China called a clash in its western region of Xinjiang on June 26 that killed 35 people a terrorist incident, and said police are investigating the cause.
“We define the attack as a violent terrorist attack because on that day several mobs attacked the local police station, several patrol units and the town government,” Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Hua Chunying told reporters today in Beijing. “They also set a police vehicle on fire.”
The incident was one of the worst outbreaks of violence in Xinjiang in four years. Twenty-four people, including two policemen and 16 ethnic Uighurs were killed in Lukqun township, the official Xinhua News Agency said yesterday. Police shot and killed 11, the agency reported, without providing a source for the information.
While about 90 percent of China is ethnic Han, more than 40 percent of Xinjiang’s 22 million people are Uighurs, some of whom have protested the Beijing government’s decades-long policy of encouraging Han migration to the area. In 2009, almost 200 people died in clashes between Uighurs and Han Chinese in the regional capital, Urumqi.
Xinjiang authorities have blamed past violence on religious extremists trained in Pakistan at camps run by the East Turkestan Islamic Movement. When Premier Li Keqiang visited Pakistan in May, the two sides agreed that the movement is a “common threat,” according to Xinhua.
“Violent criminals and terrorists are more and more influenced by overseas terrorist forces,” the state-run Global Times newspaper said in an editorial today about this week’s violence. “They resort to more suicide attacks, similar to the advocates of militant jihad.”
Since the conflict in Urumqi in 2009 there has been sporadic violence in the region. In April, 21 people were killed, including local officials and police, in a clash that broke out when officials uncovered a weapons cache. In Shanshan county, where this week’s violence took place, Uighurs make up 88 percent of residents, the Global Times said.
The attackers were mostly Uighurs and targeted Uighur police officers, the Global Times said today, citing an unnamed Xinjiang official. The Han killed were all migrant workers at a construction site, it said.
“The continuing repression and provocation is a reason for the conflict,” Dilxat Raxit, a spokesman for the World Uyghur Congress, said in an e-mail on June 26. “The international community should take immediate steps to request China stop all policies that cause unrest.”
The World Uyghur Congress, based in Munich, wants Xinjiang to become an independent country called East Turkestan.
China also criticized the U.S. for expressing concern over the treatment of ethnic minorities and Muslims in China in commenting on the Xinjiang violence.
In a briefing in Washington yesterday, State Department Spokesman Patrick Ventrell said the U.S. was “deeply concerned by the ongoing reports of discrimination and restrictions against Uighurs and Muslims in China.”
Hua said China is “dissatisfied with and is opposed to the U.S. irresponsible remarks,” saying China guarantees the rights of ethnic minorities and promotes religious freedoms.
“China and the U.S. are both victims of terrorism,” Hua said. “Instead of pursuing double standards on the anti-terrorism issue, we hope the U.S. would condemn and combat terrorism in all its manifestations.”