Conflict and Uighur Separatists

2 Mar
Image of Xinjiang province in China

Image of Xinjiang province in China

On 2nd March in the province of Kunming, Southwest China, 29 people were killed and 130 injured after putative Xinjiang separatists attacked the crowds at a railway station (BBC, 2014). This is not the first time Xinjiang separatists have demonstrated violence. On the 25th February 1997, three bombs killed 9 and wounded 74 whilst memorial services were being held nationwide for Deng Xiaoping, a leader of the reform period (Mackerras, 2010).

The separatists stem from the XUAR, or Xinjiang Uighur Autonomous Region, and are using violence as a retort to China’s violation of their rights. The region, which is China’s largest province, is regarded by the Chinese Communist Party as an integral part of China, as is Tibet. The flux between control and freedom in the area is dominated by China’s striving for national unity simultaneously while attempting to consent some independence to the province; “the minorities are allowed a limited autonomy to run their own areas, but may not secede from the PRC under any circumstances” (Mackerras, 2010).

However, the conflict has continued despite China’s repressive approaches. The reasons for this continuation could include the mass migration of Han Chinese into a province which, in 1949, was almost 90% Uighur, a proportion which has now shrunk to 45-50%. Resentment could be exacerbated by the fact that in China, speaking Mandarin enables access to good-paying jobs and government positions, which are denied to the non-Mandarin speaking Uighurs. The Uighurs are generally not as well educated and the Han population of Xinjiang attend informally segregated schools, another contributor to their access of higher-positioned, higher-earning jobs. Therefore, the trading, governmental and militant sectors are seen by the minorities being dominated by Han Chinese. The repression of religion, especially amongst the Communist Party membership, could be another reason for Uighur discontent, considering that the majority are Sufi Muslims (Cheung, 2002).

And yet, China is reticent to grant the region full autonomy rights and Cheung (2002) tells that this is based on grounds such as: the Tarim Basin exploration revealing the country’s largest oil and gas reserves, it’s cotton production, the money China has already and will spend on the region as part of its developing of the West and Xinjiang’s provincial boarders with Mongolia, Russia, Pakistan and others which could springboard China’s influence abroad.

Cheung (2002) continues with improvements the Chinese government could make to ease tensions. These include the clear-up of nuclear waste which has caused birth defects amongst locals, to uphold religious freedom, to stick to quotas for college/ government position Uighur admission, to encourage business sectors to increase their employment of ethnic minorities and to devolve the power control Beijing holds over Xinjiang.




BBC. (2014) China separatists blamed for Kunming knife rampage. [Online] Available from: [date accessed: 02/02/14]

Cheung, C. (2002) China’s “War on Terror” – September 11 and Uighur Separatism. 81 Foreign Affairs. [Online] 8. pp.8-13. [date accessed: 02/02/14] Available from:

Mackerras, C. (2010) Xinjiang at the turn of the century: The causes of Separatism. Central Asian Survey. [Online] 20 (3). pp.289-303. [date accessed: 02/02/14] Available from:



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