The Governor of Xinjiang on Wednesday claimed that the people behind recent unrest in the far-western Muslim-majority region had “a thousand and one links” to terrorists in neighbouring Pakistan, bringing into focus the Chinese government's increasing concern over the spread of extremism across the border from its “all-weather” ally.
Nur Bekri, chairman of the Xinjiang regional government, did however stress that the “violent activities by individual terrorists” would not affect the two countries' close relationship.
His comments came a week after at least 20 people were killed in violence in Yecheng, near the Silk Road town of Kashgar which is located near China's border with Pakistan-occupied Kashmir (PoK). Mr. Bekri was speaking on the sidelines of a meeting of Xinjiang's officials here on Wednesday, as part of the annual session of the National People's Congress (NPC) or Chinese Parliament.
Violence in Kashgar last year, which left at least 20 people killed, was blamed by the local government on members of the separatist East Turkestan Islamic Movement who they said had been trained in terror camps in Pakistan. The government said it is still investigating the cause of violence in Yecheng.
“We have certainly discovered that East Turkestan activists and terrorists in our neighbouring states have a thousand and one links,” Mr. Bekri was quoted by Reuters as telling reporters following Wednesday's meeting.
“But officials, especially in Pakistan, have said over and over they oppose any violent activities directed against China and will maintain China's national sovereignty and core interests.”
Chinese officials have, however, recently expressed increasing concern over the security situation in Pakistan. Only last week, the Foreign Ministry in an unusually strong message called on Pakistan to take “credible measures” to ensure the safety of its nationals working there after a Chinese woman was killed in Peshawar. The Pakistani Taliban claimed responsibility, saying it was in retaliation for alleged “atrocities” by Chinese security forces in Xinjiang.
But many locals in Xinjiang say much of the recent unrest is because of ethnic tensions between the region's native Uighur minority and Han Chinese migrants. They have accused the government of exaggerating the terror threat to impose security restrictions, such as bans on travel for Uighurs and Internet clampdowns.
Kashgar has seen intermittent ethnic unrest, while riots in the regional capital Urumqi left at least 197 people killed in July 2009.
The government blamed the riots on separatists. Government campaigns to “dilute religious consciousness” by banning the wearing of veils and traditional clothes as well as disallowing government employees and students from praying have also been unpopular, according to many Uighurs.
The Chinese Communist Party chief in Xinjiang, Zhang Chunxian, said on Wednesday the Yecheng violence, where the government says rioters killed 10 people before police shot dead seven attackers, was related to “the three evil forces of separatism, terrorism and extremism”.
“This is not a religious problem, nor is it an ethnic problem,” he was quoted as saying by the State-run Xinhua news agency. “Their deeds are against the human race. They wave knives at the old people, women and children with extremely brutal means.”