Tuesday, 20 March 2012
In the weeks since the Yecheng/Kargilik violence which left twenty people dead, there has followed a course of events which correspond to a familiar pattern; a pattern which the Chinese authorities seemingly stick rigidly to in the aftermath of unrest in ethnically volatile areas.
Firstly, there occurs a ratcheting up of rhetoric. Immediate denunciations of those involved as 'terrorists' and 'separatists' are accompanied by promises to show "no mercy".
Religious belief is then deliberately conflated with extremism and violence. Indeed, Nur Bekri, Chairman of the Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region has recently asserted that "religious fever inevitably causes religious extremism and religious extremism inevitably causes violent attacks." The conscious conflation of religious faith with violence is a legitimization tactic designed to morally (and perhaps legally) sanction what is to come.
Then comes the clampdown. Already we have seen four Uyghurs shot dead by the Chinese police for alleged links to terrorism (since proved to be false), as well as the detention of five others; two for re-tweeting rumours of a bomb threat, and three for distributing illegal religious material. Whilst we cannot say what else is to come, we can say for sure that the authorities have not yet exhausted their response.
With China's new detention laws, implemented to protect "state security", strengthening the ability of the state to control those they deem as threats, and with domestic security spending recently increasing by 11.5%, it is clear that the Chinese state is seeking an increase in its ability to 'secure' Xinjiang and other provinces.
But what are they trying to secure? Whilst, of course, every state has a right, if not a duty, to protect its civilians from violence and terrorism, it is obvious that the actions of the authorities in response to ethnic violence does nothing but pour fuel on the flames of discontent that often motivate such violent attacks in the first place.
Spending more money on the military and the police and implementing ever-more illiberal detention policies does not bring security. Limiting the religious expression of a vast swathe of a province's population does not bring security. And shooting dead four innocent men, and then justifying it by citing the men's possession of boxing gloves, does not bring security. The only thing that is being secured through these actions is the absolute certainty of continued insecurity, discontent and socio-ethnic unrest.