Wednesday, May 7, 2014

Making Sense of the Recent Attacks in China

There have been three assaults on civilians in China in the past three months, the last two having occurred within a week of each other. The Chinese government has labeled these incidents terrorist attacks.


Photo: The Guardian

The most recent killing involved an assailant who stabbed six people on May 6 at a railway station in the southern city of Guangzhou. There were no fatalities, but the six victims were injured and the suspect was shot and wounded by Chinese police.

The violence occurred less than a week after three were killed and 79 injured in a knife and bomb attack at the railway station in Urumqi, the capital of the northwestern region of Xinjiang.

However, the government first became alarmed in March when five attackers with knives and machetes killed 29 and injured more than 140 at a station in the southwestern city of Kunming.

Twenty-nine people were killed in a knife attack at Kunming rail station, southwest China, in early March. More than 140 others were injured when assailants, thought to be Xinjiang separatists from the west, began hacking at people apparently at random. Four attackers were shot dead by police at the scene.

Officials have blamed the incidents in Urumqi and Kunming on separatist terrorists from Xinjiang. It is suspected that the region’s Uighur minority is unhappy with the regulation and seeks to form an independent state, East Turkestan. While the most recent attack has not been officially linked to the earlier two, it is highly suspected they are related.

Before the attack in Guangzhou, President Xi Jinping had travelled to Xinjiang to address the ongoing issue of violence. There he announced plans to arm Chinese police officers with guns. He said that as China’s westernmost border region, the city of Kashgar in Xinjiang is at the frontline in the fight against terrorism. Furthermore, he ordered the army to help local government deliver a “crushing blow” to terrorists.

However, Xi’s visit also involved visiting a mosque and directly addressing the issue of religion in the region. This could be seen as more indirect measures of dealing with the issue because the ongoing violence has been associated with the Turkic Uighur Muslim population of Xinjiang.

Xi visited a 120-year-old mosque and sat with a group of religious leaders and listened to their views about regional issues. He made a comment that maintained his view that religion needs to adapt to social developments, but acknowledged that religious publications contain wisdom that can help guide people toward tolerance and acts of kindness.

These efforts are significant especially when considering China’s history with religious freedom and regional minorities. Nevertheless, the Chinese government will have to continue to find ways of preventing future violent events and protect its citizens.

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