China has long had an uneasy relationship with the Uighurs, Muslims who constitute a majority of the population in the western province of Xinjiang. The Chinese Communist Party has worried about the threat of terrorism emanating from the region and has adopted increasingly repressive policies to counter that danger. The result, predictably enough, has been growing unrest. Beijing is now stepping up activities in the region and beyond its borders to check this threat; an indiscriminate heavy hand will do more harm than good.
China's Xinjiang province is 45 percent Uighur, a Turkik-speaking Muslim group. While they are one of the 55 officially recognized ethnic minorities in China, Uighurs have complained that they have been discriminated against and their native culture denied as an influx of Han Chinese — who now constitute 40 percent of the population — have been brought into the region as part of a stabilization and pacification program. As in Tibet, the authorities claim that they are modernizing a backward part of their country and combating local groups that are terrorists or have terrorist inclinations.
Reportedly, hundreds of people have been killed in Xinjiang over the past few years. Precise figures are hard to come by as independent confirmation of incidents, their cause and size is hard to come by. In recent months, however, the violence is said to have escalated, In February, knife-wielding attackers killed five people and injured five others before they were killed by police. China blamed Uighur militants aided by foreign terrorist groups; other reports say the cause of the incident was not terrorism but a personal grievance: punishment of a Uighur family that held a Muslim prayer session in their home. Beijing used the attack to launch an "all out offensive," bringing in thousands of armed soldiers, holding mass "anti-terror" rallies and deploying dozens of armored vehicles. The head of the Xinjiang Communist Party called on those forces to "bury the corpses of terrorists in the vast sea of a people's war," while the local newspaper warned security forces must prepare "for a battle between good and evil, lightness and dark."