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Jan 28, 1999 | 06:00 GMT

5 mins read

Beijing's razing of Xinjiang District Raises Questions about the Regime's Insecurities

Summary

Beijing has begun tearing down houses and restaurants in the Ganjiakou district's "Xinjiang village." The Moslem minority residents and shop owners were given less three weeks notice before city officials ordered the razing of the buildings on the street as part of a public works project. While the official reason - widening the street - may be true as city officials prepare for fiftieth anniversary celebrations, the destruction of an entire Moslem community in Beijing may be revealing of deeper motives. Beijing may be trying to send a subtle message to potential Xinjiang separatists that there is no room for them in the city, or China may actually be expressing a real fear that the separatist movement has established itself in the heart of Beijing. Whatever the reason, Beijing has suddenly created 1000 homeless Moslems at a time when the government has raised concerns that Xinjiang terrorists are responsible for a wave of bombings across China.

Analysis

In Beijing, city officials have ordered the destruction of shops and homes on the main street in west Beijing's Ganjiakou district "Xinjiang village." The shops are located in one of two major Xinjiang Moslem minority districts in Beijing, the other being Weigongcun. City officials gave the residents notice to move less than three weeks before demolition was to begin on January 28 at one end of this district and January 30 at the other. According to a city official, the reason for the demolition was "to repair the road which runs through the village." Although unconfirmed by the official, there are reports that similar action will be taken in Weigongcun's Xinjiang neighborhood.

There are several explanations for Beijing's actions. The official explanation that it is a public works project could be true. Beijing has ordered several improvement projects to be carried out in preparation for celebration of the fiftieth anniversary of the founding of the Peoples Republic of China. However, this simple explanation seems unlikely as the only reason for the expulsions and demolition, as the displaced Moslems were given little warning and no compensation or assistance for relocating. This raises two other possibilities for Beijing's swift "public works" campaign. China may be trying to send a message to possible Xinjiang separatists who want to set up operations in Beijing, or China may actually be fearful of the Uighur minority residing in Beijing, who may also be involved in masterminding the recent string of bombings across China.

Due to its economic situation, China has been increasingly plagued by social unrest. A string of bombings has erupted across eastern China in the first month of this year. While there is little evidence that the bombings were carried out by the same group, Chinese officials have recently suggested that Moslem Separatists from the Xinjiang Autonomous Region are responsible (STRATFOR AIU, January 21, 1999, Volume 2, Number 14). While a coordinated campaign of Uighur terrorists across eastern China is highly unlikely, China has begun an intensified crackdown on separatists in Xinjiang. At around the same time a 100-day campaign against separatists in the Xinjiang capital of Urumqui was announced, Beijing warned the residents of Ganjiakou's Xinjiang village that they had until the end of the month to leave. This suggests the Beijing action was either part of a pre-emptive strike against a possible outbreak of demonstrations or terrorist actions by the separatists in Beijing, or a message to the Uighur leaders in Xinjiang that they should not consider this ethnic enclave as a potential base of operations.

Of course, sending a message to Xinjiang separatists by destroying houses well over 1200 miles away in Beijing seems to be a little too subtle for the Chinese government. However, a bulldozer crashing through one's front door has a much more immediate effect. This raises a third possibility for the demolition. China may actually be concerned that Uighur separatists are already active in Beijing, and they are trying to get them out. This would imply that the Chinese government has more information to substantiate its allegations of a Xinjiang connection to the bombings. If true that the separatists are operating out of Beijing, then evicting the Moslem residents of Ganjiakou and razing their homes and businesses would seem to be a risky decision. The addition of 1000 homeless, frustrated Xinjiang minorities in Beijing would likely have a contrary effect to that desired by the government. Instead of halting anti-China actions, it could instead further enflame the situation.

Whatever the reason for Beijing's actions, passing it off as public works on such short notice and with no compensation to the displaced seems a little thin. However, taking direct action against the residents of Uighur districts in Beijing is bound to result in some response. China is extremely concerned with maintaining stability at all costs this year. Even so, the destruction of ethnic communities in Beijing raises a serious question about the insecurities of China's government.

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