China: terror blasts in Shanxi; Uighurs feel pressure

A series of explosions outside the provincial Communist Party headquarters in Taiyuan, capital of China's Shanxi province, left one dead and at least eight wounded Nov. 6. National broadcaster CCTV said more than 20 vehicles were damaged. Coverage inevitably invokes last week's Tiananmen Square attack, which has been blamed on Uighur militants. But South China Morning Post notes that the blasts come a week after "a team of graft investigators from Beijing arrived in Taiyuan to conduct an in-depth review of the province's finances." Authorities have appealed to citizens with personal grievances not to overwhelm the team. There have been several bomb blasts in China over the past years apparently motivated by frustration with official corruption rather than any ideological or ethnic agenda. Shanxi has seen violence in recent years over labor unrest and land disputes.

Uighurs are coming under increased pressure since the Beijing attack. Ilham Tohti, the most outspoken Uighur dissident within China, told reporters that he got into a confrontation with security agents in Beijing on Nov. 3 after the men rammed his car and threatened to kill his wife and children. Tohti, an economics professor at the Central University for Nationalities and founder of the website Uyghur Online, said the plainclothes agents sought to persuade him to stop speaking to foreign reporters. "I've been monitored, kept under house arrest and followed by the police for many years, but I've never seen public security agents behave this way," he told the New York Times by phone. "To threaten children just isn't human." (NYT, Nov. 4 via Uyghur American Association) (Radio Free Asia reported June 12, 2008 that the Uyghur Online website had been shut down by authorities.)

China's official Global Times on Oct. 31 ran an editorial on the Tiananmen attack which, while saying the response should "avoid jeopardizing the harmony of society," contained barely veiled threats: "The violent terrorists involved in the Square incident are all Uyghurs. Society will see the real negative effects brought by the violent terrorists. Flights between Xinjiang and inland [sic] regions are currently under more stringent security checking… Violent terrorists are the common enemies of all China. People from Xinjiang, especially the Uyghurs will be the biggest victims." 

Rebiya Kadeer, exiled leader of the World Uyghur Congress, responded from Munich: "Here is another lost opportunity for China to show the world it can act responsibly. Rather than open up the Tiananmen incident to independent investigation, Chinese authorities are issuing sinister threats against the Uyghur people and making damaging accusations no one can check. The situation in East Turkestan for Uyghurs is already unacceptable. Any way you look at the contemporary Uyghur condition, politically, economically or culturally, the Chinese government has imposed policies that are unbearable. Any intensification of repressive measures will hasten the Chinese government's goal of confining the Uyghur people to the history books."

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  1. Suspect held in Shanxi blasts
    Chinese authorities yesterday arrested a suspect in the Shanxi blasts—a local man described as an ex-convict. It is indeed being portrayed as a case of a loner with a personal grudge, not organized terrorism. The Ministry of Public Security said the suspect admitted he wanted to “take revenge against the society,” without elaborating. Ominously, local petitioners are being placed under surveillance, with police stationed outside the homes of those with outstanding greivances against authorities in Shanxi, SCMP reports. 

    But China Digital Times tells us there is a lot of skepticism about the vagueness of the motive being expressed in online chatter on Sina Weibo. The State Council Information Office (facetiously dubbed the “Ministry of Truth”) has instructed online media “to escalate control of related information. Only material from mainstream national media may be reused. Do not comment, exaggerate, or speculate on the situation.”

    China Digital Times notes a string of such attacks across China recently, bred by the seeming impossibility of seeking justice through official channels—including a bomb blast at the Beijing airport in July, placed by a man who had spent years pursuing compensation for an alleged police beating.

  2. Rebiya Kadeer: Tiananmen incident not terrorism

    On a visit to Washington Nov. 8, Rebiya Kadeer said last month’s Tiananmen Square incident was an act of protest, not terrorism, and should be investigated by the international community. “Chinese policies are pushing the Uighur people into desperation, basically persuading them that they’re going to die anyway, so why not protest [against] the Chinese government by dying,” Kadeer said.

    She called on Beijing to release video footage of the accident, saying it has failed to provide convincing evidence that the act was intended to kill bystanders. “Tiananmen has so many cameras. They should have captured the footage of the crash,” she said.

    She also called for an “independent and open” international investigation into the incident. “We believe there is a cover-up of what happened there. So it’s hard to believe the Chinese government’s claims,” she said. (Kyodo, Nov. 8)

  3. ‘Manhunt’ for petitioners in China
    In the prelude to the Third Plenary Session of the Chinese Communist Party’s Central Committee this month, Chinese authorities carried out sweeps of hundreds of citizens who converged on Beijing to air grievances against the government. Hundreds of veterans were among the detained, who protested their current economic hardship under the slogan “No money for the doctor, nowhere to turn for help.” Veteran’s benefits have been drastically cut back in recent years. (RFA, Nov. 5) One group of petitioners told The Telegraph that a police “manhunt” forced them to take refuge in the woods and mountains around Beijing. Even the South China Morning Post confirmed that petitioners are “living in fear,” with perhaps thousands already detained in “black jails” (which a new law recently expanded use of.) Epoch Times reports that thousands of laid-off bank employees attempted to march on the Beijing headquarters of Industrial and Commercial Bank of China (ICBC) but were blocked by police.

    Similar fear of “legal” petitioners was seen in the prelude to the Beijing Olympics.