China boosts police presence in Xinjiang region amid concern over religious extremism

The Washington Post, 30 January 2012

BEIJING — Thousands of additional police officers are being dispatched to combat religious extremism and other security concerns in China’s volatile, heavily Muslim northwestern region of Xinjiang, state media reported Monday.

Officials plan to recruit 8,000 officers to ensure every village in Xinjiang has at least one on patrol, the Xinhua News Agency said.

Their primary tasks will be “security patrols, management of the migrant population and cracking down on illegal religious activities,” it said. The officers will be joined in their tasks by security guards and local militia, who are typically unarmed, Xinhua said.

The beefing up of the police force is a sign of Beijing’s concern over unrest in Xinjiang, where long-simmering resentment against Chinese rule boiled over in 2009, when nearly 200 people were killed in fighting between native Uighurs and Han Chinese in the regional capital, Urumqi, according to the government.

Dozens have been killed or wounded in recent months, and authorities have increasingly relied on overwhelming force and heavy-handed policing to control the situation. China has blamed overseas activists for what it described as organized terrorist attacks, specifically Pakistan-based militants affiliated with al-Qaida.

Violence has also worsened in Tibetan areas to the south, following the self-immolations of Buddhist monks, nuns and former clergy. Police have fired into crowds of protesters, killing and wounding dozens, while barring outsiders from traveling to the area.

Xinjiang regional spokeswoman Hou Hanmin confirmed to The Associated Press that the 8,000 officers were being recruited under a “one village, one officer” campaign. She said their main job would be to improve public services.

The deployment also appears aimed at avoiding a Xinjiang crisis during a year that will see the start of a generational leadership transition in Beijing.

Leading Xinjiang security official Xiong Xuanguo pledged earlier this month to strictly guard against “violent terrorism” and create a “harmonious social environment” ahead of the ruling Communist Party’s national congress due this fall, an event held once every five years.

“Local authorities must further improve their capabilities for maintaining social stability and amplify the crackdown on religious extremist activities,” Xiong said.

As with Tibetans, Xinjiang’s Uighurs have been angered by restrictions on cultural and religious life, as well as an influx of Han migrants they feel has left them economically marginalized in their own homelands.

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