Xinjiang Violence Due More to Ethnic Grievances Than ‘Terrorism’

The recent violence in Xinjiang is caused by ethnic grievances, according to experts, rather than the purported terrorism claimed by state-run media.
Xinjiang Violence Due More to Ethnic Grievances Than ‘Terrorism’
Chinese paramilitary police stand guard in the Muslim Uighur minority area of Urumqi, Xinjiang Province on June 30. The recent violence in Xinjiang is caused by ethnic grievances, according to experts, rather than the purported terrorism claimed by state-run media. (Mark Ralston/AFP/Getty Images)

When the most recent bout of ethnic violence erupted in the northwestern Chinese province of Xinjiang recently, the Chinese Communist Party’s response was typical. It acknowledged neither the ethnic tensions in the region nor the restrictive religious policies laid down by the Chinese authorities. 

Instead, Nur Bekri, the communist governor of Xinjiang, said: "Our clash with violent terrorists is neither a issue of ethnicity, nor a issue of religion. Rather, it is a life and death political struggle to defend our national integrity and safeguard cooperation among different ethnic groups. There will be no room left for compromise of any kind."

For decades Uyghurs in Xinjiang, a Turkic-speaking people that are mostly Muslim, have felt that Party authorities are attempting to dilute their culture and religion by shipping in millions of Han Chinese and making official restrictions against expressions of Islamic faith.

By ignoring the roots of boiling grievances that sometimes explode into violence, and instead labeling all instances of violence as a kind of organized terrorism, the Party is attempting “to mute international criticism and justify the crackdown on the region following tragic events,” said Alim Seytoff, President of Uyghur American Association, in a telephone interview with Epoch Times. 

“They are trying to hide the total failure of ethnic policies in East Turkistan,” he said, using the word their group prefers to refer to what is now called Xinjiang by Chinese authorities. “But nobody’s buying Chinese propaganda.” 

The first recent incident took place on Wednesday when people wielding knives attacked police, killing 24 people, and police shot and killed 11 attackers in retaliation—the worst violence Xinjiang has seen since ethnic clashes in July 2009. Following the attack, the Chinese Communist Party ordered a media blackout and police blocked roads with armored vehicles and amped up security. Then, on Friday, attacks allegedly resurged according to state-run media. No further details on Friday’s incident were given by regime media. 

Nineteen people were detained for spreading rumors online that triggered Wednesday’s attack in Shanshan county, Xinjiang, according to state-run media cited by Reuters. 

Henryk Szadziewski, senior researcher at Uyghur Human Rights Project, said the incidents were “a very localized response,” not connected to a broader network of militants. He said it was the result of “a boiling over of frustration over repressive policies,” in an interview.

Both Seytoff and Szadziewski point to Chinese regime policies to assimilate Uyghurs to the Han Chinese population by preventing them from practicing their religion and or speaking their language as the source of dissatisfaction and turmoil in the region. 

The Party’s treatment of Xinjiang “amounts to cultural genocide,” says Seytoff. 

In response to the recent breakout of violence, Chinese leader Xi Jinping asked the Politburo to deal with Xinjiang as quickly as possible. Two high level communist officials visited Xinjiang's capital, Urumqi, in the days following the attacks, suggesting that the incidents were high on the regime’s list of priorities.

“Xinjiang's conflict is getting worse,” said Shi Zangshan, a China expert in Washington D.C. in an interview with The Epoch Times. “The root cause is the Chinese Communist Party's poor treatment of people in Xinjiang for the past sixty plus years. But the Party wants to blame ethnic separatism and foreign forces instead.”

Shannon Liao is a native New Yorker who attended Vassar College and the Bronx High School of Science. She writes business and tech news and is an aspiring novelist.