Home Contact Us  

China - Articles

Print Bookmark Email Facebook Subscribe
#4645, 6 September 2014

Uighur Unrest

Religious Radicalisation in Xinjiang: Is China’s Game-plan to Blame?
Bhavna Singh
Doctoral Candidate, Centre for East Asian Studies, Jawaharlal Nehru University
Email: bhavna@ipcs.org

The execution of Juma Tahir, the Uighur imam of the Id Kah mosque in Kashgar, the largest in China, earlier last month has raised concerns about the nature of religious extremism in Xinjiang. It comes as no surprise since these imams are mostly handpicked by the Central Chinese authorities and are targeted repeatedly for endorsing state apparatuses. What is China’s game-plan? Will they succeed in effectively curbing the ethno-religious radicalisation in Xinjiang? 

The 2000 National Census suggests that of the 10 recognised Muslim Minzu (nationalities) in China, Uighurs constitute around 8 million, amounting to 45.2 per cent of the total Xinjiang population. Most adhere to Sunni Islam; some, mostly of Tajik origin, followers Shia Islam; and some have Sufi influence. According to the state-controlled Islamic Association of China – that coordinates the annual pilgrimages to Mecca – there are 30,000-40,000 mosques with equal numbers of imams in China catering to the religious sentiments of these communities. 

A closer look at the structure of this organisation reveals that its primary goal is to bring all the Muslims in China under the ambit of the Central Chinese government. One of the stated missions is to “unify Muslims in participating in the socialist construction of the motherland.” For this purpose, it imparts training to imams and all religious teachers and the state draws upon their assistance as and when required. For instance, both the President Xilalunding Chen Guangyuan and the Vice-President Juma Tahir of the Islamic Association of China declared the Urumqi riots in 2009 as “against the principles of Islam.” Juma Tahir had also been repeatedly urging Uighurs “not to fall into the traps set by exiled separatists.” 

This incessant supervision of day-to-day religious practices has led to intermittent clashes in the region over denial of religious freedom. The recent incidents in Kashgar, Yarkand and Urumqi over the past few months are but a mere reflection of this tension. Under the pretext of building harmony between Hans and Uighurs by prohibiting the practice of religion in public spaces, the state has resorted to repressive policies such as banning of headscarves, public religious gatherings, prohibition of Ramadan fasting and has even outlawed residents wearing clothing with the Islamic star and crescent symbol from boarding buses – especially throughout the time of the sports competition held in August 2014 in the north-western city of Karamay. 

Besides economic deprivation due to Han-Uighur prejudice, some common grievances of the Uighurs remain: ‘accusations’ of premeditated and terrorist acts by Uyghurs, unverified reports of separatist activities, extrajudicial killing of Uyghur families, mass show-trials aimed at deterring common Uyghurs from joining the terrorist groups, inaccessibility to basic human rights, shutdown of communication networks, the ban on foreign travel especially for religious purposes and the lack of political autonomy for the province.  

There have also been reports of creation of fake websites and organisations in the name of Uighur radicals to support repressive policies in Xinjiang. Uighur leaders or dissidents critical of the central government’s policies are coming under the scanner; and are sometimes even arrested or silenced. For instance, Ilham Tohti, an Uighur professor at China’s Minzu University in Beijing was recently detained on his way to the US for criticising China’s Xinjiang policies. 

Already the obliteration of old city cultures had been creating tensions in Xinjiang. Now there have been reports that the government has been found abetting Han immigrants with generous government subsidies, including grants for seeds and fertilisers to Han farmers, free farm equipment and other opportunities to defray the costs of farming at the cost of local Uighurs, leading to further escalation of schism with the state. The relative instability of Xinjiang as a border region also makes assimilation difficult. China continues to be wary of radical Islamic influences from Afghanistan, Pakistan and the Central Asian countries.

Nonetheless, radicalisation of the Uighur youth is a crucial indicator of the failure of the overall strategies of the Chinese authorities or the Go West Campaign, seeking to assimilate the province through suppressive policies like that of implanting the Xinjiang Production and Construction Corps (XPCC) or Bingtuan and the Strike Hard campaigns. New initiatives like the One year crackdown conceived by the new leadership under Xi Jinping also reflect the inability of the state to handle the situation. 

Though, previously, some Muslim communities like the Hui’s have been effectively assimilated into the Chinese scaffold due to their lingual adaptation (learning Mandarin) and openness to economic incentives, the presence of large number of female imams and the fact that they are not perceived as presenting a threat to the state have greatly helped. But the Uighurs and other Turkic-speaking communities have not been forthcoming to adapt to Mandarin or the bilingual education system and detest economic and cultural repression by the state. The situation is unlikely to change until an earnest effort is made by the state to accommodate the aspirations of these communities. Else, further radicalisation and reprisal possibly abetted by the Islamic State (Phoenix Weekly) which has vowed to revenge the prohibition of “Muslim Rights” in Xinjiang could pose a real challenge to China.

Print Bookmark Email Facebook Subscribe
IPCS Columnists
Af-Pak Diary
D Suba Chandran
Resetting Kabul-Islamabad Relations: Three Key Issues
Can Pakistan Reset its Relations with Afghanistan?
The New Afghanistan: Four Major Challenges for President Ghani
Big Picture
Prof Varun Sahni
Understanding Democracy and Diversity in J&K
When Xi Met Modi: Juxtaposing China and India
Pakistan?s Tactical Nuclear Weapons: The Inevitability of Instability

Dateline Colombo

Asanga Abeyagoonasekera.
Sri Lanka: Moving Towards a Higher Collective Outcome
The Importance of Electing the Best to our Nation's Parliament
Sri Lanka: Toward a Diaspora Re-Engagement Plan
Dateline Islamabad
Salma Malik
Pakistan's Hurt Locker: What Next?
IPCS Forecast: Pakistan in 2015
India-Pakistan Relations in 2015: Through a Looking Glass
Dhaka Discourse
Prof Delwar Hossain
IPCS Forecast: Bangladesh in 2015
18th SAARC Summit: A Perspective from Bangladesh
Bangladesh in Global Forums: Diplomacy vs. Domestic Politics
Eagle Eye
Prof Chintamani Mahapatra
India-US: Significance of the Second Modi-Obama Meet
Has President Obama Turned Lame Duck?
Modi-Obama Summit: Criticism for Criticism?s Sake?

East Asia Compass
Dr Sandip Mishra
India-Japan-US Trilateral: India?s Policy for the Indo-Pacific
China-South Korea Ties: Implications for the US Pivot to Asia
Many ?Pivots to Asia?: What Does It Mean For Regional Stability?
Himalayan Frontier
Pramod Jaiswal
Nepal?s New Constitution: Instrument towards Peace or Catalyst to Conflict?
IPCS Forecast: Nepal in 2015
Constitution-making: Will Nepal Miss its Second Deadline?

Prof Shankari Sundararaman
IPCS Forecast: Southeast Asia in 2015
Indonesia's Pacific Identity: What Jakarta Must Do in West Papua
Modi in Myanmar: From ?Look East? to ?Act East?
Sushant Sareen
IPCS Forecast: Pakistan in 2015
Islamic State: Prospects in Pakistan
Pakistan: The Futility of Internationalising Kashmir

Looking East
Wasbir Hussain
Myanmar in New Delhi's Naga Riddle
China: ?Peaceful? Display of Military Might
Naga Peace Accord: Need to Reserve Euphoria
Maritime Matters
Vijay Sakhuja
Indian Ocean: Modi on a Maritime Pilgrimage
Indian Ocean: Exploring Maritime Domain Awareness
IPCS Forecast: The Indian Ocean in 2015

Nuke Street
Amb Sheelkant Sharma
US-Russia and Global Nuclear Security: Under a Frosty Spell?
India's Nuclear Capable Cruise Missile: The Nirbhay Test
India-Australia Nuclear Agreement: Bespeaking of a New Age
Red Affairs
Bibhu Prasad
Countering Left Wing Extremism: Failures within Successes
Return of the Native: CPI-Maoist in Kerala
The Rising Civilian Costs of the State-Vs-Extremists Conflict

Regional Economy
Amita Batra
India and the APEC
IPCS Forecast: South Asian Regional Integration
South Asia: Rupee Regionalisation and Intra-regional Trade Enhancement
South Asian Dialectic
PR Chari
Resuming the Indo-Pak Dialogue: Evolving a New Focus
Defence Management in India: An Agenda for Parrikar
Pakistani Taliban and Al Qaeda in Afghanistan: Implications for Asian Security

Spotlight West Asia
Amb Ranjit Gupta
Prime Minister Modi Finally Begins His Interaction with West Asia*
A Potential Indian Role in West Asia?
US-GCC Summit: More Hype than Substance
Strategic Space
Manpreet Sethi
India-Russia Nuclear Vision Statement: See that it Delivers
Global Nuclear Disarmament: The Humanitarian Consequences Route
Nasr: Dangers of Pakistan's Short Range Ballistic Missile

The Strategist
Vice Admiral Vijay Shankar
Jihadi Aggression and Nuclear Deterrence
The Blight of Ambiguity
Falun Gong: The Fear Within

OTHER REGULAR contributors
Gurmeet Kanwal
Harun ur Rashid
N Manoharan
Wasbir Hussain
Rana Banerji
N Manoharan

Ruhee Neog
Teshu Singh
Aparupa Bhattacherjee
Roomana Hukil
Aparupa Bhattacherjee

Related Articles
Rheanna Mathews,
"Uighur Unrest: Are China’s Policies Working?," 21 May 2014

Browse by Publications

Issue Briefs 
Special Reports 
Research Papers 
Seminar Reports 
Conference Reports 

Browse by Region/Countries

East Asia 
South Asia 
Southeast Asia 
US & South Asia 

Browse by Issues

India & the world  
Naxalite Violence 
Suicide Terrorism 
Peace & Conflict Database 
Article by same Author
Toying with China’s Demons: The Dos and the Don’ts

China in the US Presidential Debate: The Return of Protectionism?

China and the Arctic: The Next ‘Strategic’ Frontline?

Tibet and the Pursuit of Happiness

Self-Immolations in Tibet-III: Altruism, Fatalism or Anomie?

China’s London Dreams: ‘The Beats of China, Move the World’

Self-Immolations in Tibet-II: The ‘Neutral Stance’ on a Political Instrument

China’s Political Transition 2012: Seize, Snap or Smoothen?

China's Modernization Rush: Kashgar At Crossroads

China: The Red Weddings

Self-immolations in Tibet-I: Wider Implications

Will China have an Anna Hazare?

Xinjiang’s July Syndrome: Terrorism or Misgovernance?

China’s Nepal Focus

Kung Fu Panda: American Invasion of Chinese Culture?

Pre-election Flare-ups for the Tibetan Community: Allegations and Rebuttal

Sino-Tajik Border: Settlement or Entrapment?

Myanmar Elections 2010 – IV: China and the Charade

East China Sea Disputes: Will Economic Cooperation Alone Suffice?

Turkistan Islamic Party: Chasing a Relinquished Dream?

Y! MyWeb
Print Bookmark Email Facebook Subscribe
Year 2018
 January  February
 2017  2016  2015  2014  2013  2012  2011  2010
 2009  2008  2007  2006  2005  2004  2003  2002
 2001  2000  1999  1998  1997

The Institute of Peace and Conflict Studies (IPCS) is the premier South Asian think tank which conducts independent research on and provides an in depth analysis of conventional and non-conventional issues related to national and South Asian security including nuclear issues, disarmament, non-proliferation, weapons of mass destruction, the war on terrorism, counter terrorism , strategies security sector reforms, and armed conflict and peace processes in the region.

For those in South Asia and elsewhere, the IPCS website provides a comprehensive analysis of the happenings within India with a special focus on Jammu and Kashmir and Naxalite Violence. Our research promotes greater understanding of India's foreign policy especially India-China relations, India's relations with SAARC countries and South East Asia.

Through close interaction with leading strategic thinkers, former members of the Indian Administrative Service, the Foreign Service and the three wings of the Armed Forces - the Indian Army, Indian Navy, and Indian Air Force, - the academic community as well as the media, the IPCS has contributed considerably to the strategic discourse in India.

Subscribe to Newswire | Site Map
18, Link Road, Jungpura Extension, New Delhi 110014, INDIA.

Tel: 91-11-4100-1902    Email: officemail@ipcs.org

© Copyright 2018, Institute of Peace and Conflict Studies.