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One Deadly Incident in China, Two Radically Different Versions

On Monday, Chinese police in the troubled Xinjiang region “gunned down several rioters who attacked a police station” in the city of Hotan.

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The intruders had taken hostages and set fire to the station. Police then freed all the prisoners. Four died during the assault: a member of the armed police, two hostages, and “a security personnel.”

That’s the version from the official Xinhua News Agency, reporting information released by the Ministry of Public Security. According to the Munich-based World Uighur Congress, an advocacy group, the shootings occurred in Hotan’s bazaar when more than a hundred residents were peacefully protesting both seizures of land and forcible disappearances following the “July 5” riots that left hundreds dead in 2009. “The Chinese government should not claim this was an attack,” said Dilxat Raxit, a spokesman for the organization. According to the group, “at least 20 people” were killed.

There is no way to confirm either version of Monday’s events, but neither of them is good for Beijing. Chinese state media blamed Muslim Uighurs, the original Turkic inhabitants of the area. Many—if not almost all—Uighurs want no part of the People’s Republic and have been campaigning for their own nation, which they call the East Turkestan Republic, after the state Mao Zedong crushed six decades ago. Since then, there have been periodic Uighur attacks, revolts, and insurrections against Beijing’s increasingly harsh rule, especially in the last twenty years. On Tuesday, the Chinese authorities called the incident in Hotan “an organized terrorist attack.”

If Beijing’s version is correct, the attack would be the second against a police station since Zhang Chunxian became the Communist Party secretary for Xinjiang last April. He replaced the long-serving Wang Lequan, whose hard-line policies have been blamed for, among other things, the 2009 riots.

Beijing quickly propagated the line that Monday’s disturbance would not damage Zhang’s standing, in part because his personal failure would be seen as the institutional failure of the Communist Party’s “minority” polices. That’s why the central government trotted out academics to support him. “Since he got to Xinjiang he’s done a good job addressing problems in government policies, improving economic order and maintaining public order,” said Renmin University’s Mao Shoulong to the South China Morning Post. “There are more deep-rooted problems which resulted in July 5 but it will take time to resolve them.”

Everyone assumes that time favors Beijing, which is trying to bring “Han” settlers to Xinjiang, both to assimilate the Uighurs and overwhelm them. From the outside, it looks as if the Turkic Muslims have no chance. Due to inbound migration, they are now a minority ethnic group in their homeland, and they have almost no foreign support. Yet the Uighurs absolutely refuse to submit to the powerful Hans.

In a sense, it does not matter what happened Monday. Whether the Uighurs were protesting peacefully in the center of Hotan (the World Uighur Congress version) or whether they attacked a police station (the facts from Xinhua) the acts were almost certain to result in Uighur deaths. That the Uighurs remain willing to die indicates an intensity for which the Communist Party has no answer.

Filed in: World News

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