A New Round of Protests in Xinjiang?

by Joshua Foust on 9/3/2009 · 1 comment


Protesters massed in the capital of China’s far western region of Xinjiang Thursday demanding the resignation of its top official, who faced the crowd amid a scare over syringe stabbings that has reignited ethnic tensions.

The demonstration was a rare public challenge by Han Chinese to the ruling Communist Party in tense Xinjiang, where ethnic clashes with Muslim Uighurs broke out in early July.

It also happened at a highly sensitive time for China, as it readies to celebrate the 60th anniversary of the founding of the People’s Republic on October 1, which has been accompanied by a nationwide security clampdown.

“Resign Wang Lequan, the government is useless!” protesters shouted outside the regional government building in Urumqi, referring to Xinjiang’s Communist Party chief, who has held office for 14 years. Others called for his execution.

Oh, so it’s not China’s terrorist-Turkics doing the protesting, but the wholesome (if communist) Han. Well that certainly complicates the narrative, doesn’t it?

The Guardian has more details:

One source told the Guardian that around 2,000 Han Chinese had gathered in the city centre to demonstrate amid claims that the authorities – who flooded the city with a 20,000-strong security force following July’s violence – had not protected them from attacks by Uighurs.

The source, who is not Uighur, said some Han had assaulted passing Uighurs, adding that a security force numbering up to around 1,000 had gathered in the area.

However, one protester contacted by the Guardian said: “We are here in People’s Square peacefully.

“We are just giving the government some advice. There are over 10,000 people here [this number is often used figuratively in China], but among them are many ethnic groups, not only Han.

“We do this because terrorists are making some incidents to break people’s peaceful lives.”

As long as everyone is a terrorist, I suppose that’s okay. The protest seems to be in response to wave of “syringe attacks,” in which someone stabs someone else (I guess Han Chinese?) with a hypodermic needle. No word yet on if anything gets injected, if the needles are clean and meant to frighten or dirty and meant to harm, or if the authorities can realistically do anything about it.

Given the way rumors in Xinjiang work, I’d be really curious to see if the media—the Western media—can even produce someone with a mark from being syringed.

Anyway, the usual indicators of mass unrest are there, namely the intentional outing of Google. Rebecca MacKinnon (@rmack) reported that Google was out, but now it’s back on. We’ll see what happens during the rest of day, and come back if things spiral out of control again.

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This post was written by...

– author of 1848 posts on 17_PersonNotFound.

Joshua Foust is a Fellow at the American Security Project and the author of Afghanistan Journal: Selections from Registan.net. His research focuses primarily on Central and South Asia. Joshua is a correspondent for The Atlantic and a columnist for PBS Need to Know. Joshua appears regularly on the BBC World News, Aljazeera, and international public radio. Joshua's writing has appeared in the Columbia Journalism Review, Foreign Policy’s AfPak Channel, the New York Times, Reuters, and the Christian Science Monitor. Follow him on twitter: @joshuafoust

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{ 1 comment }

David September 5, 2009 at 10:44 pm

This is the time we need on real journalist on the ground to dig around and see if there is any voracity to the “syringe attack” claims.

It’s an important piece of the puzzle. Is this just another ragging conspiracy theory (anybody remember the AIDs Kabob rumors) that is enough to rile up thousands into protest, or is there some underground conspiracy where adults are passing out syringes to their children to unsuspecting Hans, what’s organizing this and why?

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