By B. Raman
The Chinese Government is organising what has been called the 1st China-Eurasia Expo in Urumqi, the capital of the Chinese-Controlled Xinjiang province, from September 1 to 5, 2011. The arrangements are being co-ordinated by an organizing committee with Vice Premier Wang Qishan as honorary chairman.
The Government has described the aim of the Expo as “to boost the regional economic cooperation among Central, West and South Asian and European countries, and to promote the all-round development of Xinjiang area.”
A month before the inauguration of the Expo, security has been stepped up all over Xinjiang and particularly in Urumqi. Border controls have been intensified on the border with Pakistan to prevent the entry of Uighur dissidents from Pakistan to create disturbances during the Expo. Many preventive arrests have been made in Xinjiang and the Government of Pakistan has reportedly been requested to keep under preventive detention some Uighur suspects named by the Chinese Government.
A special anti-terror exercise was held in Urumqi on July 28,2011 by the Local Public Security Bureau. The aim of the exercise was described as “ to train police officers in the rescue of hostages, removal of explosives, and dealing with violent acts and to improve the capability of the anti-terror forces and to prepare for the upcoming China-Eurasia Expo”.
Despite stepped-up security in the province to prevent any untoward incidents that might discourage foreign business and industrial establishments from participating in the Expo, there were two major incidents in the interior areas bordering Pakistan and Kyrgyzstan in July coinciding with the first anniversary of last year’s disturbances in the province.
In the first incident more than 20 people were killed in a violent clash with the police in the remote city of Hotan on July 18,2011. State media had quoted an official in Xinjiang as saying that the clash was a “terrorist” attack, in which four persons including a police officer were killed when a crowd raided a police station.
In the second incident, seven persons were killed in an alleged knife attack by two persons in the ancient Silk Road city of Kashgar on July 30. One of the attackers was later reported to have been killed by a mob.
The Agence France Presse has quoted tianshannet.com, a website run by the regional government as saying that the suspects had hijacked a truck that was waiting at a traffic light at the food market in Kashgar, not far from the border with Kyrgyzstan. They allegedly killed the driver, ploughed the vehicle into passers-by on a nearby pavement, then got out of the truck and stabbed people at random, leaving six bystanders dead before the crowd turned on them and killed one attacker.
An English-language report from the official Xinhua news agency said two blasts were heard before the incident. The first came from a minivan and the other was in the market. The Chinese-language Xinhua report made no mention of the blasts.
On July 31, an explosion reportedly killed three persons, including a police officer in the same town. The local police have reportedly arrested over 100 Uighurs in connection with the investigation. They have not so far blamed any organisation in particular.
These incidents have demonstrated the capability of dissident elements —probably based in Pakistan and Kyrgyzstan—to stage violent diversionary attacks in the interior areas in the days before and during the Expo. Urumqi itself has been free of any major incidents, but there has reportedly been tension in the local public over the possibility of violent incidents even in the capital in the days to come.
The authorities seem to be greatly worried over the danger of a violent Han reaction to any Uighur attack as had happened last year. They have been appealing to Han community leaders not to get provoked by any incident of violence staged by the Uighurs and to let the security forces deal with the situation.