Massive show of force staged in China’s Xinjiang region after terrorist attack

Thousands of paramilitary police take part in parade in Hotan after eight people were killed during a knife attack earlier this week

PUBLISHED : Friday, 17 February, 2017, 3:41pm
UPDATED : Friday, 17 February, 2017, 10:40pm

Thousands of armed police and military vehicles have taken part in a parade in China’s restive Xinjiang region in a massive show of force two days after a deadly attack that authorities blamed on terrorists.

The event was staged in Hotan on Thursday – the second parade of its kind in the region this year – in response to Tuesday’s knife attack in nearby Pishan county that left eight people dead, the state-run People’s Daily reported.

Armed police out in full force after deadly Xinjiang terror attack

Thousands of paramilitary troops marched in the parade in a show of strength meant to deter other potential attacks and ensure stability in the region, the report said.

“Continued vigilance and high-pressure deterrence against terrorists have forced them to the end of the road, like a cornered beast driven to desperate action,” Xinjiang’s deputy Communist Party secretary Zhu Hailun was quoted as saying.

Five people died after knife-wielding assailants attacked a residential compound in Pishan county. The three attackers were shot dead by police.

The government did not identify the suspects and victims, but residents said the attackers were Uygurs, the region’s main Muslim ethic group.

Armed police in bulletproof vests were deployed on the streets on Wednesday as the county issued its highest-level security alert.

Xinjiang has been hit by a series of violent attacks in recent years which the authorities have blamed on Muslim separatist militants.

A huge military parade was held in Urumqi in January in response to another terrorist attack the previous month.

Militants drove a car into a residential compound near the government headquarters in Karakax county in December, setting off an explosive device and using knives to kill two people before all three of the assailants were shot dead.

China tightens Xinjiang border amid rising terrorist threats

Xinjiang saw a transition of power last year as Chen Quanguo took on the role as the region’s new Communist Party chief.

Chen, 61, was previously party chief in Tibet and was known for his hardline policies in the region.

James Leibold, an expert on China’s ethnic issues at La Trobe University in Australia, said Chen had adapted the same uncompromising approach in Xinjiang that he employed while governing Tibet.

“Ever since Chen arrived [in Xinjiang] in September, he has implemented a pretty hardline approach that has seen a whole range of initiatives in increasing party-state surveillance over Xinjiang society, particularly over the Uygurs,” he said.

A case in point of Chen’s tough approach, Leibold said, was the sprawling net of “convenience police stations” which has been built across cities and rural areas by the government to increase surveillance over the local population.

Passports taken, more police ... new party boss Chen Quanguo acts to tame Xinjiang with methods used in Tibet

Xinjiang has a track record of unrest in the lead-up to annual meetings of the National People’s Congress and the Chinese People’s Political Consultative Conference in Beijing. This year’s sessions of the legislature and the nation’s main political advisory body will begin in early March.

Leibold said Chen was likely to maintain the tough approach as he wanted to impress the central leadership ahead of the National Party Congress later this year.

“He expects a seat at the Politburo,” Liebold said. “He has made a name for himself as someone who is a bit of an innovator with his governance in Tibet.”

Barry Sautman, a visiting expert on Chinese ethnic politics at Hong Kong University of Science and Technology, said the military parades purported to assure the public, especially the Han Chinese majority, in Xinjiang rather than to deter militants, who were committed to violent upheaval one way or another.

He said the attacks launched by militants mostly aimed to generate publicity and recruiting potential overseas backers rather than influencing policies established by the Chinese government.