China on Thursday hit out at the death of its national Fan Jinghui while in custody of the Islamic State (I.S.), saying the perpetrators must be brought to justice.
Beijing confirmed Fan's death after the I.S. magazine Dabiq claimed to have killed Fan and Norwegian hostage Ole Johan Grimsgaard-Ofstad, showing what appeared to be pictures of the dead men with the words "executed."
Chinese President Xi Jinping on Thursday strongly condemned the killing on the sidelines of the APEC leaders' summit in the Philippines, saying that "terrorism is the common enemy of human beings," and vowing that Beijing "will resolutely crack down on any terrorist crime that challenges the bottom line of human civilization."
Fan's death came after a behind-the-scenes attempt at rescuing him, foreign ministry spokesman Hong Lei told a regular news briefing in Beijing.
"Departments of the Chinese government activated emergency response mechanism upon learning of the kidnapping and made all-out efforts to rescue him," Hong said. "However, with no regard for human conscience and moral bottom line, the terrorist organization still cruelly killed Fan Jinghui."
"The Chinese government strongly condemns this inhuman action and will definitely hold the perpetrators accountable," Hong said, continuing with the exact words used by President Xi.
Meanwhile, Chinese premier Li Keqiang said Beijing would step up efforts to protect its citizens overseas, as official media carried reports that Chinese tourists in Paris were carrying on with their vacation plans regardless in the wake of last weeks deadly attacks.
Online comments on Chinese social media sites expressed outrage over Fan's death, but also skepticism over the government's response.
"May I ask how the Chinese government plans to bring the perpetrators to justice?" user @EmmaZhou wrote, while @huodelengjing said China is in a difficult position.
"This terrorist organization was derived from a resistance movement to the U.S.'s long-running war in the Middle East," the user wrote. "Who knows how deep the waters run."
User @gaodaweimengGyf commented sarcastically: "Such a strong condemnation. That should scare them to death," while @shenjingyibanmabanzhang added: "Can't they just send in the troops? France has already done that."
User @huarongyuemaopinguose agreed: "Let's attack," the user wrote. "The next Paris incident could take place in Beijing. Sickos."
China's Internet censors appear to have allowed full discussion of both the Paris attacks and Fan's death on the country's tightly controlled social media sites, users said.
"You couldn't see [news of terrorist attacks overseas] before, but now it's all there on WeChat," a smartphone user in the troubled western region of Xinjiang told RFA. "The Great Firewall isn't keeping out the fire, and the fire is spreading."
The user, who gave only a surname Song, said the policy appears to have been in place since the Paris attacks, which China's leaders immediately linked to their own "anti-terror" campaign following string of violent incidents in Xinjiang that has left hundreds dead in recent years.
"Now, some people are saying that Islamic State, the U.S. and the E.U. are in cahoots," Song said. "Others are saying that the Israelis have a high-ranking official inside I.S. who was arrested by the Iraqis."
Song said still other comments had called for attacks on ethnic minority Muslims inside China, as a form of retaliation.
VPNs in Xinjiang
At the same time, authorities in Xinjiang have stepped up controls on people trying to use circumvention tools to access the Internet beyond what the ruling Chinese Communist Party wants its citizens to see, sources said.
"It's mostly in Xinjiang," an anonymous technical source told RFA. "If you download VPN software to your phone, it will switch off immediately and then you have to go to the police and apply to have it unlocked."
"It has to do with the terrorist attacks, and it's mainly information [going in and out of] Xinjiang; there's no directive in force in other locations for the time being," the source said.
Beijing-based constitutional scholar Chen Yongmiao said the government is keen to make political capital out of the Paris attacks and Fan's death in a bid to win broad popular support for its "anti-terror" campaign targeting minority Muslim Uyghurs in Xinjiang, many of whom would prefer to govern themselves in an independent state known as "East Turkestan."
"I think China probably wants to jump on the anti-terrorism band-wagon at this point," Chen said. "Actually what it really cares about is the 'enemy within.'"
"They are the main target of its so-called war on terror."
Last week, authorities in Xinjiang said they had killed 17 suspects from three families, including women and children, who they accused of carrying out an attack that left 50 people dead and injured 50 others at a coal mine.
The action was hailed as a "great victory in the war on terror."
Residents of Aksu (in Chinese, Akesu) prefecture’s Bay (Baicheng) county said security remains tight following the violence.
"There are a lot of police around, special forces on patrol the whole time," a resident told RFA on Thursday. "As for the mine incident, well, nobody really knows when the government is cracking down on something."
A second resident said: "It's all over ... They killed some of them and arrested some of them. There has been no statement from the government, and no news on radio or TV so we have no idea about it."
China has vowed to crack down on the "three evils" of terrorism, separatism, and religious extremism in Xinjiang, but experts outside China say Beijing has exaggerated the threat from Uyghur "separatists" and that domestic policies are responsible for an upsurge in violence that has left hundreds dead since 2012.
Uyghur groups in exile say such attacks are likely expressions of resistance to Beijing’s policies in Xinjiang, where Uyghurs complain of pervasive ethnic discrimination, religious repression, and cultural suppression by China’s communist government.
Reported by Qiao Long and Xin Lin for RFA's Mandarin Service, and by Wei Ling for the Cantonese Service. Translated and written in English by Luisetta Mudie.