Xinjiang’s police hiring binge comes from party boss’s Tibet playbook
Uygur heartland has advertised more than 84,000 security-related positions since September 2016, nearly 50 per cent more than it did in the past 10 years
It’s been almost a year since Communist Party rising star Chen Quanguo took the reins of Xinjiang, China’s Uygur heartland, and police jobs have seen an explosive surge. In the past 11 months, more security staff jobs have been advertised than the combined total over the last decade, latest research has revealed.
The far western frontier publicly has advertised more than 84,000 security-related positions since September 2016, nearly 50 per cent more than it did in the past 10 years, according to a study by Adrian Zenz, an expert on the region at the European School of Culture and Theology in Germany.
The last four months of 2016 saw some 30,000 security jobs advertised, compared with about 1,600 over the year’s earlier months, and the number soared past 53,000 in the first seven months of this year, Zenz found. Data gleaned from government postings on the internet drove his study.
“The massive peak really came with Chen Quanguo ... and is directly related to the establishment of the convenience police stations,” Zenz said, referring to the sprawling net of neighbourhood-based police depots that have cropped up across the region.
Chen, formerly the party boss of neighbouring Tibet, was transferred to rule Xinjiang late last August and has since ramped up security and surveillance by applying policies he had deployed in Tibet, another politically sensitive region where ethnic tension had flared.
In Xinjiang, home to the mostly Muslim Uygur ethnic minority, hundreds of people have been killed in the past few years in violence between Uygurs and the ethnic majority Han. The government blames the bloodshed on Islamist extremists and separatists, but Uygur advocates say it is the government’s repression of religious freedom and unfair ethnic policies that has fuelled resentment and savagery.
Seen as effective in quelling tension in Tibet with his uncompromising policies, Chen was transferred to Xinjiang to replace its former party boss Zhang Chunxian, who adopted a softer approach to the ethnic tension.
One of Chen’s signature security initiatives is the massive construction of what the authorities called “convenience police stations”, which Chen had first introduced in Tibet in 2011. Now in Xinjiang, thousands of one- or two-storey concrete structures are being built across cities and rural areas – often only hundreds of metres apart – to strengthen everyday policing of the local population.
Regional capital Urumqi alone is expected to have 949 such stations, according to a website affiliated with the city government.
Zenz said most of the advertised security positions in the past year were for these convenience police stations – auxiliary police officers hired mostly through short-term contracts, a cheaper alternative to the regular police force or special police units through the civil or public services.
In China, auxiliary police are employed to assist the formal police force to maintain public security and crackdown on crimes, but are not entitled to carry out law enforcement themselves. Although in practice, the boundaries are often murky.
“The emphasis is on patrol and prevention, such as checking people’s mobile phones and IDs, and you don’t need the expensive highly trained special police forces to check people.
“The informal police are the eyes on the ground: they check; they search; they see. And if there is anything they call in the special police,” Zenz said.
In one recruitment notice posted in March on the government website of Kashgar, an oasis town on the ancient Silk Road, 3,000 men aged between 18 and 35 were wanted for the city’s convenience police stations, regardless of their ethnicity or household registration.
The prefecture of Kashgar has seen a number of deadly attacks in recent years, including a knife and bomb attack at a traffic checkpoint in June 2015 that claimed at least 18 lives.
According to the notice, each new recruit would be offered the monthly salary of at least 5,000 yuan (HK$5,869), with an additional monthly allowance of 500 yuan for maintaining stability. The jobs also come with free room and board, and apartments will be provided for couples from outside the city if the husband is recruited.
The pay, let alone the free food and housing, is considerably generous. The average monthly salary in the city was about 4,500 yuan in 2016, while the average monthly disposable income was just over 2,000 yuan for urban dwellers and 760 yuan for rural dwellers, according to government data.
Zenz said the rapid expansion of security apparatus and measures is interfering with the daily life of both Uygurs and Hans, and is likely to have negative impacts on ethnic relations as well as the economy.
“You have constant ID checking, constant suspicion and even hassling as described by some Uygurs. It limits the ability to travel, increases travel time and affects the flow of labour...It is going to worsen the Uygur perception of the government, but the Hans are feeling the pressure too, because of course they are also being impacted,” he said.
“It has many implications beyond the immediate, and we’re only at the very beginning of seeing the full impact.”
A resident in Kashgar city told the South China Morning Post over the phone that convenience police stations had been built across the city this year, most of them only a few hundred metres apart, and security check points were also set up along the streets.
“Sometimes I would run into the police every few dozen metres down the street. I’m seldom stopped but the Uygurs are frequently checked and asked to show their identity cards,” said the woman, who is a member of the Han ethnic majority.
She said all the shopping malls and gated residential communities also had set up security check points at entrances since last year, requiring everyone to undergo a thorough body check before entering.
“Of course it is very inconvenient, but there is nothing we common folks can do,” the resident said. “These days security is the only thing the government cares about, nothing else.”