China’s Far-west Strife Reveals a Country in Flux (Updated)

Chris Buckley writes an analysis of the unrest in Xinjiang for Reuters:

There are many unanswered questions about the tumult that began with a student protest over Uighurs killed at a factory in far southern China. Not least, how many died in the subsequent violence by Uighurs and then rioting by Han Chinese residents.

But the mayhem has also highlighted how China’s market economic transformation is changing society in ways the ruling Communist Party and its security forces may struggle to master.

“There are deep faultlines behind the veneer of stability in China,” said Nicholas Bequelin, an Asia expert with Human Rights Watch who has long studied Xinjiang.

“The Party is trying to hold things together, but social change has set in motion powerful undercurrents that prove uncontrollable with the old tools.”

Update: In the Guardian, the Chinese ambassador to the United Kingdom presents the official position on the violence in Urumqi:

Different ethnic groups in Xinjiang have lived side by side for centuries like one big family. The relationship has been generally amicable, though, as in all families and multi-ethnic communities, frictions occasionally happen. We call them “problems among people”, meaning they can be solved through coordination and are not a life-or-death struggle. That is why the violence in Urumqi on 5 July, causing more than 180 deaths and a thousand wounded, came as a shock.

Some blame it on a criminal case in Guangdong province earlier, which was largely fanned by a rumour. But that case was handled and the suspects detained. This can in no way justify the horrific acts of rioters in Urumqi who, armed with sticks, knives and big stones, went on a killing rampage against innocent people. There is strong concern that outside incitement and organisation played a big part. Framing it as “ethnic conflict” is a wrong way of looking at the issue, and may also drive a wedge between ethnic groups. The incident was reminiscent of terrorist violence in Urumqi and other cities in Xinjiang in the past decade or more. Some of these terrorists were sent to train and fight in Afghanistan. A few ended up in Guantánamo Bay. Investigation into the 5 July incident is ongoing and those who committed crimes will face the law.

Meanwhile, an Al Qaeda offshoot has said they will target Chinese workers in African countries in retribution for the death of the Uighurs in Urumqi violence. From Bloomberg:

Al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb said it will target the 50,000 Chinese workers in Algeria and Chinese nationals and projects across northwest Africa, said Stirling Assynt, which has offices in London and Hong Kong.

“This threat should be taken seriously,” the company said, adding that three weeks ago the group ambushed a convoy of Algerian security forces protecting Chinese engineers, killing 24 Algerians.

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