Chinese authorities in the troubled northwestern region of Xinjiang have issued orders for all vehicles to have compulsory GPS trackers installed, local officials confirmed to RFA on Monday.
The plans emerged on an official website and social media account linked to the Bayingolin Mongol Autonomous Prefecture government in southeastern Xinjiang, which said the move was part of the government's nationwide "stability maintenance" program.
The move to compulsory GPS tracking and RFID license plates for all vehicles was announced by the prefectural traffic police in a post to their official account on the Sina Weibo social media platform.
"The car is the main means of transport of terrorists, and is often also used by them as a weapon," the police statement said. "It is imperative that we move to a GPS tracking and electronic license plate system to manage vehicle positioning."
The Bayingolin prefecture will aim for "comprehensive supervision" of all vehicles, including second-hand cars, covering one to two million vehicles, it said.
In addition, it will build a an integrated data center aimed at terrorism prevention, the announcement said.
The government recently ran a training exercise using a pilot system, concluding that the homegrown Chinese Beidou GPS system would enable the authorities to pinpoint the position of vehicles at all times.
"Especially in Xinjiang, its potential to contribute to stability maintenance and the anti-terrorism effort is obvious," the local authorities said in a statement on their official website.
Vehicles that do not comply with the requirement, for which car drivers must pay an annual charge of 90 yuan, will be turned away from gas stations throughout the prefecture.
'Everywhere in Xinjiang'
An official who answered the phone at the agricultural machinery safety supervision center in Bayingolin's Korla county confirmed the program, which is expected to be fully implemented by the end of June.
"This was just sent over to us yesterday, and I haven't read the file yet," the official said. "But they told me this is going to be across the board, under the supervision of the police."
"It'll cost drivers 90 yuan a year ... all they have to do is pay it, but everything else is free," he said.
"This isn't only happening here in Bayingolin; it's everywhere [in Xinjiang], all of the vehicles everywhere," he said.
An officer who answered the phone at the Bayingolin prefectural capital police department said the traffic police are supervising the new system, but declined to give further details.
The ruling Chinese Communist Party blames ethnic minority Muslim Uyghur extremists for a string of violent attacks and clashes in recent years.
But critics say the government has exaggerated the threat from the Uyghurs, and that repressive domestic policies are responsible for violence that has left hundreds dead since 2009.
The authorities regularly conduct "strike hard” campaigns that include nighttime police raids on Uyghur households, restrictions on Islamic practices, and curbs on the culture and language of the Uyghur people, including clothing and personal appearance.
Beijing in December 2015 passed a new anti-terrorism law banning anyone from disseminating images or information regarding terrorist activities,and authorizing anti-terrorist operations by security forces beyond China's borders.
U.S. officials have said they fear the new law could be used to target peaceful dissent and religious activities among ethnic minorities in China, particularly Uyghurs.
Reported by Wong Siu-san and Sing Man for RFA's Cantonese Service. Translated and edited by Luisetta Mudie.