As China warns of a harsh crackdown following ethnic violence in its troubled western region of Xinjiang, experts say the latest attacks in Kashgar city point to serious problems with government policies towards ethnic minorities.
Kashgar prefecture communist party chief Cheng Zhenshan vowed to fight separatists, religious extremists, and "terrorists" with "iron fists," the official Xinhua news agency said Tuesday following the weekend violence in the Silk Road city that left at least 14 people dead and 40 others injured.
Xinhua quoted Cheng as saying that strengthened efforts in information gathering at Kashgar's key spots and highly populated areas were needed "to pre-empt strikes from hostile forces."
The chairman of the Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region (XUAR) government, Nur Bekri, visited Han Chinese who were injured in attacks on bystanders, promising that the government would "go all out to counter the violence that threatens people's lives," Xinhua said.
Bekri vowed that the "terrorist suspects" would be given severe punishments in accordance with the law.
China has said that at least one of the attacks in Kashgar at the weekend were the work of the East Turkestan Islamic Movement (ETIM), which wants an independent homeland for Xinjiang's Muslim Uyghurs.
Overseas groups estimate that more than 100 Uyghurs were detained in the wake of the attacks. Most of those detained as suspects were committed Muslims who attended mosque and whose wives wore veils, residents say.
Chinese commentators said the slew of recent attacks in Xinjiang, where many Uyghurs are deeply resentful of Chinese rule, show that Beijing's policy on ethnic minorities has gone badly wrong.
"Obviously, acts of terrorist violence against ordinary people are completely wrong; there's no argument about that," said Wuhan-based veteran democracy activist Qin Yongmin. "Anyone with eyes can see that the ethnic conflict in Xinjiang has intensified in the past few decades."
But he said the violence shouldn't be viewed as simply a rise in the amount of "terrorist incidents."
"There were also serious ethnic clashes in Xinjiang during the 1960s. The government took a much more magnanimous approach towards the Uyghur people at this time, and they suppressed the Han backlash quite harshly," Qin said.
"But it also set a precedent, which was to take away all the rights that the the entire ethnic group should have enjoyed."
Qin said that authoritarian government was bound to lead to ethnic conflict, and to turn that conflict into a stalemate.
"From the point of view of the ethnic minorities, they don't see it as a problem of authoritarianism, but as one of ethnic conflict," he said. "Their experience is that the Han Chinese government is persecuting them."
The attacks in Kashgar and those in the nearby city of Hotan two weeks ago in which 20 people were killed are the bloodiest violence in a year in Xinjiang, where Muslim Uyghurs chafe under Chinese rule.
Deadly riots in Xinjiang's regional capital of Urumqi left at least 200 dead in July 2009 following clashes between Han Chinese and Uyghurs.'Positive discrimination'
Zhang Ming, politics professor at Renmin University's school of international relations, also said that Beijing's ethnic policies "are flawed."
"They appear to contain a lot of positive discrimination, but actually they are very discriminatory," he said
"Only policies which give people equal treatment on an equal footing will lead to a relationship of equality," Zhang said.
Macau-based military affairs analyst Huang Dong said that violent incidents have been on the rise in all of the ethnic "autonomous regions" in recent years.
"There have been outbreaks of violence, one after another, in a number of ethnic minority regions recently," he said.
"This shows that the government's ethnic minority policies are inappropriate."
Huang called on the Chinese government to approach ethnic conflict from a cultural standpoint. "They shouldn't engage in such an open policy of oppression, because this will only serve to exacerbate the situation," he said.
Guangxi-based author Jing Chu said that the fact that an attack that was originally aimed at the police force turned into an attack on ordinary people showed that ethnic tensions have already become very extreme in Xinjiang.
"Ever since the Communist Party came to power, they have pursued a policy of strengthening their control over the autonomous ethnic minority areas," Jing said.
But he added: "They should reflect deeply on their policies towards ethnic minorities." Stoking resentment
He said that the exploitation of Xinjiang's limited water and land resources for Han Chinese farming projects was just one of the moves that have depleted the region and stoked Uyghur resentment.
"They have diverted and cut off rivers to make the desert bloom, and last year the lakes dried up completely," he said.
"They have cut off the means of existence for thousands, hundreds of thousands, millions of people who rely on the waters downstream to make farm produce."
Jing said the government monopoly on information about the conflicts and the stifling of public debate on ethnic conflict make it hard to find a solution.
"In such complex conditions, we need freedom of information, and they need to allow a full and free debate," he said.
The Munich-based World Uyghur Congress condemned the recent violence in Kashgar, but blamed Chinese government policies for oppressing Uyghurs and causing long-simmering resentment to boil over.Reported by He Ping for RFA's Mandarin service, and by Bi Zimo for the Cantonese service. Translated and written in English by Luisetta Mudie.