China Power

China’s Brutal Crackdown in Xinjiang

Beijing continues to pursue iron-fist policies in the western province—and blames the West for the results.

As the world celebrates Eid al-Adha, the Islamic festival of sacrifice, turbulence in Yarkand County, Xinjiang province continued earlier this week when five Muslim Uyghurs were shot, according to Radio Free Asia (RFA). Other acts of violence and concentrated efforts to quell the troubled region are causing many to question whether or not China's propaganda and security crackdowns are doing any good.

Yarkand (a.k.a. Shache in Chinese) entered its third straight week of violence, which began when three Uyghurs were allegedly shot and killed in two separate incidents on September 26. Later, on October 3, four more were killed when police fired on a private residence suspected of illegally convening the World Uyghur Congress—an avowed peaceful organization that China nonetheless considers hostile and the source of many of its woes in the region. The horrible violence of the summer shows no signs of easing.

Perhaps even more important than these tragic, violent outbursts is China's larger ideological battle and how it affects the region. This week Xinjiang Daily applauded the "peace and happiness" of the Muslim holiday, but peace and happiness is all you're ever likely to read about in a state-run paper, and some believe that China's strict control over the media and freedom of speech in the region is to blame for much of the violence. China's well-documented ability to ignore bad press in Xinjiang is alive and well, but Xinjiang is not immune to the wider media crackdown.

For example, over a hundred citizens were detained for "online rumors" in the region last week in China's now notorious attack against free speech online. Authorities also confiscated 2 gigabytes worth of separatist e-books from a young farmer. Of course, compared to the 2009 security crackdown in the wake of the Urumqi riots that killed nearly 200 people, this is tame to say the least. Still, China is increasingly using broader and broader sweeps to round up malcontents. Two weeks ago, for instance, 100 Uyghurs were arrested in Yunnan province—far from Beijing's restive western province—in order to nab seven possibly violent dissidents.

The spring and summer this year were also marred by attacks, with violent outbursts that have a number of causes and epicenters, but Beijing's clarion call is always the same: it's the West's fault. China Daily even ran an editorial in August that literally called the Western media "worthless" and a "propaganda machine for the Uyghur separatists."

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Beijing's insistence on raising conspiracy theories that are mind-boggling in scope serve as a tool for the Politburo's wider policies. The government has even gone so far as to blame the attacks that occurred over the summer on Syrian rebels—and, of course, on the U.S.

With terrorists, separatists and, of course, the heavy hand of the Chinese authorities, Xinjiang is reeling. This past week alone, gunshots rang out in response to ethnic violence everywhere from Tibet to Yunnan. Any hope of a panacea is long gone, but if it wants any improvement in the situation at all, Beijing will need to change its tactics.