China (Xinjiang)


Conflict Summary

Xinjiang, an autonomous region in China, is home to an ethnic Uighur population that has been waging independence campaigns of varying intensity since the commencement of Chinese rule in the eighteenth century. Its location in China’s far northwest made the region, sometimes referred to as East Turkestan, a strategic bulwark against the countries of Central Asia and the Soviet Union. The economic importance of the region increased as the People’s Republic began exploiting its rich oil, gas and mineral resources in the middle of the twentieth century. Uighurs, the largest section of Xinjiang’s population, are Turkic and predominantly Muslim and have been held responsible for committing sporadic acts of violence since the creation of the People’s Republic. In response, the government has carried out counter-insurgency initiatives, involving ‘anti-crime’ drives, aimed at maintaining peace in the region. However, officially sponsored migration of Han Chinese into the region has been met with a rise in ethnic tensions, as some Uighurs have felt that most new opportunities from the region’s rapid economic development have gone to the Han immigrants. For their part, many Han Chinese believe Uighurs receive preferential treatment. After occasional bomb attacks in Xinjiang and elsewhere in China perpetrated in the late 1990s by the separatist East Turkestan Islamic Movement (ETIM), there was a notable rise in violence in 2009 when major ethnic clashes erupted, particularly in Xinjiang’s capital, Urumqi. The conflict escalated again in late 2013 with an attack in Beijing’s Tiananmen Square, and there were several large-scale attacks in 2014, including outside Xinjiang itself. China has responded with a mixture of ‘strike hard’ security policies and development initiatives, as Xinjiang is integral in Beijing’s ‘Belt and Road’ economic strategy.

  • 3,092
    Fatalities since 1991

  • Non State Parties
    • - East Turkestan Islamic Movement (ETIM)
    • - East Turkestan Liberation Organisation (ETLO)
    State Parties
    • - China, People’s Republic of (gov of)

    • Inter-community violence
    • Separatism
    • Terrorism
  • 8 December
    Human security / Law enforcement / Political developments
    Chinese authorities reportedly expand a recall of passports from Uighur residents of Xinjiang to include members of the ethnic group throughout the country.
  • 8 December
    Foreign relations
    The European Union calls on China to better safeguard religious freedom in Xinjiang, stop arresting human-rights defenders and allow local and foreign NGOs to operate freely within the country.
  • 8 December
    Human security
    The Chinese Embassy to Islamabad in Pakistan reports that a series of terror attacks against Chinese organisations and citizens are ‘imminent’. An official statement on the embassy’s website advises Chinese organisations in Pakistan to strengthen security, and citizens to reduce trips outside and avoid public spaces.
  • 5 December
    Cyber security / Foreign relations
    At the World Internet Conference in Wuzhen, near Shanghai, anti-terrorism chief Mei Jianming states that Chinese authorities are monitoring at least 34 social media accounts in Australia said to be linked to the East Turkestan Islamic Movement.
  • 3 December
    Economic developments / Human security
    Chinese authorities announce that up to seven billion yuan (US$1bn) will be allocated to reduce poverty in Xinjiang in 2018. According to the regional finance department, more than US$604 million yuan will go to poverty-relief causes, with nearly US$115m earmarked for development schemes for ethnic minorities and over US$302m to facilitate the employment of local residents in government-funded projects.