Haiyun Ma: Violence in Xinjiang— Human Rights Violation or Terrorism?

IslamiCommentary, 30 April 2013

China last week warned of a terrorist threat facing the nation following deadly clashes on April 23 in Xinjiang (the Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region) that left 21 dead — the worst episode of violence in four years. The dead included 16 Uyghurs, three Han Chinese, and two Mongolians.

According to a report by Radio Free Asia, “Chinese officials and state media said the violence erupted after community officials on patrol were attacked by Uyghur “terrorists” armed with knives at a house in Siriqbuya (in Chinese, Selibuya) township,”

Exiled Uighur activist groups meanwhile (the World Uyghur Congress and the Uyghur American Association) rejected China’s claims of terrorism.

The World Uyghur Congress said the violence started after Chinese “armed personnel” shot dead a young Uighur during inspection raids, reported the BBC.

The Washington-based Uyghur American Association (UAA) called on U.S. Ambassador Gary Locke — who was visiting Xinjiang with a trade delegation when the clashes took place  — to raise human rights violations against the mostly Muslim Uyghur minority with the government in Beijing. (according to RFA)

“It is vitally important for Ambassador Locke to remind the Chinese authorities that the constant attack on Uyghur identity, language, culture, religion, and ethnicity, as well as equating Uyghurs’ legitimate grievances with terrorism, separatism, and extremism, will not bring long-term peace and stability to the region,” said UAA President Alim Seytoff in a statement.

The U.S. State Department has called on Beijing to conduct a “thorough and transparent investigation of this incident.”

In an interview with BBC’s Foreign Language Service in Washington on Saturday Haiyun Ma, an Adjunct Professor of Chinese History who specializes in the study of Islam and Muslims in China at George Mason University, provided some background on the Xinjiang region and its tense relationship with China — noting that last week’s incident cannot be easily labeled as terrorism or a human rights violation.

Ma  gave background on China’s ideological campaigns against separatism, extremism, and terrorism at the national level that followed the collapse of the Soviet Union, and it’s related fear of the possibility of Uyghur independence.

Ma also speak about  Xinjiang’s  harsh social and cultural policy toward the Uyghurs at the regional level and quick economic marginalization of the Uyghurs in the context of China’s development of the North West region, including Xinjiang.

He recommended that both China and the Uyghur organizations  investigate the specific nature and context of the violence, and to examine which interest groups stand to benefit from the violence in Xinjiang.


*ISLAMiCommentary facilitated Ma’s interview with BBC