Upgrade in Police Armament in Urumqi Signals Continued Tensions in Xinjiang

March 12, 2005

According to a March 1 report in the Urumqi Evening News, police patrolmen in Urumqi have been issued new pistols and submachine guns, and new anti-terror programs have been added to their training schedules. Previously, police carried only police batons, tear gas grenades, and self-protection gear. The report says that "police patrolmen in Urumqi have never in the history of the city been so fully equipped."

Chinese officials claim Xinjiang's Uighurs are resorting to violence to promote an independent East Turkestan republic, and the augmented police weaponry may represent an effort to tighten Chinese control over the tense region. The government has conducted a series of campaigns since 2001 to promote "patriotism, collectivism, socialism, and national unity," including a Strike Hard Campaign against "splittism" and an Atheist Education Campaign to "transform social customs . . . and promote nationality development and progress" (Xinjiang General Secretary's work report in Qiushi 16 January 2005).

The central government has been running joint anti-terror military exercises with neighboring Central Asian states since 2002. In January 2004, the Shanghai Cooperation Organization opened a Regional Anti-Terrorism Structure in Tashkent to fight the "three evils of terrorism, splittism, and extremism" in Xinjiang and bordering member states. Amnesty International and other human rights groups accuse the Chinese government of using the post-September 11th global war on terrorism to repress peaceful Uighur demonstrations for autonomy. The US-based Center for Contemporary Conflict published a report in 2002 urging policymakers to recognize that Uighurs themselves are often divided over how best to promote their rights. The report concluded that only increased autonomy could prevent increases in violence.