Allen R. Carlson, associate professor of government at Cornell University and the author of “Unifying China, Integrating with the World: Securing Chinese Sovereignty in the Reform Era” says that while tension between Beijing and the Uyghurs in this western Chinese territory is not new, the sophistication of this most recent attack signals a troubling escalation in the conflict.
“Tensions in China’s Xinjiang between the Uyghurs, who claim the region as their own, and the Han Chinese, are nothing new. Both groups have been struggling for years over the sovereign status of this territory. However, in recent months the tense, but relatively stable, standoff between the two sides has begun to fray around the edges as an expanding series of terrorist attacks, and reprisals, have rocked both Xinjiang and the rest of China. “The opening salvo of this wave of violence occurred on March 1 in Kunming when a small band of knife-wielding Uyghur terrorists rampaged through the southwestern Chinese city’s main train station leaving scores dead and injured in their wake. Over the ensuing weeks more incidents have occurred in various locations throughout China, and a depressing cycle of violence and retribution now appears to have become entrenched across the country, but especially in Xinjiang.
“To a certain degree the May 21 Urumqi bombing, which left at least 31 dead, is simply a continuation of this trend. However, the scope of its carnage, and the relatively sophisticated manner of its execution, also represents a chilling new chapter in the Han-Uyghur story.
“The conflict has now, tragically, entered into new terrain, and it appears highly unlikely that either side will back down. While it would be premature to then argue that Xinjiang is sliding into a ethnic-based civil war, it does seem as if the words W.B. Yates wrote so many years ago in ‘The Second Coming’ are chillingly applicable to China’s restive northwest: ‘Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold.’”
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