It can be tempting to think of China as one large homogeneous whole, but that couldn’t be further from the truth. On Monday, one of China’s many minority groups, the Uighur, launched a coordinated attack against ethnic Han Chinese immigrants. The Chinese government is claiming that dozens were killed in the attacks.
The attacks occurred in the Western province of Xinjiang, a long restive region home to a large Muslim population, which has been at odds with China’s central communist government for years. The attack came just a day before Eid al-Fitr which marks the end of the Muslim holy month of Ramadan. This day is usually quite festive with large public celebrations, but this year the streets were understandably empty.
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China Government Offices And Civilians Targeted
While the identity of the attackers has not yet been confirmed, they were almost certainly Uighur separatists. These separatists have been fighting to establish “East Turkestan” for decades and have directed most of their efforts at the ethnic Han, who are dominant in most of the rest of China, and anything associated with the central government.
When the attacks were carried out, they were clearly targeted at Han citizens. Due to tight gun regulation laws in China the attacks were carried out largely with knives, with numerous Han citizens being brutally stabbed to death. It is unknown how many attackers were involved, but is believed to have numbered in the dozens.
The attackers also smashed at least 31 cars and burned six more. A police station was targeted, along with government buildings. At one point the attackers, armed with knives and other crude weapons, actually attacked a column of troops moving in to restore order. The troops responded with gun fire, killing at least 16 of the assailants.
The attack also occurred as the government was holding a trade fair that it hoped would restore investor confidence in the region. The Chinese government claims that it has been trying to increase the economic prosperity of the region, but that violence is holding economic development back.
China tensions follow long string of Attacks
Fighting between the Uighur and the central government has been going on for decades. Only in recent years, however, have the attacks shifted to attacking civilians. A knife attack in June of 2013 claimed the life of some 24 people. In October of the same year, Uighur assailants used a car to run down five people.
In 2014, the violence has only picked up pace. In February, rebels used a car loaded with explosives to ram into police cars. Just a month later another knife attack claimed the lives of 29 people. In April, a bomb and knife attack claimed an additional three lives, but that was just the prelude to a bomb and car assault that would result in the deaths of 31 people in May.