Xinjiang: Ramadan terror and repression

Up to 28 people were killed in an attack by presumed ethnic Uighurs on a police traffic checkpoint in China's restive Xinjiang region June 23. The attack apparently began when a car sped through a traffic checkpoint in Tahtakoruk district of Kashgar (Chinese: Kashi) city. Assailants armed with knives emerged from the vehicle and rushed the checkpoint, while others quickly arrived by motorcycle. At least one improvised bomb was used in the attack. Two of the dead were said to be by-standers. The slain also included 15 suspects. (RFA, June 23) The attack came as the Organization of Islamic Cooperation (OIC) expressed "deep concern" over reports that Chinese authorities are again restricting observance of the Ramadan holy month in Xinjiang. The OIC charged that Uighurs "are denied the right to practice the fourth pillar of Islam," fasting during Ramadan. Authorities have reportedly barred civil servants, students and teachers from fasting, and ordered restaurants to remain open. (Arab News, June 27) Perversely, authorities are said to be holding "beer festivals" in Uighur villages to tempt those observing Ramadan to break their fast. (PRI, June 26)

  1. Xinjiang repression puts Pakistan in tight spot

    Pakistan has for a decade and more been cultivating a strategic partnership with China against mutual enemy India. But Pakistan has also long cultivated Islamist militants as proxies against India—and this has meant strains with China, which fears infiltration of jihadism into Xinjiang. Pakistani journalist Mian Abrar in Pakistan Today June 27 does a little public relations job for Beijing, absolving Chinese authorities of stifling freedom of worship, because the ban on Ramadan fasting "only" (sic) applies to "Communist party members and students." He credulously quotes a fellow Pakistani journalist studying at Beijing's Renmin University: "This is a venomous and false propaganda to harm the image of China internationally. I am saying it on the basis of my own experience and the interaction I have with the Muslim students here." Might it not have occurred to Abnar that the experience of a foreign journalist from a friendly country in Beijing differs from that of a member of an internal oppressed minority in remote Xinjiang? Just a thought.

    Meanwhile, Michael Clarke in the Wall Street Journal ingenuously asks in his headline: "Is China Facing a Xinjiang Insurgency?" The piece (picked up by the Uyghur American Association) notes that in March, the Xinjiang regional government claimed that authorities had "busted" more than "180 terrorist gangs" in Xinjiang during the previous year. According to data compiled by the Mercator Institute for China Studies in Berlin, terrorist attacks either in Xinjiang or linked to the region (such as the Kunming mass stabbing of March 2014) have claimed the lives of 468 people and injured 548 between 2010 and 2014. The Heidelberg Institute for International Conflict Research in its annual Global Conflict Barometer also categorized the situation in Xinjiang as one of "limited war."

    To get around calling this an insurgency, Clarke resorts to some bet-hedging double-talk from RAND counterterrorism analyst Seth Jones, who states that insurgency is "a protracted political-military activity directed toward subverting or displacing the legitimacy of a constituted government and completely or partially controlling the resources of a country through the use of irregular military forces and illegal political organizations." Clarke finds that the Uighur militancy doesn't fit this definition.

    Maybe not yet. But if China continues its counter-productive persecution in Xinjiang, which plays right into the hands of the jihadis… well, give it time.

    And what is the bet-hedging about? Well, the US seeks to cultivate the Uighurs (or at least their exile leadership) as propaganda proxies against China, so the growing embrace of jihadism in Xinjiang puts Washington in a pickle