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Muslim Uyghurs warned by Chinese show of force in Xinjiang

Events signal intent of new Communist Party chief in the strife-torn province where radical Islam is on the rise

Muslim Uyghurs warned by Chinese show of force in Xinjiang

Chinese security forces participating in a military drill in Hetian, northwest China's Xinjiang region in this file photo. The ruling communists are currently building up their security presence in the restive province. (Photo by AFP)

ucanews.com reporter, Hong Kong
China

February 23, 2017

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Seven months into his new job, Xinjiang's Communist Party secretary Chen Quanguo, has signaled he will further step up a decades-long internal offensive against the country's 10 million Muslim ethnic Uyghurs.

Mass rallies of security forces, a plan to track vehicles across one of China's largest provinces and the deployment of tens of thousand more security personal are part of a series of choreographed moves claimed by state press aimed at staunching the growth of radicalization and terrorism.

The push also comes on the back of a period stretching back to April 2016, where the officially atheist Party has sharpening its focus on religion and religious groups — especially Christianity and Islam after a landmark speech by leader Xi Jinping.

The Party has been on an offensive in the province since 2009 when sectarian riots killed almost 200 people in the Xinjiang capital Urumqi and during 2014 and 2015 there was an increase in terror attacks with hundreds killed and injured by Uyghurs in also other major Chinese cities.

Over the past week, "oath taking" rallies of up to 10,000 security personnel have been held in Urumqi and Xinjiang province's next two largest cities of Kashgar and Hotan that both have Uighur majority populations.

"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," said Xinjiang deputy Party secretary Zhu Hailun.

The far-flung northwestern province of Xinjiang borders Pakistan, Afghanistan and several central Asian nations and since stepping into the top job, Chen has been swift to further increase the province's already pervasive security apparatus.

Professor James Leibold, from Melbourne's La Trobe University, told The New York Times that his research showed that the Xinjiang government had recruited more than 30,000 new police officers to be present at street-side mobile stations since Chen took over the leadership of the province in August 2016.

Chen was shifted to Xinjiang from Tibet where he had had a "successful" tenure as Party chief, enacting a high security strategy.

Professor Shih Chien-yu, Secretary General of the Central Asian Studies Association in Taiwan, believes the latest 'anti-terrorism' rallies are related to the recent knife attack in the town of Xinjian.

Three people attacked crowds in a residential area and killing five and injuring five others in northwestern Hetian on Feb. 14 and two were killed two days before in Yangisa county, according to Radio Free Asia.

However, Shih believes that the strategy of tight control may not solve the terrorism problems.

"For example, the government requires every vehicle in Bayingol area of Xinjiang to install a GPS system — probably for monitoring. But I doubt that China is able to handle such "big data analysis at this moment," he told ucanews.com.

"The monitoring in China is still very traditional, such as man-to-man approach or internet control," Shih added.

Imad Moustapha, Syria's Ambassador to China, recently told media that there are estimated to be more than 5,000 Chinese fighters in Syria. Shih said this is the real problem Chen has to deal with when they return to the northwestern China.

Shih explained that when the war in Syria ends, these people will come back and they would not just be holding a knife for a "low level attack."

"Since the Uyghurs in Xinjiang are Muslim, there are always two systems to handle their issues, national security and the religious management," he said.

Therefore, Shih believes that the recent anti-terrorism action is a security measure while the religious sector is debating such things as the spread of Islamization.

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