Charles Cumming: Xinjiang: the Jewel in China’s Crown

From the Guardian:

Riots in China’s restless province are nothing new. In 1990, 50 people were killed in the town of Baren when armed police put down a demonstration against Chinese rule by 3,000 disgruntled Muslims. In 1997, members of the province’s ethnic Uighur population gathered in the city of Gulja to protest against the execution of 30 activists who had been campaigning for an independent Eastern Turkestan. After two days of demonstrations, Chinese riot police moved in. The official death toll was put at nine, but some western observers say as many as 400 people died.

Early reports following Sunday’s riot in Urumqi, the capital of Xinjiang, estimated that 140 people were killed and more than 800 injured when police and soldiers broke up a peaceful demonstration by Uighurs, which quickly turned violent. The riot, in which Han civilians were attacked, cars overturned and shops set on fire, has been described as the most bloody since the Tiananmen Square massacre of 1989.

More so even than Tibet, Xinjiang is the jewel in the crown of the People’s Republic. A strategic buffer between China and the former Soviet republics, it accounts for a sixth of China’s land mass and is rich in oil and gas deposits. The Communist regime is anxious, to the point of paranoia, that a coherent separatist movement will lead to an independent Xinjiang and thus to the fracturing of the country.

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