New Communist Party boss for Xinjiang ‘faces challenges’ in easing unrest

Deadly car bomb attack comes just months after Chen Quanguo takes over as regional boss

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 29 December, 2016, 12:05am
UPDATED : Friday, 30 December, 2016, 12:01am

The latest eruption of violence in Xinjiang, which authorities say claimed five lives, comes just months after Chen Quanguo stepped into the role as Communist Party chief for the troubled region.

Chen earned a reputation as a hardliner in his previous job overseeing Tibet, and although there is no indication the attack is linked with the new administration, observers warn the region could face greater uncertainties under the policies that Chen adopts.

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

According to the news portal of the Xinjiang government, a car carrying several terrorists crashed into the yard of the office building of the local Communist Party committee in Karakax county at 4.50pm on Wednesday.

Police shot and killed the three attackers, who were wielding knives and managed to detonate a home-made explosive, Xinhua reported, quoting the Ministry of Public Security. An official and a security worker were also killed and three others injured, it said.

The local government had earlier said four attackers were involved. Social order had been restored, Xinhua reported, without identifying the attackers.

Karakax’s population is 97 per cent made up of Uygurs, a mostly Muslim ethnic minority who, like some Tibetans, chafe at Beijing’s rule and the increasing numbers of Han Chinese moving to their homelands.

But the previous Xinjiang chief, Zhang Chunxian, was largely praised for his attempts to address tensions by relaxing restrictions on passport application and engaging with religious leaders. He took a hard line against terrorism, although violence continued to flare, with hundreds killed in recent years according to official reports.

Shortly after Chen’s arrival, the government started to beef up its police presence significantly, building more than 900 police booths in the region’s capital Urumqi. Local residents have also been required to hand over their passports to police.

Jiang Zhaoyong, a Beijing-based specialist on Xinjiang, said Chen was expected to face challenges leading the region.

Many of the most deadly or high-profile attacks within the mainland in recent years have been tied to Xinjiang, according to authorities and state media.

In 2013, three Uygurs drove a jeep into pedestrians in front of Tiananmen Gate, a centuries-old symbol of Chinese rule, in Beijing, killing five people including themselves, according to state media.

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The following year, five people wielding knives killed 31 people at a railway station in Kunming in Yunnan province, according to state media. Another 141 people were injured. Four of the attackers were shot dead at the scene. Another four were later tried and sentenced to death. Their names suggested they were Uygurs. Overseas rights group have said the attacks were born out of frustration over what Uygurs say are repressive and discriminatory cultural and economic policies, a claim that Beijing has firmly denied.

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Beijing blames the unrest on the East Turkestan Islamic Movement, which seeks independence for the region, but many experts doubt whether the group even exists as a cohesive militant unit.

Militants from Xinjiang have also joined Islamic State to train and fight, according to Xinjiang officials.

Beijing argues it has greatly raised the region’s living standards, while admitting problems could not be solved by economic development alone.

The latest-hit Karakax county is part of Hotan prefecture, which unlike Xinjiang’s north, has seen only a limited influx of Han people.

Despite the predominance of Uygurs, four of the five members of the county’s party committee are Han.

Additional reporting by Jun Mai