang trip suggests Beijing closer to forming legislation aimed at improving responses to security threats, experts say
Teddy Ng in Beijing and Minnie Chan
President Xi Jinping's call for security to be tightened in restive Xinjiang will likely pave the way for the government to introduce new anti-terrorism laws, according to analysts and observers.
Xi said during his trip to Kashgar this week that the region's security forces were on the front line of combating terrorism and needed the tools and the support to do the job.
Xinjiang has witnessed a spate of violent attacks in recent months that Beijing has blamed on Muslim Uygur separatists.
But Uygur exile groups and human rights organisations have blamed central government policies for stoking tensions in the region by showing a lack of respect towards the ethnic group's culture and religion.
Li Wei, a Beijing-based counter-terrorism expert, said Beijing might introduce anti-terrorism legislation within the year. It would define the powers and responsibilities of different law enforcement agencies and detail when to activate emergency measures.
Anti-terrorism was covered by various mainland laws, but there was a need for a specific code to avoid government bureaucracy hampering an emergency response, Li said. Concerns about delays arose after the attack at the Kunming rail station in Yunnan province on March 1.
According to official media, the rampage by the eight assailants lasted 25 minutes, although a police station was only one kilometre away.
Officials said the first squad cars arrived on the scene within three minutes of receiving a call. But the officer who shot dead four of the assailants only opened fire after securing consent from a supervisor. Twenty-nine others were killed. "The bill will clarify leadership and co-ordination issues affecting the operations of the agencies," Li said.
Xi was accompanied on his visit by the nation's fourth-ranking leader, Yu Zhengsheng, Central Military Commission deputy chief Fan Changlong and the region's party chief Zhang Chunxian, suggested anti-terrorism measures would be high on the leadership's agenda.
Mainland media reported Xi had referred to the need to crack down severely on terrorism 15 times over the past two months. He told a meeting on national security of the Communist Party Central Committee last week that measures would be taken to "make terrorists as unpopular as rats crossing the street".
Jiang Zhaoyong, a Beijing-based expert on ethnic issues, said the Xinjiang inspection was a show of support for Zhang's work and the government wanted to bolster anti-terrorism efforts.
"The central government needs to draw up a comprehensive procedure specifying when and how an emergency mechanism should be launched," he said.
Xi also called on people in Xinjiang to learn both Putonghua and the Uygur language. Li Lifan, a professor of Central Asian studies at the Shanghai Academy of Social Sciences, said it suggested Beijing would pay more attention to cultural tensions in the region.
"Hardline measures against terrorists will still be taken, but you can't be a hardliner in other aspects," Li said. "Respecting the language and religion of Uygurs can lower their suspicions towards Han Chinese."
But Dilxadi Rexiti, a spokesman for the World Uygur Congress based in Germany, said Beijing had no intention of giving up its policy of suppression in Xinjiang and it was depriving Uygurs of their freedom through surveillance and the buildup of armed forces.
"The governance by China is a complete failure," he said in a written statement.