Wednesday, May 12, 2010

China’s Terrorist Problem

We do not hear very much about it but China has been having their own problems with Al-Qaeda. One sign of this was when China replaced the most powerful official in its western region, Xinjiang, because of growing ethnic violence which left 200 dead. The secretary of the Communist Party in Xinjiang, Wang Lequan, was reportedly replaced by Zhang Chunxian. Lequan had served in the powerful post since 1994. Although the Chinese government did not give a reason for the change, it is mostly likely a response to growing public anger over the violence and the riots which have been taking place.

The selection of Mr. Zhang represents a major crackdown by the Chinese government. Tensions have been building for over a decade. Contributing to the anger over the government forcing the teaching of Chinese in primary schools, usurping the local language. Additionally, in spite of the fact that the region is primarily Muslim, they have banded beards, the wearing of headscarves and forbid observance of Ramadan, an important Muslim religious holiday. They have also been developing the oil industry in the region and have been bringing in ethic Han workers to take the newly created jobs.

In Xinjiang the mostly Muslim Uighur community has been waging a campaign against Beijing for independence. They are deeply angered by the mass migration of Han workers to the region to fill the newly created jobs. China says that the separatists are ‘auxiliaries’ of Al-Qaeda.

Last September, thousands of angry Han Chinese took to the streets of Urumqi to demand the Party Secretary's removal and better security after the July riots and a number of assaults using hypodermic needles. The regional police chief and the Communist Party secretary of Urumqi were sacked after the protests. It was a rare public challenge by Han Chinese to the ruling Communist Party in the region and evidence of the growing problem for the Chinese government.

Al-Qaeda has been active in the region and using the tensions to recruit members. They have not been reported to have taken much action against the Chinese government as yet but with Al-Qaeda there s no question about if they will act. The only questions are when and where they will act. It will be interesting to see how the Chinese government feels about sanctions against terrorist sponsoring countries like Iran after it happens.

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