BEIJING – China has greatly expanded their police and security presence in Urumqi, the capital city of the Xinjiang Uighur Autonomous Region, in which Uighur independence movements have been flourishing, including those that the Chinese government believes have links to Islamist terrorist groups in the Middle East.
NPR reports that in Urumqi, razor wire fences and cameras are an inescapable sight. The provincial government requires all restaurants to play two propaganda songs every hour of the day: a cheery song about obeying traffic laws and a slower piece about core communist values. Residents must download a government app that deletes unapproved applications and videos about forbidden topics like terrorism.
Earlier in 2017, Chen Quanguo, the Communist Party’s secretary of Xinjiang, made a speech before 10,000 officers dressed in riot gear where he told them that "the sword is drawn, and we're about to hear the thunder."
Chen was formerly secretary of Tibet from 2011 to 2016, distinguishing himself by improving the security situation — at the price of numerous allegations of human rights violations. One of the first things Chen did in Tibet was hire tens of thousands of new police officers, and he has repeated that measure in Xinjiang.
According to Adrian Zenz, a researcher at the European School of Culture and Theology, Xinjiang has become home to 100,000 more security personnel since Chen took office in August 2016.
"This is Xinjiang's new industry number one. It is becoming the most important source of employment," Zenz told NPR. Xinjiang is China's largest province by area but one of its poorest and least populated. Beijing has spent $6 billion on security in Xinjiang in the first half of 2017.
All of this security is justified by Beijing as a way of ensuring order in Xinjiang, which is home to over 11 million Uighurs, a Turkic Muslim group. The Uighurs have a contentious relationship with Beijing: despite Xinjiang being home to nearly as many Han Chinese as Uighurs, the two groups rarely intermingle. Uighurs cannot serve in the government while holding Islamic views, and generally live in poverty even by regional standards.
This has galvanized Uighur Islamic terrorist groups, and subsequent Chinese government reprisals. Tensions exploded in mid-2009 when rioting Uighurs attacked Han Chinese in Urumqi, causing security forces to reply. Around 200 people were killed in a single day of rioting.
Most recently in August 2016, a Uighur Islamist conducted a car ramming attack against the Chinese Embassy in Kyrgyzstan, injuring three embassy employees.