Has Beijing’s Xinjiang Approach Changed?

Days of unrest in several areas of Xinjiang prompted Chinese officials to order a 24-hour military patrol in some parts of the region over the weekend, with authorities confirming that police even fired shots at a large crowd of Uyghurs near the town of Hotan.  As authorities in Xinjiang continue to push for stability after last week’s violent clashes, Xinhua News reported on Tuesday that police have offered rewards of up to 100,000 yuan to anyone providing information which aids the investigation of terrorist plots. And with Friday marking the fourth anniversary of the 2009 riots that killed 200 people, officials in Urumqi have implemented new security measures to restore order. From Voice of America:

“We decided to deploy armed police and police forces to protect people’s security” said Yang.

Images on the Internet show thousands of officers from the People’s Armed Police took to the streets in Urumqi wearing anti-riot gear, in what appears to be the biggest deployment of security forces since the deadly riots of 2009.

Paramilitary soldiers also were deployed in several other cities.

Yang said “patrols are in force basically in every city. In certain main areas, we have increased patrolling strength.” [Source]

Security remains high, according to Andrew Jacobs and Chris Buckley of The New York Times, and police issued arrest warrants for 11 individuals in connection with the violence:

The security drive, described by one senior official as a “people’s war,” has been accompanied by accusations in official media that shadowy extremist groups have orchestrated unrest among Uighurs, a Turkic ethnic group. One state-run newspaper sought to link an increase in violence in Xinjiang to Uighurs who were said to have trained in war-ravaged Syria.

On Monday, the newspaper — The Global Times, a populist tabloid owned by The People’s Daily, the main newspaper of the Chinese Communist Party — claimed that about 100 Uighurs had gone to Syria to join rebel forces there who are fighting the government of President Bashar al-Assad. [Source]

While Beijing’s response to the unrest in Xinjiang may have appear to reflect old hard-line policies, however, The Wall Street Journal’s Russell Leigh Moses dug beneath the surface and found hints of “a new, more subtle approach” taken by the Xi Jinping regime:

The Politburo contingent that arrived in Urumqi on the weekend was nuanced in its public assessment of the situation in the province. Instead of focusing on what was branded “terrorism” in the Chinese media, Yu Zhengsheng, who headed the delegation from Beijing, urged cadres in Xinjiang to “comprehensively strengthen the social aspects of overall prevention and control” and focus on “grassroots work, by closely relying on the extensive mobilization of grassroots organizations and Party members.”  Yu suggested that officials should look to work with the masses to “prevent, control and treat” the circumstances that produce the violence to start with.

That’s not the usual head-cracking hardline that Hu Jintao and his fellow conservatives followed for nearly all of their tenure.  Instead, it’s what Xi has been urging cadres to do in recent days:  change their work style to gain a greater sense of the needs and dreams of the masses they are supposed to be supervising.

Indeed, other members of the same Politburo group–security czars Meng Jianzhu and Guo Shengkun—in conducting inspection tours of police headquarters and villages close to the area affected by violence, reminded officers that their first task was “prevention against crime, and maintaining social peace” (in Chinese)—hardly the syntax of strong-arm coercion. [Source]

See also a series of photos on Caixin Online which show anti-terrorism forces attending a swearing-in ceremony Urumqi following last week’s clashes.