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China's Xinjiang problem

To curb the terrorism in Xinjiang province, China has offered an amnesty to militants stating the surrendered persons would face lenient punishment. The new initiative follows the bloodiest terror attack in years at a busy market in Urumqi, the capital of Xinjiang province, that left 43 people dead. China blames East Turkistan Islamic Movement (ETIM), an al-Qaeda linked outfit, for various attacks in the recent past. ETIM is fighting for the independence of Xinjiang, which is restive over the past few years over the increasing settlements of Han resented by native Muslim Uighur’s, who allege that they are being marginalised in their province.

Brief background of the issue:

China's Xinjiang province is situated in the North-West of the country, with an area of 1.6 million sq km, the landlocked region makes up one-sixteenth of China's territory and borders Russia, four former Soviet Central Asian Republics (Kazakhstan, Tajikistan, Kyrgyzstan, Uzbekistan), plus Mongolia, Pakistan, and Afghanistan. 

Xinjiang’s crisis is a result of growing discontent among Uighur people that was fuelled by China’s domestic policy in the region. Many of the Uighurs has grievances that are driven by ethnic, religious and cultural factors. 

The development, from the 1950s, of mineral resources and the opening up of the region for cotton production, brought an influx of ethnic Chinese which dramatically altered the province’s ethnic balance. In 1949, Xinjiang had 3.2 millions Uighurs and only 140,000 Chinese. Now, of the total population, 40 per cent are Han, and only 47 per cent are Uighur. Uighurs fear they might soon be significantly outnumbered. 

Initially Han Chinese migration to Xinjiang was officially encouraged to support agricultural development and to promote security with respect to a possible Soviet threat to the lightly populated territory. Later China's strict one-child policy has been waived for Han Chinese willing to move to Xinjiang; they are therefore allowed to have two children, a fringe benefit which encourages further immigration. 

The majority of Uighurs still lives in rural areas or the poorest areas of towns and cities. Many Chinese immigrants have moved into newly constructed apartments and have taken most of the jobs in new factories and firms.  

In an attempt to close the gap in income and wealth terms between the rapidly growing eastern  coastal provinces and the western China 1999 Chinese President Jiang Zemin launched the Western  Development campaign, popularly known as “Go West!”. Jiang’s plan focused on massive infrastructure investment in Xinjiang, Tibet, Ningxia Hui Autonomous Regions, Qinghai, Gansu, Sichuan, Yunnan, Shaanxi, Guizhou provinces and Chonqing municipality – totaling 56% of China’s land area and 23% of the population. The results in Xinjiang of the campaign show an impressive record of achievement on the part of the Chinese Authorities. 

The quality of life of local residents has been noticeably improved. Life expectancy in Xinjiang has been extended to 71.12 years. The demography of Xinjiang shows the features of low rate of birth, low rate of death and low rate of increase.  

But the economic development without a comprehensive political and social approach to allay the fears of the  Uighurs proved to be equally counter-productive. The local Han population has benefited from these economic projects but the Uighurs feel left out. 

Private employers in Xinjiang are more inclined to hire Han Chinese workers than local Uighurs who are disadvantaged by language and technical skills. These measures have increased socio-economic imbalance between Uighurs and Hans and aggravated the discontent among local Uighurs. 

Recent Steps taken by government:

Legal, procuratorate and public security authorities in China’s northwestern Xinjiang Uighur Autonomous Region issued a joint statement stating:

a) Forbidden of people to organise, lead or join any terrorist groups. It bans people from implementing or instigating terrorist violence.

b) It also prohibits people from directly or indirectly funding, supporting or harbouring terrorist activities, terrorist organizations and terrorists.

c) bans people from manufacturing, trading, transporting, publicising, copying and holding propaganda materials or electric storages with terrorist violence and religious extremism contents.

d) Manufacturing, trading, transporting, storing and holding guns, ammunitions, flammable and combustible materials as well as knives under strict control are also prohibited.

e) It also bans people from illegally crossing borders or organizing, plotting, transporting or assisting others to cross borders.

f) Those who are involved in the above activities will be given mitigated punishments if they turn themselves in within 30 days.

g) It also encourages the public to inform authorities about the above criminal activities. Those who harbour the criminals will be punished according to law.


• Why Xinjiang crisis has become a large concern for China and the neighboring countries?


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