Another abrupt attack in China’s restive Xinjiang region has the government caught napping. The knife and bomb assault on Wednesday at a railway station that killed three and injured 79 came as President Xi Jinping toured the region. The autonomous Chinese province often draws global attention over tensions between Uighur Muslims and Han Chinese.
The southern city of Kunming was in the headlines about two months ago when machete-wielding men on a killing spree at a railway station took the lives of 29 people. The attack shocked the nation of over 1 billion forcing many to dub it the 9/11 of China.
Rising number of militant attacks in the most populated nation has the government in a quandary. While it puts up a show of being unruffled, the Communist Party government is definitely unsettled by the attacks that point to a growing angst among a group or segment of the population. The northwestern region of Xinjiang has seen unrest for years with the local Muslim population often complaining of neglect and persecution by the Chinese government. Rebel groups active in the region claim of persecution and lack of development.
The latest attack shows that the situation is deteriorating quite fast and it is time for Beijing to take corrective steps to stem the tide of militancy rearing its ugly head in the vast country. The Communist Party government is often accused of suppressing the rights of minorities and brutally scotching signs of dissent. Any deviation from the party’s prescribed line is considered dissent.
While Beijing occasionally pledges to start reforms, action on the ground is hard to see.
Progress in the cities, noticed globally, is often contrasted by lack of development in rural areas. There have been instances of people in rural belts protesting for long periods over authorities not listening to their grievances. What later emerges is a tale of gross neglect by officials who, taking advantage of the distance from the power centre in Beijing, deprive hapless villagers of their rights.
Despite the absence of a sustained insurgency or rebellion challenging the might of the government in Beijing, China has over the years seen pockets of resistance cropping up. Such localised rebellions are a sign of fraying governance structures giving way to disenchantment among people. Dissatisfaction acquires a hardened form of resistance when people start realising the futility of striving for change. This is when the seeds of insurgency are sown. In a country as vast as China, it becomes relatively easy for rebels to foster movements.
The government in Beijing needs to wake up to the dangers of disenchantment among the population giving rise to larger rebellions. It should take measures to improve governance structures so that lack of an efficient administration doesn’t stoke dissent.