Widely reported dispatch of Western News Agency, Associated Press, (AP), from Beijing that China is tightening border controls in its north-western Xinjiang region amid rising terrorism threats doesn’t come as a surprise.
Xinjiang has been facing the wrath of Uighur Muslim militants who operate from Pakistan’s North-western region for a long time. Notwithstanding Pakistan’s assurances, the threat has not receded. So much so, Beijing has used the latest threat perception to signal its displeasure to its all-weather friend and, according to the official China Daily, has taken steps to tighten security all along the border to “prevent terrorists both from leaving Xinjiang to fight abroad and from returning to the region after receiving military training overseas”.
In a short span of 15-days Hotan prefecture witnessed two terrorist strikes on Dec 28 and Jan 8.
In the first, three knife-wielding assailants attacked the staff of a Communist Party office, and set off an explosive device, killing two and injuring three others. The attackers were shot dead by police. And the second resulted in the killing of three militants, who were involved in a 2015 terrorist incident in Hotan itself.
Naturally, therefore, Xinjiang Communist party leadership is worried over Islamist terrorism and the growing nexus between local Uighur militants and the Af-Pak based Taliban groups and Daesh. More so since Uighur extremists have reportedly joined the fighting in Syria and are blamed for a deadly attack on a Buddhist temple in Thailand.
Speaking at the regional People’s Congress, Shohrat Zakir, Xinjiang chairman, Aniwar Turson, Communist Party head of Kashgar prefecture, which borders Pakistan, and other leaders spoke of the need for entry-exit system to curb illegal infiltration from Pakistan across the border.
Pakistan’s assertions of no infiltration into Xinjiang are not cutting any ice with them. The assurance was conveyed at the highest level though. “We have told them, as we have always done, that we will never allow anyone to cross into China for terrorism. We are not allowing our soil to be misused even against rival countries such as India, how can we do this to our best friend [China],” a Foreign Ministry official was quoted as saying in the Pakistani media.
The official, who was not identified either by his name or his designation, used the occasion to strike at India. “Their [Indian] media is trying to highlight Shohrat Zakir’s statement as anti-Pakistan. We see nothing in it. They (China) have the right to secure their border,” he said sidestepping Chinese fears that terrorists also pose a threat to its $46 billion China Pakistan Economic Corridor.
Last year, Chinese official media reported that Chinese and Pakistan border troops have launched border patrolling to curb infiltration
China has also launched Quadrilateral Cooperation and Coordination Mechanism along with Pakistan, Afghanistan and Tajikistan to counter terrorism in the Xinjiang border region
China apprehends that many of them return to stir trouble in Muslim Uyghur majority Xinjiang which largely remained peaceful last year after years of turmoil as China stepped up security
But two major incidents in the last few days raised concerns about return of violence to Xinjiang where Uyghurs were restive over the settlements of Hans from other provinces