Xinjiang: Relentlessly Beat and Strike Hard
Two years ago, during the ‘Two Sessions’, a senior Uygur military official declared that “terrorist attacks would not affect the overall stability of northwest China’s Xinjiang Uygur Autonomous Region (XUAR), nor would they hinder its fast economic development, ethnic unity or religious harmony.”
Major General Saimati Muhammat, a deputy commander of the Xinjiang Military Area Command also told Xinhua: “Everyone in Xinjiang is against terrorism and expects peace. Now those few terrorists have no support there, and people just hate them.”
General Saimati spoke of the anti-terrorism campaign then conducted in Xinjiang “it has helped people realize that terrorists are their common enemies. Everyone is obligated to battle terrorism and maintain peace,” he asserted.
Despite a new counter-terrorism Law, the situation has seriously deteriorated during the last two years in the restive province. Though in 2015, the Uygur general said that “terrorism shouldn’t be blamed on any specific ethnic group, territory or religion,” Xinjiang is very tense today.
The fact that General Saimati was very silent during the last ‘Two Sessions’ is telling. Today, officials are not allowed to speak about Xinjiang.
Reward to denounce ‘terrorists’
In previous posts, I mentioned the nervousness in Beijing after recent events in Xinjiang. It was apparent with the dinner offered to the ‘minorities’ by the seven members of the Standing Committee of the Politburo at the Great Hall of People during the ‘Two Sessions’.
Another indication of Beijing’s uneasiness shows in a report of Radio Free Asia (RFA) which says: “Authorities in northwestern China’s Xinjiang region are offering hefty sums of cash to would-be tipsters on terrorist activities.”
It quoted an official announcement issued by the regional authorities on February 23. According to RFA’s Uyghur Service, the Hotan prefecture government had set aside 100 million yuan (U.S. $14.5 million) to reward residents reporting ‘suspicious’ acts after a knife attack in Guma (Pishan) county.
The announcement says: “Our region will create an anti-terror defense front composing every ten families as a unit, and an anti-terror reward fund in order to encourage the masses to actively provide tips related to terrorism, …Tip providers will receive anywhere from 150 yuan (U.S. $22) to 500,000 yuan (U.S. $72,426), depending upon the importance and usefulness of the tip on suspicious terrorist activity or suspicious individuals.”
The authorities guaranteed the anonymity of the informants and promised to secretly transfer rewards to their bank accounts. Anyone exposing high-ranking members of the community involved in suspicious activity will be ‘handsomely’ rewarded for their information, says RFA: “Tip providers who report on ‘double-faced’ cadres, party members or ‘double-faced’ religious clergy will receive 200,000-500,000 yuan (U.S. $28,970-72,426).”
That is big money.
Xinjiang and Tibet
As mentioned earlier on this blog, the arrival of Chen Quanguo as Party Secretary has witnessed a hardening of the ‘anti-terror’ measures.
The South China Morning Post (SCMP) also links the new measures to Chen.
Gabriele Battaglia writes in the SCMP: “The heat is on in Xinjiang. A string of deadly killings, blamed on Islamist separatists, have rocked China’s restive far western province and prompted authorities into an unprecedented show of force – and a social clampdown experts say has been imported from Tibet.”
Interestingly, the most restive areas are located close to the Indian border in the Aksai Chin. Military parades in Hotan and Kashgar were synchronized with the one in the capital, Urumqi.
Zhu Hailun, a XUAR’s deputy secretary announced that the authorities’ intent to “relentlessly beat, and strike hard against terrorism.”
According to the SCMP’s article: “The spate of violence coincides with the release this month of a half-hour video by Islamic State that features Uygurs issuing the terror group’s first threat against Chinese targets. The event has added credibility to warnings by Beijing of the potential for Xinjiang militants to link up with global jihadist groups.”
In Beijing, Xi Jinping spoke of building a ‘Great Wall of Steel’ to keep Islamic separatists out of the Muslim province.
The SCMP remarked: “The government has responded to the growing threat by bringing in new hardline security restrictions on Xinjiang residents – restrictions some experts say have been imported from neighbouring Tibet by Chen Quanguo, Xinjiang’s Communist Party leader, who previously held the same office in Tibet.”
The situation has undoubtedly worsened.
New Recruitment Policy
At a time when Beijing has decided to demobilize several Group Armies (Corps), the XUAR is recruiting.
The Jamestown Foundation says that Party “has built a multi-tiered security state with, among other components, the recruitment of nearly 90,000 new police officers and a 356 percent increase in the public security budget.”
Researcher of the Foundation have map the development of the security state in Xinjiang from the beginning in 2006: “The figures reveal a massive spike in police recruitment since 2012, with Xi Jinping personally praising local constabularies as the ‘fists and daggers’ of China’s counter-terrorism effort. In fact, the number of advertised police jobs in 2016 exceeded the combined figures from 2008–2012 by 30,000. …Last year, the outgoing Xinjiang Party Secretary Zhang Chunxian declared success, claiming that the situation in Xinjiang is becoming ever more stable and the number of violent incidents has declined substantially as local authorities strengthen their ability to prevent and fight terrorist activities”.
In a Communist system, it is logical for the local Party boss to announce that he has succeeded, but the truth is probably the opposite; that is why Chen Quanguo has started implementing even more comprehensive and intrusive policies (such as the rewards).
The Jamestown Foundation describes for stages of hardening of the situation.
Stage 1 (2009–2011): Responding to the 2009 Urumqi Riots
Stage 2 (2012–13): Expanded Policing and Surveillance in the Rural South
Stage 3 (2014–2015): Grid-Style Community Policing and Big Data Surveillance
Stage 4 (from 2016): ‘Convenience Police Stations and the Massive Expansion of Surveillance Manpower
The latest is the most deadly development: “A total of 31,687 security-related positions were advertised, more than a three-fold increase over the previous year. This unprecedented recruitment drive sought to boost the Party-state’s surveillance capabilities across all regions of Xinjiang, as only 35 percent of advertised positions were designated for regions with a Uyghur population of 40 percent or higher. Notably, 89 percent of these new hires were associated with so-called convenience police stations, which are currently being built across the XUAR in the tens of thousands.”
The Jamestown Foundation says that the local media have praised these convenience police stations as ‘bringing zero-distance service’ to the people of Xinjiang.
But in reality, the article concludes: “their real purpose is surveillance, cleverly designed to make Orwellian levels of securitization more palatable, while bringing 24-hour ‘zero-distance’ policing to an ever-increasing number of neighborhoods.”
It is quite frightening.
And will it work? Probably not, that is why Chen is playing the ‘tourism’ card at the same time.
Today, General Saimati is silent.
And whether the PLA’s soldiers demobilized under Mr Xi’s new military reforms, will find their way to Xinjiang is a matter of conjecture, it remains however clear that the Core Leader is unable to fully control what is happening in his Western Dominion.
India should closely follow the developments in the region before deciding to join the Dream One Belt, One Road, so dear to Mr Xi.