After the July 5th event in Xinjiang, the recent Khotan attack is another open confrontation between some Uyghurs and the Chinese police in Khotan city. There are basically two interpretations of this event: (1) the WUC headed Uyghur organizations claims that this incident is resulted from Chinese police fired at a peaceful Uyghur demonstration; (2) the Chinese authority states that this is a “serious” terrorist attack, rhetoric familiar to China watchers and Islam scholars.
No more “ism,” but Neighborhood Committee
The two narratives presented by the Uyghur organizations and the Chinese state-media simply express two isms that characterize the event: one is democracy and the other is terrorism. According to sources available now, what seems to be sure is that the attackers are bearded young people from either Kashgar or Aksu or both with limited Chinese language ability. In other words, the attackers are vagrants and illiterate in Chinese. It is better to start analyzing this event by thinking the word “vagrant” here. Why are the Uyghurs from outside Khotan called vagrant in Xinjiang? The word “vagrant” in this context expresses negative connotation, meaning some Uyghurs’ presence in Khotan is illegal, which in turn indicates tight control by the local police of the movement of the individual Uyghurs in Xinjiang. To blame the outsiders to ignite the violence began to form a general pattern among China’s “anti-terror experts” to explain the violence committed by the Uyghurs, as clearly seen after the July 5th event.
Unlike other terrorists who selected high-value targets such as NYC or Mumbai, these Khotan “terrorists” strangely attacked a local police station in a remote oasis city. Why local police station? Xinjiangreview has presented the stated duties of local law enforcement offices in Xinjiang (as exemplified by a Neighborhood Committee in Kashgar, see article on Xinjiangreview, “Ten Duties of A Neighborhood Committee”) (interesting, the so-called police stationed attacked is actually a Neighborhood Committee 纳尔巴格街道办事处). These duties and power range from population registration/ID check to passport application control. Since Khotan is a smaller city compared to Kashgar, the duties of a police station primarily include the duties of a neighborhood committee in Kashgar. This analyst is not interesting in seeing how many open or hidden duties a police station carries on in Khotan. It is curious to ask how does a police station handle the violator of the state, provincial, and local regulations?
For people living in northwest China, not to mention Xinjiang or Tibet, the corruption of a police station is an open secret. Guanxi, bribe, fine, dinner, and other forms of money-making and friend-making define, interpret, and implement the laws at local level. For local police, the more trouble-makers they identify and arrest, the more fine and ransom they earn. To northwest minority population, it is not surprising that the local police station is attacked.
People may wonder how could a local police station in northwest China (esp Xinjiang) committee corruption to such a degree as to act as a black society? The answer is that the police station masters political economy — they excel at how and when to deploy even develop “sensitive” issues such as the so-called three forces of “terrorism” “extremism” and “separatism” to enrich themselves by exploiting the locals on the one hand and by applying funding from the state on the other. This corruption pattern not only fits the local police station in Xinjiang, it actually fits China’s all interest groups in Xinjiang who have a share in the so-called anti-“three evil forces” campaign, ranging from project/funding-minded academics to fine-collecting police to CCP’s central committee membership contending politicians. The Khotan incident indicates that the attackers targets what they are familiar with and, therefore, hate most, the Chinese police station. It is not a high-value target or symbolical marker and certainly does not represent an ideological ambition, be it terrorism or extremism.
Neighborhood Committee: to serve people or to suppress people?
China economists have familiar with the three divisions of China’s economic zone in terms of economic development, namely, the developed coastal/east China, developing central China, and under-developed northwest China. However, there is no discussion on the division of political zones in China at all. From a perspective of law enforcement and degree of liberty, democracy, and freedom, there are many divisions of political zones in China: Han/nonHan coastal (east) China, Han central China, non-Han central China, Han northwest, non-Han northwest, Han Xinjiang, Uyghur Xinjiang, Han Tibet, non-Han Tibet, and etc.
Citizen rights that people have enjoyed in contemporary China are different depending on their location and ethnicity. The area where the differentiated treatment of China’s citizenship is mostly reflected is the passport control. This is because in the context of globalization, more and more China’s citizens, be them Han or non-Han, tend to go abroad for various reasons. For Muslims, Uyghur, Hui, and others, passport is necessary to make a Hajj possible, one of the five pillars of their religion. By China’s constitution and laws, all citizens residing in China in theory should have equal access to the passport except the convicted. In reality, however, in Beijing, one can obtain one’s passport within 7 work days or 1 week; in central China, one may obtain one’s passport from 2 weeks to 3 months, depending on one’s ethnicity and destiny; in northwest, one may get one’s passport from 1 to 6 months, depending on one’s ethnicity, Time (to avoid Hajj time), and destiny (to avoid Islamic countries); in Xinjiang, one may never get one’s passport as long as he/she is a Uyghur.
My (non-Han) friend’s parents from northwest China deposited ￥ 1000 to apply for passport even to visit my friend in the U.S. and the “deposit” is never returned. For those Muslims who have no guanxi and/or extra money for bribe, there is no hope to go abroad at all. In this context, one can understand the desperate psychology of common Muslims whose body movement has been tightly controlled by local police station. It seems that the violence in Xinjiang will never end as long as there is endless corruption among local police; although the violence of this kind is understood primarily in grand terms of ism, the nature of the conflict between the Uyghur and the “Han” (“state”) seems to be more materilistic and local than ideological and nationalistic.
A definition of 街道办事处, source: Wikipedia