(Adds official commenting on attack in third paragraph.)
July 19 (Bloomberg) -- China’s Vice President Xi Jinping warned Tibetans against separatist activities after forces fired on rioters in the northwestern region of Xinjiang, underscoring the struggle to manage ethnic tensions.
China will fight against separatist activities by the “Dalai group,” the official Xinhua News Agency cited Xi as saying in a speech in Lhasa today, a reference to supporters of the Dalai Lama, Tibet’s exiled spiritual leader. The government will “completely destroy” any attempt to undermine stability in Tibet and unity in China, Xi said.
His remarks followed yesterday’s assault on a police station in the ethnic Uighur-dominated city of Hotan that killed two hostages, two policemen and a security guard, the People’s Daily said. The violence was an “organized terrorist attack,” the Global Times cited a local official as saying.
The unrest “reflects the lack of progress in handling the ethnic minority issue,” said Joseph Cheng, a political science professor at the City University in Hong Kong. “Although the Chinese authorities have spent more resources, stepped up economic support to the regions, the situation remains very tense.”
The assailants set fire to the police station and used grenades and explosive devices, the Global Times cited Hou Hanmin, chief of the regional information office, as saying. The Global Times is an English-language newspaper run by the People’s Daily, which is controlled by China’s Communist Party.
China has also struggled to quell uprisings aimed at corrupt officials and has moved to discipline them. Authorities today executed a former vice mayor of the eastern city of Hangzhou and an ex-vice mayor of Suzhou city, who were convicted of bribery, Xinhua said, citing the Supreme People’s Court.
Xinjiang, where the central government in Beijing faces sporadic challenges to its power, was the scene of clashes two years ago involving Uighurs that left almost 200 people dead. Vice President Xi is in Tibet to mark the 60th anniversary of that region’s “peaceful liberation” by China. Like Xinjiang, Tibet has seen protests by Tibetans over discrimination and for greater independence.
The Munich-based World Uyghur Congress, citing unidentified people in Xinjiang, said police fired on about 100 Uighurs protesters in the city’s main bazaar, according to a statement from the affiliated Washington-based Uyghur American Association. The demonstration was against land seizures and disappearances after the riots two years ago, the group said.
“People should view the Chinese government statements with extreme caution,” said Amy Reger, a researcher for the Uyghur American Association.
Years of central government policies encouraging migration of majority Han Chinese to areas such as Tibet and Xinjiang have stoked ethnic tensions. China views groups pushing for greater independence as seditious.
The Dalai Lama this week met U.S. President Barack Obama in Washington, drawing protests from China.
Muslim Uighurs, who make up less than half of Xinjiang’s population of 20 million, complain of discrimination by the Han, China’s dominant ethnic group, and unfair division of the region’s resources. About 96 percent of Hotan’s population is Uighur and 3.5 percent Han, the People’s Daily said. The Han make up more than 90 percent of China’s 1.3 billion people.
The landlocked region, about three times the size of France, has China’s second-highest oil and natural gas reserves and was its biggest cotton producer. China last year began taxing profits on resources extracted from Xinjiang, keeping the money inside the region.
Tens of thousands of security personnel were deployed in the provincial capital of Urumqi to quell the unrest in July 2009, Internet and mobile phone connections to Xinjiang were cut and President Hu Jintao was forced to leave early from a meeting with Group of Eight leaders in Italy.
The Xinjiang riots also come as protests increase across China as income gaps widen. So-called mass incidents -- riots, strikes and protests -- doubled in five years to 180,000 in 2010, Sun Liping, a professor at Beijing’s Tsinghua University, said in a Feb. 25 article in the Economic Observer.
Hotan is in southwestern Xinjiang, near China’s border with India and Afghanistan. The central government sent an anti- terrorist task force to Xinjiang after yesterday’s riot, Xinhua News Agency said.
--Feiwen Rong, with assistance from Ying Wang in Beijing. Editors: Patrick Harrington, John Brinsley
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