At least 22 people were killed on October 12 in China’s volatile Xinjiang region by Uighur terrorists who attacked police and ethnic Han Chinese with knives and explosives.
This most recent attack is the latest in a long string of attacks against Han Chinese in Xinjiang that have recently reached as far as Beijing. Hundreds have died since 2009, when the Chinese government violently suppressed a Uighur protest.
According to Radio Free Asia, a news service sponsored by the US Government, four men raided a farmers market and attacked police and store owners, most of which were Han Chinese. The attack follows a script that has plagued the region: a small cadre uses explosives to attack crowded areas then assault civilians with knives and axes.
The tension is partly a result of China’s long-standing policy of encouraging ethnic Hans to migrate to Xinjiang. In 1949 there were 220,000 Han in the region, as of 2008 there were 8.4 million. Put another way, Han have gone from 6.7 percent of the population to 40 percent.
The Han engage in discriminatory hiring practices, meaning they only hire fellow Han, and a large wealth-gap based on ethnicity has developed.
Annual income for an ethnic Han was 2,680 yuan in 1993, for a Uighur it was 732 yuan. The economic disparity was actively encouraged by Beijing, they promoted a “government policy that strategically channeled Han migrants to newly constructed settlements in northern Xinjiang [which] has boosted the economic growth there and widened the gap between northern and southern Xinjiang.”
Furthermore, the Chinese government continues to make every effort to erode Han culture:
“Campaigns have targeted men with long beards and women wearing full veils. The state has imposed limits on Uighur weddings and funerals, as well as on who can go on the hajj pilgrimage. Schoolchildren are forced to learn in Mandarin rather than the Uighur language, while students younger than 18 are forbidden from entering mosques. During this year’s holy month of Ramadan, teachers and civil servants were banned from fasting during daylight hours.”
China also sentenced Ilham Tohti, a prominent and moderate Uighur scholar, to life in prison last month after finding him guilty of separatism.
A July, 2009 NYT Editorial noted that “The more Chinese authorities try to stamp out protests by repressed ethnic minorities, the fiercer those protests grow.” In March, 2014 they published an Op-Ed titled “Pushing the Uighurs too far” where Wang Lixiong warns that “Backed into a corner by Beijing’s relentlessly antagonizing tactics, the Uighurs are likely to resort to more deadly terrorism. Xinjiang is poised to become China’s Chechnya.”
And therein lies the rub. Terrorism committed by Uighurs is the boiling over of long simmering animosity and resentment towards Hans. The Chinese government actively supported policies that encouraged a two class, ethnically divided region as well as the erosion of Uighur culture. They continue to do so. In fact, as the imprisonment of Ilhan Tohti exhibits, the Communist Party is doubling-down on its efforts to strong arm the Uighurs into submission. If history is foreshadowing of the future, Beijing is unlikely to relent and the predictions of Lixiong will ring all too true.