The Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region (XUAR), a northwestern province in the People’s Republic of China, is home to a protracted ethnic conflict primarily between the Uyghurs and the Han Chinese. Deadly clashes that erupted between them in 2009 set off a persistent restive period in the region. As the conflict is set in a fast-developing global influencer like China and in a province bordered by eight countries (Mongolia, Russia, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, Afghanistan, Pakistan and India), it has generated global interest.

The Uyghurs

The Uyghurs are a predominantly Muslim people[i] who have lived in Central Asia since the first millennium BC.[ii] They speak a Turkic language closely related to Uzbek[iii] and share more physical and cultural attributes with people in Central Asia than they do with the Han Chinese.[iv]  They constitute about 42% of the XUAR’s population today.[v] Apart from the ethnic and cultural differences between the Uyghurs and other ethnic Chinese groups, and alleged discriminatory practices of the Chinese government have led to the emergence of calls for the creation of an independent country called “East Turkestan” from some quarters of the Uyghur community.

The Han Chinese

The Han Chinese, a native ethnic group of China, constitute 91.6% of the Chinese population.[vi] Waves of mass migration of the Han Chinese into the XUAR commenced in the 1950s, increasing their presence in the province from 6.7% in 1949 to 41% in 2010 – almost equal to the Uyghur population.[vii] This demographic change, which is the largest such change recorded in China,[viii] is a root cause of the Xinjiang conflict.

The Chinese Government

In the 1950s, sensing a threat from the Soviet Union’s extensive consolidation policy, the Chinese government strategically relocated Han Chinese persons to the Xinjiang province, which shares borders with the Soviet Union, by creating jobs in paramilitary units like the Xinjiang Production and Construction Corps[ix] and natural resource extraction industries.[x] Ever since, the Chinese government’s policies towards the Uyghurs have been dubbed as discriminatory, fuelling Uyghur resentment.

East Turkestan Islamic Movement (ETIM) and Turkistan Islamic Party (TIP)

ETIM and TIP are non-state groups of militant Uyghurs that both call for the creation of “East Turkestan” as an independent and sovereign state and a caliphate. The ETIM is based in Afghanistan, while the TIP is based in Pakistan[xi] and both operate primarily in Xinjiang. Some experts on the conflict consider the identities of the ETIM and the TIP as converging. The Chinese government blames ETIM and TIP for more than 200 terrorist incidents in the XUAR since 1990, even though these groups publicly claimed responsibility for attacks only since 2008. Reportedly, the jihadist militant group al-Qaeda pledged funds for ETIM[xii] and the TIP operates as its affiliate. Following the 9/11 attacks, the USA,[xiii] the EU,[xiv] Kyrgyzstan,[xv] Kazakhstan,[xvi] the UAE[xvii] and the UK,[xviii] among others, have designated ETIM as a terrorist group. ETIM has also been sanctioned by the UN Security Council’s al-Qaeda Sanctions Committee.[xix]


[i] Frederick Starr, Xinjiang: China’s Muslim borderland, Armonk, New York: M. E. Sharpe Inc., 2004, 326; James Millward, “China’s Two Problems with the Uyghurs”, Los Angeles Review of Books, May 28, 2014, accessed February 15, 2017,

[ii] Dolkun Kamberi, Uyghurs and Uyghur Identity, Sino-Platonic Papers 150 (2005): 5, accessed February 15 2017,

[iii] Ibid., 9.

[iv] “Ethnic Clashes in China: Uighurs vs. Han Chinese”, The Washington Post, 8 July 2009, accessed February 15, 2017,

[v] “Xinjiang territory profile”, BBC News, November 17, 2016, accessed February 15, 2017,

[vi] Central Intelligence Agency (US), “China”, The World Factbook, accessed 21 April 2017,

[vii] Communiqué of the National Bureau of Statistics of People’s Republic of China on Major Figures of the 2010 Population Census [1] (No. 2), April 29, 2011, accessed February 15, 2017,

[viii] Iredale, Robyn R., et. al., Contemporary Minority Migration, Education, and Ethnicity in China. Cheltenham, UK: Edward Elgar Publishing, 2001.

[ix] Becquelin, Nicolas, “Xinjiang in the Nineties,” The China Journal 44 (2000): 65–90; Raballand, Gaël and Agnès Andrésy, “Why Should Trade between Central Asia and China Continue to Expand?,” Asia Europe Journal 5, no. 2 (2007): 235–252.

[x] Sautman, Barry, “Preferential Policies for Ethnic Minorities in China: The Case of Xinjiang,” Nationalism and Ethnic Politics 4, no. 1 (1998): 86–118.

[xi] Permanent Mission of the People’s Republic of China to the United Nations, “Terrorist Activities Perpetrated by “Eastern Turkistan” Organizations and Their Links with Osama bin Laden and the Taliban”, 29 November 2001,

[xii] Yuriy Yegorov, “Color Green is Needed”, Nezavisimaya Gazeta, July 26, 2000.

[xiii] “Q&A: East Turkestan Islamic Movement”, BBC News, 1 November 2013, accessed February 15, 2017,

[xiv] Imposing certain specific restrictive measures directed against certain persons and entities associated with the Al-Qaida network, Council Regulation (EC) No. 881/2002, 27 May 2002, accessed February 15, 2017,

[xv] Tom Lansford, Political Handbook of the World 2015, Singapore: SAGE Publications, 2015, 818.

[xvi] Mariya Y. Omelicheva, Counterterrorism Policies in Central Asia, New York: Routledge. 2010, 131.

[xvii] The National Staff, “List of groups designated terrorist organisations by the UAE”, 16 November 2014, accessed February 15, 2017,

[xviii] UK Home Office, “Proscribed Terrorist Organisations”, 16 December 2016, accessed February 15, 2017,

[xix] “Security Council Committee Pursuant To Resolutions 1267 (1999) 1989 (2011) and 2253 (2015) Concerning Isil (Da’esh) Al-Qaida and Associated Individuals Groups Undertakings and Entities”, 7 April 2011, accessed February 15, 2017,

Year Event
206 BC – 751 AD Chinese rulers consolidate administrative control over Xinjiang


Chinese kingdoms such as the Han Dynasty, the Wei Kingdom, the Western Jin Dynasty and the Tang Dynasty extended their administrative reach to Xinjiang for strategic reasons, as Xinjiang formed part of the Silk Route.[i]

751 AD Han control reduces after Battle of Talas


The defeat of the predominantly Han Chinese forces of the Tang Dynasty by the Arab forces of the Abbasid Dynasty in the Battle of Talas drastically reduced Han Chinese control over Central Asia as a whole, including Xinjiang.[ii]

934 AD Uyghurs embrace Islam


Under the Kara-Khanid Khanate reign, the Uyghurs embraced Islam and Kashgar, a border city in the present-day XUAR, became the focal point of Islamic faith.[iii]

934 AD – 1759 AD Consolidation of East Turkestan


Mongol Chagatai rulers consolidated their authority over the territory of present-day Xinjiang.[iv] The period witnessed continued Islamization of the region, with a strong Sufi influence. Until the 18th century, no Chinese dynasty could control the region.

1759 AD Qing Dynasty annexes Xinjiang


The Qing Dynasty annexed East Turkestan and renamed it “Xinjiang”.[v] While the dynasty was founded the Jurchen ethnic group, it absorbed a massive number of Han Chinese soldiers.[vi] They introduced Chinese Confucian-style administration and set up a predominantly Han Chinese bureaucracy.[vii] They also promoted the immigration of Han Chinese people to Xinjiang and sought to indoctrinate the Uyghurs through Confucian education.

1911 AD Kuomintang political party takes over


The Qing Dynasty was overthrown and succeeded by the Kuomintang political party. Xinjiang was taken over by warlord governor Yang Zengxin, who co-opted Uyghur elites.[viii] Yuan Shikai, the first formal President of China, recognized Zengxin as governor and Zengxin, in return, recognized the Kuomintang government in 1928 AD.

1928 AD – 1933 AD Xinjiang governed by governor Jin Shuren after Zengxin’s death


Shuren encouraged Han migration to Xinjiang and replaced Turkic government officials with Han Chinese. He doubled agricultural taxes upon Uyghurs, resettled Han Chinese refugees on fertile farmland and resettled displaced Uyghurs on poor-quality land.[ix]

1933 AD Creation of the First East Turkestan Republic (FETR)


Uyghurs led a rebellion against Shuren’s government and declared the establishment of the FETR in Kashgar, even as Kashgar remained occupied by the Chinese 36th Division (National Revolutionary Army) commanded by General Ma Zhancang (Kuomintang government).[x] However, although representatives were sent to parley with other nations, FETR failed to receive international recognition.[xi] Additionally, Sheng Shicai, the warlord governor of Xinjiang who succeeded Shuren, was aided by the Soviets (who supported the CCP in the Chinese Civil War) to quell uprisings.

1934 AD Battle of Kashgar and dissolution of FETR


In a bid to capture Kashgar from the 36th Division, the FETR leadership attacked the city’s defenses. However, in a retaliatory attack, the Division, led by commander Ma Zhongying and supported by the Chinese Kuomintang government, defeated the Uyghur forces of FETR in the Battle of Kashgar.[xii] The FETR dissolved with the introduction of the “Eight Points” and “Six Great Policies” programs by Sheng Shicai’s new Xinjiang Provincial Government to ensure equality between races.[xiii]

1944 AD Creation of the Second East Turkestan Republic (SETR)


Sheng Shicai signed an Agreement of Concessions with the Soviets to exploit mineral resources in Xinjiang, in return for their support.[xiv] However, after the German invasion of the Soviet Union and the entry of USA into World War II, the Soviet’s support became a less lucrative option for Sheng as compared to the Kuomintang. After he switched his allegiance to the Kuomintang, the Soviet took advantage of the discontent among Uyghurs and with Soviet support, Uyghur rebel forces declared the creation of SETR.

1945 AD Withdrawal of Soviet support for SETR


China signed a Treaty of Friendship and Alliance granting the Soviet a range of concessions, thereby ending overt Soviet support for SETR.[xv]

1949 AD Dissolution of SETR and Chinese Communist Party (CCP) takes over


The Kuomintang government reached a settlement with the leadership of the SETR, giving them positions in the councils of the prefectures, and thereby effectively ending the SETR. But, the Xinjiang Provincial Coalition Government held real control and governed all districts. After the CCP took over from the Kuomintang administration, the council leaders accepted positions with the new administration.

1949 AD – 1955 AD CCP’s policies cause resentment among Uyghurs


The CCP censored mosques, banned fasting during Ramadan, and encouraged burning of the Quran.[xvi] Those under the age of 18 were completely denied the right to study Islam.[xvii] From the Chinese government’s standpoint, Islamic practices contradicted its aim of creating an atheist state and in any case, the policy did not outweigh the benefits the CCP brought to Xinjiang. From the viewpoint of the Uyghurs, the CCP’s policies challenged their culture and religion. Additionally, since the Han dominated jobs, the Uyghurs alleged discrimination in employment opportunities.

1955 AD Creation of the Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region (XUAR)


The XUAR was established as an autonomous region, with the Uyghurs designated as the nationals of the region. Although the Chairman of the XUAR’s People’s Council was a Uyghur, it was alleged that real power vests in the CCP and the regional military, which was commanded by Han Chinese.[xviii]

1962 – 1990 Uyghurs continue to oppose China’s policies


China’s policy against religious practices sustained Uyghur opposition, although no violence was reported.[xix]

1990 Uyghur rebellion takes place in Baren


Armed Uyghurs invaded Baren, a township in southern XUAR, and attacked government offices, reportedly at the instance of TIP.[xx] The incident set off more attacks targeting government officials, religious clerics[xxi] and the Han.[xxii]

1992 – 1993 Chinese government cracks down on secessionist activities


The Chinese government reportedly broke up 38 rebel cells[xxiii] and arrested 726 people on suspicion of secessionist activities.[xxiv] However, 45.9% of these cells were non-violent cultural groups and ad hoc violent cells.[xxv]

1996 – 1998 China announces Strike Hard campaign


Chinese authorities announced a Strike Hard campaign to prevent “illegal religious activities”.[xxvi] This crackdown initially doubled the number of major violent incidents.[xxvii] According to Amnesty International, in 1997 alone, more than 100,000 Uyghurs were arrested under the policy. It eventually reduced the number of violent incidents.


[i] Information Office of the State Council, People’s Republic of China, “History and Development of Xinjiang”, 2003, accessed February 15, 2017,

[ii] Gibb, H. A. R., The Arab conquests in Central Asia, London: The Royal Asiatic Society, 1923. viii, 102.

[iii] Mark Dickens, “The Soviets in Xinjiang: 1911-1949”, 1990, accessed February 15, 2017,

[iv] Abanti Bhattacharya, “Conceptualising Uyghur Separatism in Chinese Nationalism”, Strategic Analysis 27, no. 3 (2003), accessed February 15, 2017,

[v] Dillion, M., China: A Modern History, London, New York: I. B. Tauris & Co. Ltd., 2010.

[vi] David Andrew Graff and Robin Higham, A Military History of China, Kentucky: University Press of Kentucky, 2012, 116.

[vii] Spence, Jonathan D., The Search for Modern China, New York: Norton, 2012, 39.

[viii] Starr, supra note 1, 71.

[ix] Gardner Bovingdon, The Uyghurs: Strangers in Their Own Land, New York: Columbia University Press, 2010, 35.

[x] Timothy C. Dowling, Russia at War: From the Mongol Conquest to Afghanistan, Chechnya and Beyond, California: ABC-CLIO, 2015, 391.

[xi] K. Warikoo, Xinjiang – China’s Northwest Frontier, New York: Routledge, 2016, 193.

[xii] Ibid.

[xiii] Jesse Wang, “The Military Significance of the Sino-Soviet Border in Central Asia”, AD-773 536, accessed February 17, 2017,

[xiv] Michael E. Clarke, Xinjiang and China’s Rise in Central Asia – A History, New York: Routledge, 2011, 31.

[xv] Ibid., 37.

[xvi] M. Moneyhon, “Controlling Xinjiang: Autonomy on China’s New Frontier”, Asian-Pacific Law & Policy Journal 3, no. 1 (2002); Freedom House, “The Battle for China’s Spirit: Religious Revival, Repression and Resistance under XI Jinping”, accessed February 15, 2017, pages_compressed.pdf.

[xvii] Congressional-Executive Commission On China, 108th Congress, 2nd Session, Practicing Islam In Today’s China: Differing Realities For The Uighurs and The Hui, May 17, 2004, accessed 18 February 2017,

[xviii] Rémi Castets, “The Uyghurs in Xinjiang – The Malaise Grows”, China Perspectives, September-October 2003, accessed February 15, 2017,; James Millward, Violent Separatism in Xinjiang: A Critical Assessment, Washington, DC: East­West Center Washington, 2004.

[xix] Michael Dillon, Xinjiang – China’s Muslim Far Northwest, London and New York: Routledge Curzon, 2004, 59.

[xx] James Millward, Eurasian Crossroads: A History of Xinjiang, New York: Columbia University Press, 2007, 330.

[xxi] Ibid.

[xxii] Xinjiang Tongzhi: Gonganzhi Weiyuanhui, “Xinjiang Public Security Gazette”, 84.

[xxiii] Ibid., 83-85.

[xxiv] Ibid., 86; Justin V. Hastings, “Charting the Course of Uyghur Unrest”, The China Quarterly 208 (2011), 901.

[xxv] Gazette, supra note 36, 318-319.

[xxvi] Ibid., 96-97.

[xxvii] Hastings, supra note 38, 904.

The Xinjiang conflict has not witnessed any mediation attempts at the international level, perhaps because it is largely characterized by an internal ethnic divide and jihadi militancy elsewhere has preoccupied the minds of world leaders. The only policy move in this direction was made by the USA when it condemned China’s human rights record in the XUAR.

Nonetheless, the Chinese government’s approaches towards quelling the Xinjiang conflict are bound to determine the future of the conflict. The inherent contradiction between the sovereignty of the Chinese state and the self-determination aspirations of the Uyghurs characterizes China’s policies with respect to the XUAR. State-building inevitably involves a political center projecting power on its territorial periphery with the ultimate aim of integration and control.[i] China’s attempt to retain the XUAR is its underlying political and strategic ambition that has inspired its different policy positions and measures over the years.

China’s predictable response in the immediate aftermath of every violent incident has been military and paramilitary. The People’s Liberation Army has an estimated presence of 50,000 to 1,00,000 troops in the XUAR,[ii] even though reliance on the PLA to control secessionist attacks is a thing of the past now. The People’s Armed Police Force and the People’s Police are equipped to handle riots and terrorist attacks and have taken on the dominant role in supplementing China’s efforts to counter secessionist movements.[iii]

Another major policy move that China adopted with the hope of assuaging the minority Uyghurs is to stress on economic development. Beijing subscribes to the notion that underdevelopment breeds dissatisfaction and creates radical groups. Therefore, in a multi-racial society, economic growth and employment were seen as key to reduce “secessionist and politicized Islamic movements”, which are rampant in areas where poverty is widespread.[iv] The government primarily focused on the extraction of natural resources and minerals in the region.[v] As a gateway to Central and South Asia, the XUAR is crucial for China’s international commerce and therefore, the government has made massive investments to improve infrastructure in the region.

While standards of living have risen in the region, this initiative of the government proved to be futile for the purpose of solving the Xinjiang conflict because inequalities based on ethnicity were rife in job creation.[vi] Since the Han Chinese dominate the job market, hiring patterns tend to favour the Han Chinese or ethnic minorities who can speak the Chinese language well, leaving the Uyghurs at a disadvantage.[vii]

This issue was deliberately addressed during the Xinjiang Work Conference held in May 2010, following the 2009 violence.[viii] The government promised that it would seek to ensure that benefits from development flow down to all ethnic groups. In his speech, Hu Jintao required central investment and aid from other provinces to be spent on the livelihood of various ethnic groups.[ix] However, this seems to have been mere lip service, as reports note that unabashed job discrimination continues[x] and Uyghur farmland has been confiscated for redevelopment.[xi] In fact, Reuters reports of an incident where a Uyghur who spoke fluent Chinese was rejected for a marketing position by an electronics company citing the ground of the additional administrative burden involved in hiring Uyghurs, including “special registration procedures and filing monthly reports to the public security bureau”.[xii]

China’s state-building efforts also include programmes and policies aimed at cultural standardization. China’s language policy, for instance, designates Mandarin as the national language.[xiii] Even though Uyghur is offered in primary and secondary education, Mandarin is the preferred language in job markets,[xiv] owing to which a number of largely switched to Mandarin as the main language of instruction instead of Uyghur.[xv] This marginalization of the Uyghur language is viewed as an intrusion upon the Uyghur cultural identity.[xvi]

Additionally, as previous sections have already highlighted, the Chinese government moved the Han Chinese to frontier provinces such as the XUAR with great fervor. This surge in the Han Chinese population in an otherwise predominantly Uyghur region, coupled with the fact that more encouraging opportunities were being created for the new immigrants, have heightened resentment among the Uyghur locals.[xvii] While some studies show that Han migration to the XUAR in recent times has mostly been self-initiated,[xviii] others report that labour migration of ethnic Han into the XUAR is an ongoing phenomenon, attributable to state-sponsored creation of new settlements for the Han Chinese.[xix]

Beyond these factors, China’s heavy crackdown on terrorism warrants consideration. In 2014, a massive surveillance and profiling project was initiated in rural XUAR, with around 2,00,000 Communist party officials being fanned out across the region.[xx] Reportedly, police officials have been directed to carry out daily patrols in villages, checking the identification of worshippers at mosques and regulating the entry of new visitors into the villages.[xxi] Residents of the XUAR have been instructed to hand in their passports at police stations for “safekeeping”,[xxii] and to provide DNA samples and other biological data while applying for travel documents.[xxiii] Furthermore, purportedly, Uyghurs in Aksu are being called to political meetings to confess their “crimes”, which include watching, saving or forwarding religious or secessionist video clips.[xxiv] The year 2017 began with a regional governor in the XUAR announcing the government’s intention to beef up border controls to prevent insurgents from coming in, among rising terrorism threats.[xxv]

Recently, in one prefecture in the XUAR, it was made mandatory for all vehicles to install Beidou satellite navigation systems as part of an anti-terror program.[xxvi] Moreover, reportedly, the XUAR regional government will soon announce a new counter-terrorism law, which lays down that those who use cell phones or the internet to spread “terrorist” ideas will be charged with terrorism-related crimes.[xxvii] This is in continuation of the rules adopted by the People’s Congress of Xinjiang in December 2016, which identify “advocating religious fanaticism or undermining religious harmony”, “advocating terrorism or radicalism” and “advocating ethnic hatred or ethnic discrimination” on the internet as punishable offenses.[xxviii] Activists argue that these policies are gross violations of the human rights of the Uyghurs to freedom of religion, privacy and freedom of movement.

All in all, China’s response to the Xinjiang conflict has been two-fold: bolstering economic development in the region and adopting a strike-hard approach against secessionist activities. Neither of these approaches have bridged the ethnic divide in the region or reduced secessionist tendencies.


[i] Nicolas Becquelin, “Staged Development in Xinjiang”, The China Quarterly 178 (2004): 358-78; Truls Winje, “Xinjiang, A Center-Periphery Conflict”, 2007, 31-80, accessed February 18, 2017,

[ii] Dennis J. Blasko, The Chinese Army Today: Tradition and Transformation for the 21st Century, London: Routledge, 2006, 80.

[iii] Rohan Gunaratna, Arabinda Acharya, and Wang Pengxin, Ethnic Identity and National Conflict, London: Palgrave Macmillan US, 2010, 151.

[iv] Dillon, supra note 33, 37.

[v] Ibid., 39.

[vi] Timothy A. Grose, “The Xinjiang Class: Education, Integration, and the Uyghurs”, Journal of Muslim Minority Affairs 30, no. 1 (2010): 100; Millward, supra note 1.

[vii] Austin Ramzy, “Why the Uighurs Feel Left Out of China’s Boom”, Time, 14 July 2009, accessed February 18, 2017,,8599,1910302,00.html.

[viii] Wei and Cuifen, supra note 49, 62.

[ix] Ibid.

[x] Millward, supra note 1; “In China’s Xinjiang, economic divide seen fuelling ethnic unrest”, Reuters, 6 May 2014, accessed February 18, 2017,

[xi] BBC News, supra note 52.

[xii] Reuters, supra note 100.

[xiii] Winje, supra note 91.

[xiv] Dru C. Gladney, Freedom Fighters or Terrorists? Exploring the Case of the Uyghur People, Washington DC: Testimony before the U.S. Congress Committee on Foreign Affairs Subcommittee on International Organizations, 2009, 10, accessed February 18, 2017,

[xv] “Xinjiang Seethes Under Chinese Crackdown”, New York Times, 2 January 2016, accessed February 18, 2017, crackdown.html.

[xvi] Becquelin, supra note 91, 375.

[xvii] Reuters, supra note 100.

[xviii] Anthony Howell and C. Cindy Fan, “Migration and Inequality in Xinjiang: A Survey of Han and Uyghur Migrants in Urumqi”, Eurasian Geography and Economics 52, no. 1 (2011): 136.

[xix] Minority Rights Group International, supra note 69; “China’s drive to settle new wave of migrants in restive Xinjiang”, South China Morning Post, 8 May 2015, accessed February 18, 2017,

[xx] “China launches massive rural ‘surveillance’ project to watch over Uighurs”, The Telegraph, 20 October 2014, accessed February 18, 2017,

[xxi] “Controls on Uyghur Villages, Mosques Continue Into New Year”, Radio Free Asia, 1 June 2016, accessed February 18, 2017,

[xxii] “China confiscates passports of Xinjiang people”, BBC News, 24 November 2016, accessed February 18, 2017,

[xxiii] “Chinese police require DNA for passports in Xinjiang”, BBC News, 7 June 2016, accessed February 18, 2017,

[xxiv] “Uyghurs Are Told to Confess Political ‘Mistakes’ in Mass Meetings”, Radio Free Asia, 14 February 2017, accessed February 18, 2017,

[xxv] “China tightens Xinjiang border amid rising terrorist threats”, South China Morning Post, 10 January 2017, accessed February 18, 2017,

[xxvi] “Vehicles to Get Compulsory GPS Tracking in Xinjiang”, Radio Free Asia, 20 February 2017, accessed February 20, 2017,

[xxvii] “Xinjiang Regional Government Passes New Counterterrorism Law”, Radio Free Asia, 5 August 2016, accessed February 19, 2017,

[xxviii] Edward Wong, “Xinjiang, Tense Chinese Region, Adopts Strict Internet Controls”, 10 December 2016, accessed February 19, 2017, html?rref=collection%2Ftimestopic%2FUighurs%20(Chinese%20Ethnic%20Group).

Year Event
2001 China links agitations in Xinjiang with Islamic fundamentalism


The rise of the Taliban in Afghanistan and the 9/11 terrorist attacks arguably encouraged China to add a terrorist dimension to the agitations in Xinjiang[i] and to rebrand all East Turkestan secessionists as “terrorists”.[ii] Maya Catsanis, Amnesty International’s press officer for the Asia-Pacific region, estimated that around 3,000 people were detained in 2001 after the 9/11 attacks.[iii]

2002 China declares ETIM and TIP as international terrorist organizations


The Chinese State Council identified ETIM and TIP, among other organizations in the XUAR, as “terrorist organizations”, on the basis of their links with the al-Qaeda and the Taliban. The Permanent Mission of the People’s Republic of China to the UN noted that the ETIM ringleader, Hasan Mahsum, was hiding in Afghanistan and that Osama bin Laden demanded that ETIM stir up turmoil in Xinjiang.[iv] Thereafter, ETIM was recognized as a terrorist outfit by other countries and the UN Security Council as well.

2007 – 2008 China cracks down on terrorism and Uyghurs resort to violence


Before the Beijing Olympics, the Chinese government claimed to have broken up several “terrorist nests”, even though the ammunition reportedly seized was negligible.[v] Reports also indicate that Uyghurs attacked military posts, police cars, and government buildings.[vi]

5 July 2009 Deadly riots in Urumqi


Uyghurs protesting the death of two Uyghur workers in a factory violently attacked the Han, causing them to riot in return.[vii] The government called the incident a “terrorist attack”, even though it had no trappings of organized jihad.[viii] The government reinstated its strike-hard policy[ix] and shifted to an economic “development approach”.[x] Authorities blamed exiled Uyghur activist Rebiya Kadeer for allegedly inciting violence through the internet.[xi]

2010 – 2012 Occasional incidents of violence by Uyghurs


A bomb attack by a Uyghur rattled Aksu city in 2010.[xii] Reports from 2011 record a bomb-and-knife attack on a police station,[xiii] militant attacks in orchestrated by TIP[xiv] and a hostage crisis orchestrated by 15 Uyghur men.[xv] The year 2012 recorded more attacks by Uyghur men[xvi] and an alleged suicide bomb attack that Chinese authorities have not confirmed.[xvii]

2013 Rise in violence in Xinjiang


The year recorded a rise in violent incidents such as gunfights,[xviii] attacks on police stations[xix] and clashes between the police and the Uyghurs.[xx] Suspects of attacks on policemen were shot dead by the police.[xxi] In a major incident, suspected terrorists set a car with ammunition ablaze in the Tiananmen Square,[xxii] which led to authorities detaining around 53 Uyghurs.[xxiii]

2014 Violent incidents steadily rise


The number of reported incidents of violence increased from 32 in 2013 to 57 in 2014.[xxiv] Riots,[xxv] knife-and-bomb attacks[xxvi] and attacks on government buildings[xxvii] claimed more than 250 lives.

January 2014 Illham Tohti arrested


A prominent Uyghur scholar, Illham Tohti, was arrested and sentenced to life imprisonment on “separatism” charges.[xxviii] Arguably, Amnesty International claims that he was arrested due to his views about the Uyghurs’ situation, expressed online.[xxix]

March 2014 Knife attack in Yunnan Province


In its first, a knife attack at a train station in Yunnan province[xxx] was attributed to “Xinjiang secessionists”.[xxxi] Touted as China’s 9/11,[xxxii] the attack made China wary of a spillover of agitations in the XUAR to other provinces, causing the government to deport Uyghurs from Yunnan to XUAR.[xxxiii]

May 2014 Explosion in Urumqi invites a strike-hard policy


Cars carrying explosives crashed into a market place in Urumqi, killing 31 people.[xxxiv] In response, the government declared an anti-terrorism campaign and detained more than 400 suspects.[xxxv] The Xinjiang Party Secretary Zhang Chunxian justified raids on mosques, house-to-house searches and police harassment as “necessary in the people’s war against terrorism”.[xxxvi]

August 2014 China cracks down on alleged “jihadi militants”


In response to an attack on a government office, the police gunned down 59 terrorists and arrested 215 others.[xxxvii] While the government claimed that “jihadi militants” perpetrated the violence, Uyghur sources attributed it to the crackdown on religious practices and police abuse.[xxxviii] The World Uyghur Congress alleged that Chinese forces opened fire on Uyghurs protesting against the government’s restrictions on Ramadan fasting.[xxxix]

2015 Rise in incidents of police violence against Uyghurs


The year saw an unprecedented rise in incidents of abuse by police.[xl] Raids of Uyghur homes increased;[xli] 21 Uyghurs were shot by the police on the suspicion that they were involved in terrorist activities;[xlii] more than 1,000 people were interrogated and more than 200 suspects were detained.[xliii] In response to an attack on Han workers at a coalmine,[xliv] the government launched a manhunt in which 700 – 800 suspects were detained.[xlv]

2016 Xinjiang Party claims drop in terrorist incidents


The Xinjiang Party chief Zhang Chunxian claimed that the “terrorist incidents” in the region dropped significantly,[xlvi] owing to the region’s economic growth, among other factors.[xlvii]

March 2016 Detention of Uyghurs for alleged “religious extremism”


More than 40 Uyghurs were detained, reportedly for not attending the funeral of a prominent Communist Party member. Yet, authorities claimed that they were detained for their religious extremism.[xlviii]

August 2016 Suicide bombing in Kyrgyzstan


A suicide bombing was carried out by a Uyghur at the Chinese Embassy in Bishkek, Kyrgyzstan. Reports suggest the involvements of ETIM and TIP in this attack.[xlix]


[i] Bhattacharya, supra note 22, 373.

[ii] Millward, supra note 1.

[iii] Zamira Eshanova, “China: Uyghur Group Added to US List of Terrorist Organisations”, Eurasia Net Partner Post, 9 January 2002, accessed February 18, 2017, insight/ articles/eav090102_pr.shtml.

[iv] Information Office of the State Council, “East Turkistan Terrorist Forces Cannot Get Away With Impunity”, Beijing Review 45, no. 5 (2002), 14-23; Permanent Mission of the People’s Republic of China to the UN, “Terrorist Activities Perpetrated by ‘Eastern Turkistan’ Organizations and Their Links with Osama bin Laden and the Taliban”, 29 November 2001, accessed May 11, 2017,

[v] Hastings, supra note 38.

[vi] Ibid.

[vii] James Millward, “Introduction: Does the 2009 Urumchi Violence Mark a Turning Point?”, Central Asian Survey 28, no. 4 (2010), 354.

[viii] Millward, supra note 1.

[ix] Tania Branigan, “China launches ‘strike hard’ crackdown in Xinjiang”, The Guardian {UK), 3 November 2009, accessed February 18, 2017,

[x] Shan Wei and Weng Cuifen, “China’s New Policy in Xinjiang and its Challenges”, East Asian Policy, February 18, 2017,

[xi] “Who are the Uighurs?”, BBC News, 30 April 2014, accessed February 18, 2017,; Liao Lei, Xu Song and Li Zhongfa, “Zhongguo xiwang qita guojia ying renqing jingwai ‘DongTu’ kongbu fenlie shili de benzhi” (“China hopes other countries will see clearly the essence of overseas ‘East Turkestan’ terrorist and secessionist power”), Xinhua News Agency, 7.

[xii] “Xinjiang Aksu Held a Press Conference to Explain the Bomb Attack”, People’s Daily, 19 August 2010, accessed February 18, 2017,

[xiii] Kathrin Hille, “Tense Mood Prevails after Xinjiang Attack”, The Financial Times, July 21, 2011, accessed February 18, 2017,

[xiv]  “Xinjiang Kashgar Violent Incident: People Self-defensed by Carrying Sticks”, China Review News, 11 August 2011, accessed February 18, 2017,

[xv] “Suspects of Pishan Hostage Crisis Have Been Gone Abroad to Participate in Jihad”, NetEase News, 30 December 2011, accessed February 18, 2017,

[xvi] “February 28 Xinjiang Yechen Violent Attack: Mobsters Killed Thirteen Innocent People”, World Hua Caixun, 1 March 2012, accessed February 18, 2017,

[xvii] “Xinjiang National Day Violent Attack: Twenty Casualties”, Radio Free Asia, 17 October 2012, accessed February 18, 2017,

[xviii] “Xinjiang Bachu Violent Incident: Officials Revealed the Detail”,, 25 April 2013, accessed February 18, 2017,

[xix] Qiao Long, “Dozens of Uyghurs Were Arrested in the Bachu Violent Attack, the Youngest Suspects Shot Dead is 17 Years Old”, Radio Free Asia, 18 November 2013, accessed February 18, 2017,; “Kunming violence: Five things you need to know about Xinjiang and the Uighurs”, The Straits Times, 3 March 2014, accessed February 18, 2017,

[xx] Yang Fan, “Xinjiang Yechen Bloodshed Incident: Sevreal Uyghurs Dead”, Radio Free Asia, 25 August 2013, accessed February 18, 2017,

[xxi] “Nine Mobsters Attacked Shache Public Security Bureau in Xinjiang”, Asia Pacific Daily, 30 December 2013, accessed February 18, 2017,; “Xinjiang Shufu Violent Attack: Mobsters Attacked the Police by Machetes”,, 17 December 2013, accessed February 18, 2017,

[xxii] Benjamin Kang Lim and Ben Blanchard, “China Suspects Tiananmen Crash a Suicide Attack-Sources”, Reuters, 29 October 2013, accessed February 18, 2017,

[xxiii] “Fatal Tiananmen Crash Sparks Reprisals, Security Clampdown”, Radio Free Asia, 4 November 2013, accessed February 18, 2017,

[xxiv] “Legitimizing Repression: China’s “War on Terror” Under Xi Jinping and State Policy in East Turkestan”, The Uyghur Human Rights Project, 16 March 2015, 2, accessed February 18, 2017,

[xxv] “State of the World’s Minorities and Indigenous Peoples 2015”, Minority Rights Group International, 2 July 2015, 186, accessed February 18, 2017, minorities-2015-asia.pdf.

[xxvi] “Deadly Knife, Bomb Attack at Train Station in Xinjiang Capital”, Radio Free Asia, 30 April 2014, accessed February 18, 2017,; “Briefing Notes vom 20.10.2014”, Federal Office for Migration and Refugees (Germany), 20 October 2014, accessed February 18, 2017, migration-und-fluechtlintge-briefing-notes-20-10-2014-englisch.pdf; Ibid.

[xxvii] “22 Killed in Farmers’ Market Attack in Xinjiang’s Kashgar Prefecture”, Radio Free Asia, 18 October 2014 accessed February 18, 2017,; “37 civilians killed, 13 injured in Xinjiang terror attack”, Xinhua, 3 August 2014, accessed February 18, 2017,; “Official Death Toll in Xinjiang’s Bugur Violence Climbs to 50”, Radio Free Asia, 25 September 2014, accessed February 18, 2017,; “Xinjiang unrest: China raises death toll to 50”, BBC News, 26 September 2014, accessed February 18, 2017,

[xxviii] “China Formally Arrests Uyghur Dissident For Separatism”, Radio Free Asia, 25 February 2014, accessed February 18, 2017,

[xxix] Joint letter by academics around the world to support imprisoned Uighur scholar Ilham Tohti [ASA 17/3171/2016], Amnesty International, 15 January 2016, 1, accessed February 18, 2017,

[xxx] Minority Rights Group International, supra note 66.

[xxxi] “China secessionists blamed for Kunming knife rampage”, BBC News, 2 March 2014, accessed February 18, 2017, ns_mchannel=rss&ns_source=PublicRSS20-sa; “Attackers With Knives Kill 29 at Chinese Rail Station”, New York Times, 1 March 2014, accessed February 18, 2017,

[xxxii] “China Executes 3 Over Deadly Knife Attack at Train Station in 2014”, New York Times, 24 March 2015, accessed February 18, 2017, attack-at-train-station-in-2014.html?_r=0; “Is the Kunming Knife Attack China’s 9-11”, The Diplomat, 4 March 2014, accessed February 18, 2017,

[xxxiii] “China Deports Hundreds of Uyghur Residents From Yunnan”, Radio Free Asia, 12 March 2014, accessed February 18, 2017,

[xxxiv] “Urumqi car and bomb attack kills dozens”, The Guardian, 22 May 2014, accessed February 18, 2017,; “Urumqi attack kills 31 in China’s Xinjiang region”, BBC News, 23 May 2014, accessed February 18, 2017,

[xxxv] “China Holds Hundreds of Uyghurs As ‘Anti-Terror’ Campaign Spreads”, Radio Free Asia, 8 July 2014, accessed February 18, 2017,

[xxxvi] Minority Rights Group International, supra note 66.

[xxxvii] Xinhua, supra note 68.

[xxxviii] Minority Rights Group International, supra note 66.

[xxxix] “Uighur Congress disputes Beijing’s account of Xinjiang clash”, Deutsche Welle, 30 July 2014, accessed February 18, 2017,

[xl] “At Least Eight Uyghurs Shot Dead by Chinese Authorities in Xinjiang”, Radio Free Asia, 19 June 2015, accessed February 18, 2017,; “Chinese Authorities Shoot ‘Suspicious’ Uyghurs Dead in Xinjiang Restaurant”, Radio Free Asia, 13 March 2015, accessed February 18, 2017,; “Uyghur Man Draws Knife, is Shot Dead by Police”, Radio Free Asia, 19 February 2015, accessed February 18, 2017,

[xli] “Hacking, Shooting Incident Leaves 17 Dead in Xinjiang’s Aksu Prefecture”, Radio Free Asia, 20 February 2015, accessed February 18, 2017,; “Hacking, Shooting Incident Leaves 17 Dead in Xinjiang’s Aksu Prefecture”, Radio Free Asia, 20 February 2015, accessed February 18, 2017,

[xlii] “Six Dead in Police Shooting in China’s Restive Xinjiang”, Radio Free Asia, 12 January 2015, accessed February 18, 2017,; “Six Dead in Police Shooting in China’s Restive Xinjiang”, Radio Free Asia, 12 January 2015, accessed February 18, 2017,; “Chinese Police Shoot Seven Uyghurs Dead Following Fatal Xinjiang Knife Attack”, Radio Free Asia, 18 March 2015, accessed February 18, 2017,; “Six Uyghurs Die in Village Police Operation in Xinjiang”, Radio Free Asia, 1 May 2015, accessed February 18, 2017,; “Uyghur Shot by Xinjiang Police in Extrajudicial Killing is Deemed Innocent”, Radio Free Asia, 24 April 2015, accessed February 18, 2017, 04242015130833.html.

[xliii] “Police Raids Yield No Clues About Kidnapped Uyghur Village Police Chief”, Radio Free Asia, 23 March 2015, accessed February 18, 2017, 03232015170427.html; “Police Conduct Raids in Xinjiang a Year After Flag Burning at Mosque”, Radio Free Asia, 16 April 2015, accessed February 18, 2017, 04162015140703.html.

[xliv] “At least 50 said killed in September Xinjiang attack as China warns on security”, Reuters, 1 October 2015, accessed February 18, 2017,; “At least 50 reported to have died in attack on coalmine in Xinjiang in September”, The Guardian, 1 October 2015, accessed February 18, 2017,

[xlv] “Daughters-in-Law of Xinjiang Mine Attack Suspect Face Harsh Punishment”, Radio Free Asia, 8 December 2015, accessed February 18, 2017,

[xlvi] “Xinjiang seeing fewer terrorist incidents: Party chief”, Xinhua, 8 March 2016, accessed February 18, 2017,

[xlvii] “Xinjiang more stable, but security to stay high”, The Straits Times, 9 March 2016, accessed February 18, 2017,

[xlviii] “China Detains 41 Uyghurs Who Skipped a Funeral of a Local Communist Functionary”, Radio Free Asia, 24 March 2016, accessed February 18, 2017,

[xlix] “Al-Qaeda, the Turkestan Islamic Party, and the Bishkek Chinese Embassy Bombing”, The Diplomat, 29 September 2016, accessed February 18, 2017,

The Xinjiang conflict is primarily characterized by a domestic ethnic cleavage. Since China also consistently portrayed the conflict as an internal affair till 2001, international interest in the conflict was limited. Yet, the following stakeholders are associated with the conflict.

Soviet Union/ Russia

Given the region’s proximity to the Soviet Union, Xinjiang could not escape from Soviet influences during the 1930s and the 1940s. General Sheng joined hands with Stalin in the hope of deterring Kuomintang interference in Xinjiang. In the long run, the Soviet monopolized trade in Xinjiang. This economic dependence gave the Soviet more leeway to determine the social order in the region. The Tin Mine Agreement signed by the Soviet and Sheng in 1940 gave the Soviet exclusive control over the rich resources of the province. In fact, the Soviet also effectively incorporated Xinjiang into its defense system in 1937, securing absolute authority in Xinjiang. Xinjiang became a Soviet colony in all but name.[i]

With the Nazi Germany’s invasion of the Soviet Union, Moscow’s influence over the Xinjiang gradually reduced. The Soviet government suspended military aid to China.[ii] The war between Japan and the USA also allowed China some respite from the battle against Japan, to take charge of the situation in Xinjiang. Soviet links with the province weakened once China reinstated its hold over Xinjiang and Sino-Soviet relations came undone. Russia’s influence over the XUAR has been minimal ever since.[iii]

However, recent events hint at changing dynamics between Russia and the XUAR. Currently, Russia’s trade relations with China are not dependent upon transit through the XUAR. At the same time, in 2015, China launched a cargo train service connecting Urumqi, the capital of XUAR, with Moscow.[iv] Trade between the XUAR and Russia rose a whopping 374% year on year in 2014 to $2.15 billion.[v] Moreover, in 2016, Russia also offered to China to discuss a project to deliver fresh water from Russia’s Altai to the XUAR, which is approaching a water crisis.[vi] If this does materialize, Russia may also extend this cooperation to northeastern and eastern China or expect quid-pro-quo in the form of extraction rights over resources in the XUAR. In any case, as two Eurasian superpowers pitted against each other, China and Russia may either find strong multipolar partners in each other or act with caution to ensure that neither gets the upper hand. But, at the moment, there is no possibility of Russia attempting to annex the XUAR again for two reasons. Firstly, in the past few years, the militarily assertive Russia and economically dominant China seem to have formed a figurative alliance of sorts to challenge the United States of America in global policymaking. This cooperation at the international level indicates that neither intends to challenge the other’s sovereignty. Secondly, Russia is closely involved in a number of active secessionist movements in the North Caucasus and has not engaged in the Xinjiang conflict with the same fervor. So, even if Russia supports the creation of a separate “East Turkestan” in the near future, it will not offer to foot this bill, since it also has to bail out other regions.

United States of America

American interest in the Xinjiang conflict has been minimal historically, since the conflict does not directly affect USA. But, being a superpower that prides itself as the guardian of democratic ideals and human rights, USA may be expected to continue protesting China’s human rights record in the region.

But, a bigger threat that faces USA as the country that initiated the war on terrorism narrative is that radicalized Uyghur populations from the XUAR can bolster support for other terrorist groups that directly target USA. China has publicly linked its in-house terrorist group ETIM to al-Qaeda since the 1990s. A 2002 governmental report confirmed that ETIM militants were trained in Afghanistan, a claim that ETIM leaders vehemently denied. The State Department of the United States also endorsed that ETIM fought against the US troops during Operation Enduring Freedom in Afghanistan. Additionally, in 2002, US officials also discovered Uyghurs in a camp in Afghanistan, and detained them on suspicion of them being terrorists. Since then, China has repeatedly attempted to convince USA to modify its stance on human rights abuses in the XUAR. US government statements condemning the Uyghur violence have always been met with ire in the Chinese state.[vii]

In 2014, experts warned that US-China anti-terrorism cooperation might have come to an end, when USA transferred its last Uyghur prisoners from Guantanamo Bay to Slovakia.[viii] Yet, in 2016, the US government acknowledged China’s terrorist problem and began looking at ways to increase counter-terrorism cooperation with China, through information exchanges.[ix] In recent times, China’s call for calm after the USA’s missile strikes against Syria and cooperation between the two countries on the issue of North Korea’s missile test launch, bodes well for counterterrorism cooperation between USA and China.

ISIL/ Other Jihadist Groups

Another major concern at the international level is the spike in the number of Uyghur militants being recruited by the ISIL since 2015. Chinese officials claim that at least 300 Uyghurs have gone to Syria to fight alongside ISIL[x] and the Islamic State, for its part, is vigorously encouraging this trend by publishing its propaganda in the Uyghur language. A video released by ISIL shows Uyghurs training in Iraq, and these militants have threatened to make “blood flow in rivers” in China,[xi] a country with a limited military footprint in the Middle East. Moreover, a number of Uyghur secessionists have reportedly fought for the Syrian division of the TIP, in alliance with the al-Nusra Front, in Idlib, Latakia and Aleppo.[xii]


The growing presence of Uyghur-ISIL militants in Syria suggests that stability in the XUAR is closely linked to occurrences in Syria. Possibly owing to this strategic interest, China has been supporting the al-Assad regime in Syria.[xiii] Therefore, coming years may also witness more cooperation between Syria and China on the counterterrorism front. The foundation for this cooperation was laid down in June 2016, when the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO) adopted a declaration underscoring the need to maintain the sovereignty of Syria. The fact that Syria is in line for being granted observer status in the SCO also suggests a possibility of Syria and China strengthening their ties in future.

Regional Stakeholders

Analysts believe that the growing Islamic fundamentalism in Uyghur insurgency has serious repercussions for both China and its neighbouring countries. True to this belief, the TIP had a strong training base in volatile Pakistan’s Federally Administered Tribal Areas[xiv] until Pakistan initiated strict counterterrorism measures, coming under pressure from China.[xv] In Indonesia, Uyghur militants from China were shot dead for affiliations with the Mujahidin Indonesia Timor.[xvi] In August 2016, Indonesian police revealed that Katibah GR, a pro-IS terrorist cell was receiving funds from the TIP.[xvii]

Beijing’s counterterrorism strategy in such cases has been consistent – repatriation. China has been able to coerce its neighbors into returning Chinese Uyghurs, irrespective of whether they are fleeing religious persecution in the XUAR or going to other countries for joining terrorist groups. For instance, in 2015, Thailand repatriated 109 Uyghurs that China claimed were going to join terrorist organizations. Similarly, in 2009 and 2010, Laos and Cambodia repatriated 27 Uyghurs.[xviii] In 2014 alone, Malaysia and Thailand arrested more than 600 illegal Uyghur immigrants.[xix] While most of them are asylum-seekers looking for better economic opportunities, some are jihadists hoping to take advantage of human smuggling and fake documentation networks in Southeast Asia to obtain false passports and reach Syria. Some analysts claim that Southeast Asia is becoming “an alternative jihad” for Uyghurs who originally intended to go to the Middle East.[xx] Therefore, one can expect existing cooperation between China and other Southeast Asian countries to continue.


Turkey receives a number of Uyghur migrants every year. Being a country with a considerable Uyghur population, Turkey has been more sympathetic towards the Uyghurs and has not given in to China’s strategy. Reportedly, Turkey officials have issued fake passports to Uyghur migrants from China. In fact, after the 2009 violence in Xinjiang, Turkey’s then Prime Minister Erdogan called the event as “a kind of genocide”, drawing criticism from China. This also explains why China sided with al-Assad in the Syrian conflict, opposing Turkey. However, Turkey’s post-coup priorities have been different. In 2016, Turkey adopted measures to restrict illegal Uyghur immigration and in furtherance of these measures, arrested approximately 100 Chinese Uyghurs with forged passports in Istanbul.[xxi] This may pave way for more cooperation between the two countries on the front of counterterrorism.

Other Stakeholders

Considering China’s strike-hard policy on terrorism, it may also look for cooperation with NATO members for counterterrorism training operations, civilian evacuation operations and intelligence sharing with Southeast Asian partners.[xxii] China’s first counterterrorism law also permits Chinese troops to leave the country on counterterrorism missions abroad. Therefore, it is clear that China wishes to play a key role in the global war on terrorism and this may change China’s international relations and foreign policies.


[i] Andrew D. W. Forbes, Warlord and Muslims in Chinese Central Asia: A Political History of Republican Sinkiang 1911-1949, London: Cambridge University Press, 1986, 136.

[ii] Ibid., 158.

[iii] Hafeez Malik, The Roles of the United States, Russia and China in the New World Order, London: Palgrave Macmillan UK, 1997, 254.

[iv] Kira Egorova, “China launches the world’s longest freight train route”, Russia Beyond The Headlines, 16 June 2015, accessed February 19, 2017,

[v] “China’s Xinjiang-Russia trade rose 374% in 2014”, The Brics Post, 14 February 2015, accessed February 19, 2017,

[vi] “Russia Hopes to Relieve Parched China With Water from Altai”, Sputnik International, 3 May 2016, accessed February 19, 2017,

[vii] Millward, supra note 1.

[viii] Shannon Tiezzi, “US Releases Last Uyghur Chinese Prisoners From Guantanamo Bay”, The Diplomat, 3 January 2014, accessed 21 April 2017,

[ix] “U.S. says looking at more counter-terrorism cooperation with China”, Reuters, 26 July 2016, accessed February 18, 2017,

[x] TJonathan Schanzer, “The Potential of a Chinese Terror Threat”, The Weekly Standard, 5 October 2016, accessed February 19 2017,

[xi] Michael Martine and Ben Blanchard, “Uighur IS fighters vow blood will “flow in rivers” in China”, Reuters, 3 March 2017, accessed 22 April 2017,

[xii] Nodirbek Soliev, “The Rise of Uyghur Militancy in and Beyond Southeast Asia: An Assessment”, Counter Terrorist Trends and Analyses 9, no. 1 (2017), accessed February 19, 2017,

[xiii] David Volodzko, “China’s New Headache: Uyghur Militants in Syria”, 8 March 2016, accessed February 19, 2017,

[xiv] Zenn, Jacob, “Beijing, Kunming, Urumqi and Guangzhou: The Changing Landscape of Anti-Chinese Jihadists” China Brief – Jamestown 14, no. 10 (2014).

[xv] “Pakistan says has eliminated Uighur militants from territory”, Reuters, 18 October 2015, accessed February 19, 2017,

[xvi] “4 ISIS suspects arrested by Indonesia are Uighurs from China: Police”, The Straits Times, 15 September 2014, accessed February 19, 2017,

[xvii] “Indonesian Police Foil Rocket Attack Plot on Marina Bay; Singapore Steps up Security”, The Straits Times, 5 August 2016, accessed February 19, 2017,

[xviii] “Laos Deports Seven Uyghurs”, Radio Free Asia, 15 December 2010, accessed February 19, 2017,

[xix] “155 Uighur immigrants found in Malaysia apartments”, The Straits Times, 3 October 2014, accessed February 19, 2017,

[xx] Soliev, supra note 129.

[xxi] Wang Jin, “After the Failed Coup: A New Dawn for China-Turkey Relations?”, 10 August 2016, accessed February 19, 2017,

[xxii] Lauren Dickey, “Counterterrorism or Repression? China Takes on Uighur Militants”, War On The Rocks, 19 April 2016, accessed February 19, 2017,


Distrust runs deep in the XUAR and the rising death toll in the region is testimony to that. Therefore, the Xinjiang conflict will not be solved immediately. Yet independence for “East Turkestan” seems an implausible solution even in the distant future, considering China’s material and strategic interest in the province. Moreover, China’s global economic influence will make it difficult for secessionist leaders to attract support for their cause. In any case, since the XUAR’s economy is closely integrated with that of mainland China, an independent Xinjiang may not be economically viable either.

Some experts believe that China’s “One Belt, One Road” (OBOR) strategy may offer some respite. The China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC), which forms part of the OBOR, is a collection of infrastructure projects connecting the XUAR to Gwadar in Pakistan. An underlying implication of this endeavor aligns with China’s traditional policy of delivering economic development and modernization to “buy” the loyalty of the Uyghurs. The Chinese government, through the Great Western Development campaign in 2000, adopted a similar economic-development approach. While it did deliver the promise of economic development to the province, it failed to alleviate the underlying causes of Uyghur disaffection. Therefore, there is little assurance that the CPEC would help fix the conflict. At the same time, the CPEC might see Pakistan consciously work towards preventing the potential spillover of terrorist elements and radicalism into the XUAR.[i]


Conflict management theory, on the other hand, offers a balanced solution to the Xinjiang conflict. Since China’s harsh policies of control and repression are a source of Uyghur disaffection today, China’s attempts to adopt a less regressive regime may make a difference. Strategists agree that there is a need to develop comprehensive counter-radicalization and community engagement strategies, relying less on hard power.[ii]

Changes in China’s religious and cultural restrictions could go a long way. For instance, Uyghur students and government officials could be permitted to pray during the day, since they do not disrupt the school and office settings. In the absence of evidence of militant teachings, Muslim Uyghurs may be permitted to practice their faith openly and mosques and religious schools may be allowed to function freely. Education and language policies that prevent the Uyghurs from preserving their culture could be tweaked.

Similarly, Beijing could evolve a clear set of guidelines for police officials dealing with protests in the XUAR, so that abuse use of force is curbed. Additionally, checks on in-migration into the XUAR could prove to be useful. Importantly, Beijing and the XUAR officials need to ensure that benefits from their development strategies accrue to ethnic minorities as well. Beijing may be able to contribute to resolving the conflict by encouraging industries in the XUAR to employ more ethnic minorities and creating quotas in favour of the Uyghurs in colleges and government offices. Other political changes such as more proportionate ethnic representation in party structures could also be introduced.

The government could also develop trust-building measures by bringing together Han and Uyghur leaders who can spearhead a reconciliation effort. They can play a key role in correcting ethnic prejudices in the Chinese society.[iii]

According to the data collected by New America, a think tank in Washington DC, 110 of the 114 Uyghurs who were registered on the records of the Islamic State were entirely new to jihad.[iv] This might suggest that the fighters are not part of any Islamic fundamentalist movement in China and indicate that the increase in Uyghur extremism may be due to China’s repressive measures, rather than the direct influence of terrorist groups. Therefore, these policy shifts in China will go a long way to reduce extremism in the XUAR and improve the human rights situation in the territory.


[i] Reuters, “Pakistan says ‘almost all’ Uighur militants eliminated”, 9 April 2016, accessed 9 April 2017,

[ii] Lim, Kim Y, Complex Objectives of China’s Radicalisation Challenge, Canberra, Australia: Charles Stuart University, Graduate School of Policing and Security, 2015.

[iii] Eric C. Marcus, “Change and Conflict: Motivation, Resistance and Commitment” in Coleman, Peter T. Deutch, Morton and Marcus, Eric, The Handbook of Conflict Resolution: Theory and Practice, San Francisco, California: Jossey-Bass, 2014, 513-32.

[iv] Bethany Allen-Ebrahimian, “More Than 100 Chinese Muslims Have Joined the Islamic State”, 20 July 2016, accessed February 19, 2017,

Date Event
14 February 2017 Knife attack leaves eight dead


A knife attack by 3 persons in a residential area in XUAR killed 5, and the police responded immediately by shooting the 3 perpetrators dead.[i]

20 February 2017 Compulsory GPS tracking of vehicles in Xinjiang


The local government made it compulsory for all vehicles to install GPS trackers, as part of the government’s nationwide stability maintenance and anti-terrorism programme.[ii]

2 March 2017 IS fighters warn China


A video purportedly released by the Islamic State group showed ethnic Uyghur fighters training in Iraq and threatened to make “blood flow in rivers” in China.[iii]

27 March 2017 Israeli report claims Chinese jihadists are fighting in Syria


According to an intelligence report by the Israeli Foreign Ministry, 3,000 Chinese Uyghurs are fighting in the ranks of jihadi organizations in the war in Syria.[iv]

1 April 2017 China bans beards and veils in Xinjiang


In a sweeping new legislation, China has prohibited “wearing or forcing others to wear full-face coverings” and “hyping up religious fanaticism through growing beards or choosing names in an abnormal way” in Xinjiang on the ground that they promote extremism.[v]

25 April 2017 China bans “religious names” for Muslim infants in the XUAR


Reportedly, China has banned names such as Islam, Quran, Saddam and Mecca, as well as references to the star and crescent moon symbol, for Muslim infants in the XUAR. It has also been reported that authorities will deny household registration (essential for access to social services, healthcare and education) for children with such names.[vi]

5 May 2017 CCP creates new bureau for Xinjiang


CCP reportedly established a new bureau, under its United Front Work Department (UFWD), to improve intelligence and policy coordination in the XUAR.[vii] This new bureau joins other bureaus already tasked with handling affairs related to Hong Kong, Macau, Taiwan and Tibet.

17 May 2017 China seeks to ramp up DNA testing in the XUAR


Police in the XUAR confirmed to the Associated Press that they are in the process of purchasing DNA-analysing equipment costing at least $8.7 million.[viii] The move comes after it was reported in 2016 that Chinese authorities required residents of the XUAR to submit DNA samples and other biological data to travel abroad.[ix]

1 June 2017 China issues white paper on the progress of human rights in Xinjiang


China issued a white paper titled “Human Rights in Xinjiang – Development and Progress”, which specifically addresses the status of the “right to freedom of religious belief” in the XUAR. The paper highlights the policies China has adopted to safeguard “normal religious needs, rights of religious organizations and overseas religious exchanges” and to curb “religious extremism”.[x]

3 June 2017 China expands ban on “religious names” to children under 16


XUAR authorities reportedly ordered all children under 16 to changes names where police have determined them to be “overly religious”. Reports indicate that as many as 15 names have been banned, including Islam, Quran, Mecca, Jihad, Imam, Saddam, Hajj, Medina and Arafat.[xi]

8 June 2017 China doubles down on preventing Ramadan observance in the XUAR


Reports suggest that XUAR authorities enacted a series of measures to prevent observance of Ramadan, including ordering all restaurants to remain open for Ramadan and assigning CCP cadres to stay with Uyghur families for monitoring purposes.[xii]

29 June 2017 XUAR authorities take steps towards total digital surveillance


XUAR authorities in Urumqi have reportedly issued a notice to residents, requiring them to hand in all digital devices for checking at local police stations by 1 August 2017, as part of an anti-terrorist audio-video operation.[xiii]


[i] “Eight dead after knife attack in China’s western Xinjiang region”, The Telegraph, 15 February 2017, accessed 29 June 2017,

[ii] Radio Free Asia, supra note 116.

[iii] Martine and Blanchard, supra note 134.

[iv] Michael Friedson, “Report: Thousands of Chinese Muslims Filling Ranks of Jihadist Fighting Units in Syria”, The Media Line, 28 March 2017, accessed 22 April 2017,

[v] Katie Hunt, Chieu Luu and Steven Jiang, “Why China is banning beards and veils in Xinjiang”, CNN, 1 April 2017, accessed 22 April 2017,

[vi] Benjamin Haas, “China bans religious names for Muslim babies in Xinjiang”, The Guardian, 25 April 2017, accessed 28 June 2017,

[vii] Jun Mai, “Why the Communist Party has created a new bureau for Xinjiang”, South China Morning Post, 5 May 2017, accessed 28 June 2017,

[viii] Matthew Brown, “China sparks human rights outcry by ramping up DNA testing in Muslim-dominated region”, Independent, 17 May 2017, accessed 28 June 2017,

[ix] “Chinese police require DNA for passports in Xinjiang”, BBC News, 7 June 2016, accessed 28 June 2017,

[x] “Human Rights in Xinjiang – Development and Progress”, White Papers of the Government, 1 June 2017, accessed 28 June 2017,

[xi] Benjamin Haas, “Muslim children forced to drop ‘religious’ names in western China”, The Guardian, 3 June 2017, accessed 28 June 2017,

[xii] “China Embeds Cadres in Uyghur Homes During Ramadan”, Radio Free Asia, 8 June 2017, accessed 30 June 2017,

[xiii] “Xinjiang Authorities Take Further Steps Towards Total Digital Surveillance”, Radio Free Asia, 29 June 2017, accessed 30 June 2017,


  1. Michael Clarke, China and the Uyghurs: The “Palestinization” of Xinjiang?, Middle East Policy 22, no. 3 (2015) – Clarke is an Associate Professor at the National Security College, Australian National University. This work suggests that the Palestinization of Xinjiang is discernible at various levels, including the hardening ethnic divide between parties, its institutionalization by the Chinese state and Uyghur militancy.
  2. Justin Hastings, Charting the Course of Uyghur Unrest, The China Quarterly 208 (2011) – Hastings is a Senior Lecturer in International Relations and Comparative Politics at the University of Sydney. This work argues that the Chinese government’s policies and the political geography of Xinjiang influenced the nature of violent incidents in the Xinjiang.
  3. Joseph Grieboski, Tension, Repression, and Discrimination: China’s Uyghurs under Threat, Georgetown Journal of International Affairs (2014) – Grieboski is the Chairman and CEO of Grieboski Global Strategies and Founder/ Chairman of the Board of Directors of the Institute on Religion and Public Policy. This work gives a general overview of the conflict and the state of the Uyghurs in China.
  4. Michael Clarke, China, Xinjiang and the internationalisation of the Uyghur issue, Global Change, Peace and Security 22, no. 2 (2010) – Clarke is an Associate Professor at the National Security College, Australian National University. This work argues that Beijing’s own approach to the conflict domestically and in its diplomacy has contributed to the internationalization of the issue.
  5. Elizabeth Van Wie Davis, Uyghur Muslim Ethnic Separatism in Xinjiang, China Asia-Pacific Center for Security Studies (2008) – Davis specializes in international affairs and has served on Johns Hopkins University’s SAIS Center for Chinese and American Studies. This work discusses government responses to the conflict, the concern of Xinjiang being an energy rich area, possible outcomes of the conflict, and the relevance of the conflict for the USA.
  6. Joanne Smith Finley, Chinese Oppression in Xinjiang, Middle Eastern Conflicts and Global Islamic Solidarities among the Uyghurs, Journal of Contemporary China 16, no. 53 (2007) – Smith Finley is a Senior Lecturer in Chinese Studies at the Newcastle University, UK. This work explores the nature and source of the current Islamic renewal in Xinjiang.
  7. Wuttikorn Chuwattananurak, China’s Political Stability and Comprehensive National Power: A Case Study of the Conflict in Xinjiang, Journal of US-China Public Administration 11, no. 9 (2014) – Chuwattananurak teaches at the Department of Political Science and Public Administration, Naresuan University, Thailand. This work argues that the Xinjiang conflict not only threatens China’s political stability but also affects its comprehensive national power as a whole.
  8. Michael Clarke, China’s “War on Terror” in Xinjiang: Human Security and the Causes of Violent Uighur Separatism, Terrorism and Political Violence 20, no. 2 (2008) – Clarke is an Associate Professor at the National Security College, Australian National University. This work suggests that China’s policy of integration in Xinjiang and the wider Central and South Asian dynamic of Islamic radicalism provides an impetus to sustain the Uyghur secessionist movement.
  9. Elizabeth Van Wie Davis, Uyghur Muslim Ethnic Separatism in Xinjiang, China, Asian Affairs: An American Review 35, no. 1 (2008) Davis specializes in international affairs and has served on Johns Hopkins University’s SAIS Center for Chinese and American Studies. This work evaluates ethnic separatism and religious rhetoric as the causes of Uyghur Muslim violence in Xinjiang.
  10. Michael Clarke, Widening the net: China’s anti-terror laws and human rights in the Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region, The International Journal of Human Rights 14, no. 4 (2010) – Clarke is an Associate Professor at the National Security College, Australian National University. This work argues that China’s anti-terror laws further human rights violations in Xinjiang and criminalize dissent by applying an ambiguous definition of terrorism.
  11. Henryk Szadziewski, Resolving Uyghur Conflict through a Participatory Rights-based Approach to Development, in Debidatta Aurobinda Mahapatra, Conflict and Peace in Eurasia, New York: Routledge, 2013 – Szadziewski is a Senior Researcher at the Uyghur Human Rights Project. This work calls for resolving the Xinjiang conflict by empowering the marginalized through the realization of human rights.
  12. James Millward and Nabijan Tursun, Political History and Strategies of Control, 1884-1978, in F. Starr (ed.), Xinjiang: China’s Muslim Borderland, Armonk, New York: M. E. Sharpe, 2004 – Millward is Professor of Intersocietal History at the Georgetown University. Nabijan Tursun is an independent scholar. This work delves into the history of the Xinjiang conflict.


  1. James Millward, Eurasian Crossroads: A History of Xinjiang, New York: Columbia University Press, 2007 Millward is Professor of Intersocietal History at the Georgetown University. This work presents Xinjiang’s history and takes a balanced look at the position of Uyghurs in China today.
  2. James Millward, Violent Separatism in Xinjiang: A Critical Assessment, Washington, DC: East-West Center, 2004 Millward is Professor of Intersocietal History at the Georgetown University. This work presents an overview of resistance in the Xinjiang region from the Qing period through the 1990s.
  3. Arienne M. Dwyer, The Xinjian Conflict: Uyghur Identity, Language Policy, and Political Discourse, Washington DC: East-West Center Washington, 2005 – Dwyer is a Professor of Linguistic Anthropology at the University of Kansas. This work explores the relation between China’s language policy and politics of Uyghur identity.
  4. Frederick Starr (ed.), Xinjiang: China’s Muslim Borderland, New York: Routledge, 2015 – Starr is the founding Chairman of the Central Asia-Caucasus Institute and Silk Road Studies Program. This work surveys Xinjiang’s geography; its history of military and political subjugation to China; patterns of opposition and evolving identities, etc.
  5. Gardner Bovingdon, The Uyghurs: Strangers in Their Own Land, New York: Columbia University Press, 2010 – Bovingdon is an Assistant Professor of Central Eurasian Studies at Indiana University. This work follows fifty years of Uyghur discontent, the role of transnational organizations in cultivating the same and implications of the “global war on terror” on anti-state movements.
  6. Michael Dillon, Xinjiang: China’s Muslim Far Northwest, New York: Routledge, 2003 – Dillon is an independent scholar and has formerly served as the Director of the Centre for Contemporary Chinese Studies at the University of Durham. This work reviews Xinjiang’s history, economy and society, and outlines Uyghur opposition to the Chinese Communist rule.
  7. Gardner Bovingdon, Autonomy in Xinjiang: Han Nationalist Imperatives and Uyghur Discontent, Washington DC: East-West Center, 2004 – Bovingdon is an Assistant Professor of Central Eurasian Studies at Indiana University. This work analyzes how regional autonomy in the Xinjiang failed to solve the region’s political problems and evaluates how China’s policies contributed to Uyghur unrest.
  8. Yu-Wen Chen, The Uyghur Lobby: Global Networks, Coalitions and Strategies of the World Uyghur Congress, New York: Routledge, 2013 – Chen is a Lecturer in Government at University College Cork, Ireland. This work explores the global operations of the Uyghur diaspora umbrella organization, the World Uyghur Congress. Further, it argues that the Uyghur lobby is not a unified movement.