Amid China’s rapid rise to power and economic prosperity it’s easy to forget that the nation actually suffers from a considerable amount of internal instability. A recent bombing attack, timed to coincide with President Xi’s visit to the region, cost the lives of three people (including the two bombers) and injured 79 others. The Chinese government has vowed to crush the religious extremists believed to be behind the attack.
President Xi was touring the Northwest region and visiting the capital of Urumqi when the attack occurred. Mr. Xi had apparently visited a mosque in the city only hours before the attack. Urumqi is a heavily policed city, owing largely to the separatist movement in the region. The attack occurred at the heavily guarded South train station, then packed with holiday travelers.
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President Xi challenged
The visit marked the first visit for President Xi to the Xinjiang region. Xinjiang has proven to be one of the most volatile regions in the country and the attack has embarrassed the government. So far, China has been attempting to subdue unrest in the region through a mix of rapid economic growth and the installation of a de facto police state.
Despite these efforts, violence has slowly been rising in the region. Worse yet, the attack shows that the sophistication of the separatists may have previously been underestimated. Given the high levels of security in the city, and the difficulty of coordinating the attacks to coincide with the President’s visit, the Separatists appear to be quite sophisticated.
President Xi has vowed to crush the Separatists. Maintaining stability and showing the strong force of the Communist party is a priority for the government. A weak response could fuel movements in Tibet and elsewhere. At the same time the strength of China’s military could quickly be called into question. Thus, the government will look to clamp down on attacks before they get out of hand.
Experts believe that the attacks, while well-coordinated, are likely being carried out by relatively untrained groups of individuals. Civilians have been targeted and in general low grade ammunition has been used. So far, there is no evidence that the attacks are being centrally coordinated.
Religion extremism blamed
Religion was all but banned under the hard-lined Communist government in the early years of the country’s socialist revolution, but recently attitudes have relaxed. Regardless, many religious hard liners have been fighting for increased freedom and even autonomy.
Separatist, mainly from the Uyghur minority, claim sovereignty over the region. The separatists believe that the region is actually an occupied country called East Turkestan. From 1944 to 1946 the Soviet Union supported rebels in the region who were rebelling against the Chinese government led by Chiang Kai-Shek. Communists in China were also fighting Chiang Kai-Shek, whom was eventually pushed off the mainland and forced to flee to Taiwan.
Over the years, the Soviet Union continued to fund and supply rebels in the region. While both governments were considered Communist, they were largely at odds with one another. Indeed, the Soviets and China were locked in a cold war was deep and serious as the Cold War between the United States and the Soviet Union.
Not the first attack
This past October three Uyghur individuals drove cars through crowds in Beijing before making their way to the Forbidden City where they set their car on fire. The attack cost the lives of two tourists and the bombers themselves.
Attacks often utilize knives and on occasion the police have been targeted. Knives are a popular choice among terrorists because guns are essentially outlawed. Despite all of the resources the government is dedicated to fight the separatists, however, resistance remains strong.