Thousands of Chinese troops poured into the restive city of Urumqi early today in a massive show of force, as President Hu Jintao cut short a visit to Italy for the G8 summit to deal with the outbreak of ethnic violence.
Along one road ringing the capital of the western region of Xianjiang where 156 people died in riots on Sunday, The Times counted more than 30 paramilitary trucks, each followed by about two dozen men, many in black body armour, and most carrying riot shields, batons and fire arms.
The convoys included several white armoured personnel carriers accompanied by tear gas vans, all with paramilitaries standing ready to open fire. They were preceded by land cruisers, their sirens wailing as they moved almost at a walking pace through the town.
On the sides of the trucks were banners reading: “See the people as our father and mother.”
Watch a BBC report:
And a report from the Telegraph:
A day after thousands of Uighurs took to the streets to protest the detention of their husbands, sons and brothers, authorities vowed to severely punish anyone responsible for Sunday’s violence. The Party Secretary of Xinjiang announced that the government will seek the death penalty for those found guilty of causing any of the 156 deaths in the Urumqi riots. AP reports:
Li Zhi told a news conference Wednesday that Urumqi was stable after several days of ethnic violence. He said security forces had control of the streets.
He said many people accused of murder had already been detained and that most of them were students.
The violence has already caused President Hu Jintao to cut short a visit to take part in the Group of Eight summit in Italy to return to take charge of the situation.
See also “Chinese police chief urges hardline crackdown on thugs in Xinjiang riot” from Xinhua.
Meanwhile, the official media has published more details of the rape allegations at a factory in Guangdong that led to the protests in Urumqi. From Xinhua:
The teenager at the center of allegations of sexual assault that sparked the deadly violence in western China’s Xinjiang region Wednesday said the incident was nothing more than an “unintentional scream.”
A brawl between Han and Uygur workers at a toy factory in the southern Guangdong Province on June 26 is said to have sparked Sunday’s riot that left 156 people dead and more than 1,000 injured thousands of kilometers away in the Xinjiang capital of Urumqi.
But the people at the center of the conflict believed it was just a row between young men.
Watch a CCTV report interviewing victims of Sunday’s violence, via CNN:
A peaceful assembly turned violent as some elements of the crowd reacted to heavy-handed policing. I unequivocally condemn the use of violence by Uighurs during the demonstration as much as I do China’s use of excessive force against protestors.
Wang Lequan, party secretary of the Xinjiang Uighur Autonomous Region, has blamed me for the unrest. However, it is years of Chinese repression of Uighurs — topped by further confirmation that Chinese officials have no interest in observing the rule of law — that is the cause of the current Uighur discontent.
China’s brutal reaction to Sunday’s protest will only reinforce these views. Uighur sources within East Turkestan say 400 Uighurs in Urumqi have died as a result of police shootings and beatings. There is no accurate figure for the number of injured.
Malcolm Moore of the Telegraph blogged that journalists have been unable to verify her figure of 400 deaths and praised the government’s strategy of allowing foreign journalists onto the scene:
…Allowing journalists to circulate and protecting them from the crowd has clearly paid dividends. Rebiya Kadeer’s claims that 400 Uighurs were killed on Sunday were dismissed by my colleagues on the ground, who have neither seen nor heard any evidence to back up her accusation.
I would encourage the authorities to stop censoring the internet now. Allowing information to circulate does not lead to greater instability – this unrest has shown that the wild rumours that develop when news is suppressed can be incredibly explosive.
My feeling is that the Han Chinese, now that they have marched and let off some steam, are unlikely to assemble in large numbers again. An enormous security operation should succeed in preventing any more chaos. But the long-term picture is still troublesome. How will the Uighurs and the Han Chinese resolve their differences?
For more on the government’s media strategy, watch this Al Jazeera report:
For the New Yorker, Evan Osnos looks at Internet comments that take a more nuanced approach to China’s ethnic divisions:
This message, posted on a mainstream Baidu discussion board today, notes that Han Chinese often treat ethnic minorities’ complaints lightly because they think that minorities are no more injured by injustice than the rest of Chinese society:
But the reality is not as simple as what Han people think. Their anger towards Han is not extreme but a normal expression of emotion. In an autonomous region, although the head of the government is an ethnic minority, the actual sovereign power is in the hand of another ethnicity, and that person is sent from somewhere far away…At the top of government departments in Xinjiang—the ones with real power, who chair key positions, like police departments, finance departments, and human resource departments—there are no Uighurs, or even locals. Uighurs can only be the deputies and do not have power.
Read more about netizens’ reactions to the violence from the Telegraph.
For background on relations between Hans and Uighurs and on the government’s policies toward minorities, read these links:
– “Riots in Xinjiang point to a new dimension to ethnic conflict in China” from China Elections and Governance
– “Backgrounder: Uighurs and China’s Xinjiang Region” from the Council on Foreign Relations
– “Unrest in western China“, a background brief from The World, including video and audio reports from BBC and PRI.
– “Xinjiang Authorities Forcefully Suppress Demonstration, Restrict Free Flow of Information” from the Congressional-Executive Commission on China
– Listen to “China Unrest Has Roots In History” from NPR.
– “Looking Beyond Ethnicity” from Evan Osnos’ New Yorker blog.
– “Why China has clenched its fist in Xinjiang” from the Christian Science Monitor.
– “A Guide to China’s Ethnic Groups” from the Washington Post.
Opinions and perspectives about this week’s violence, the government’s response, and ethnic relations in China:
– “Two restraints + one leniency = a backfiring minority policy on all” from Fool’s Mountain, translation of an essay written by a second generation Han “settler” born and raised in Xinjiang
– “Beijing Always Wins” an op-ed by Russell Leigh Moses in the New York Times.
– “Why Western leaders have failed the Uighurs” by Uighur-American lawyer and activist Nury Turkel
– “Media Savvy In Xinjiang” by Kelley Currie in the Asian Wall Street Journal.
– “What The Riots In China Really Mean” by Gordon G. Chang
– “Unveiled Rebiya Kadeer: a Uighur Dalai Lama“, the official position via People’s Daily.
– “If Only the Uighurs Were Buddhist and China Was Israel” from the Huffington Post.
– “What Should China Do About the Uighurs?“, four op-ed pieces published on the New York Times blog.
[This post will be continually updated]