China’s Tiananmen Square was never in the news with this ferocity since 1989’s pro-democracy protests rocked the Communist regime. On Monday, a car went up in flames after crashing into a crowd in the historic square just metres from the iconic portrait of Mao Zedong, father of China’s Cultural Revolution. The incident has sparked a flurry of reports enlisting details of what Beijing says was a terrorist strike. Yesterday, the Chinese government announced to have detained five suspects related to the incident.
The man driving the vehicle, police say, was an Uighur from the volatile northwest region of Xinjiang. His mother and wife were inside the car with a large quantity of fuel that was ignited after the crash, sending flames leaping into the air.
There have been thousands of suicide attacks across the world. But this one stands out in its complexity. The Tiananmen Square is no Times Square of New York, which is lined with numerous shopping malls, cafes, restaurants, and offices that stand below glitzy neon-lit boards screaming out names of famous brands. The Square in the heart of Beijing is a symbol of China’s overbearing power on its citizenry. It was here that in 1989 hundreds of students were killed or maimed after security forces and tanks hurtled down the streets around the square. China deletes all mention of the Tiananmen massacre in 1989 in its media, and no one knows what happened to the man who stared down a line of tanks with shopping bags in his hands. The recent suicide attack, if Chinese authorities are to be believed, was well planned and executed, killing five people including the suicide bomber and two of his family. What forces an Uighur from a province in the forlorn northwest of the country to kill himself along with his family in the heart of Beijing?
The Uighur minority has been at loggerheads with the Chinese government for quite some time now. Mostly Muslims, they often clash with Han Chinese in the restive province. Accusing Beijing of crushing their rights, the Uighur minority has till now become a major concern for the Communist Party leaders. The question of ethnic rights and oppression of minorities in China has been a haunting one. Be it the Uighurs or Tibetans, the Chinese regime has been found wanting in an effective and sustainable strategy to deal with the issue. Freedom is anathema to Chinese authorities, and the minorities feel most threatened in such a milieu. The Communist Party has just got past the Bo Xilai controversy, a heady cocktail of murder, intrigue and corruption. It’s time Chinese leaders dealt with the terror problem before its gets unwieldy.
The suicide attack, though relatively small, proves that terror has reached the hub of the country. It would be wise for Beijing to quickly come to grips with the situation by devising a strategy, which is effective, and doesn’t undermine the freedom of individuals and groups•