News is trickling out of China this morning about riots in Xinjiang Province that have resulted in the deaths of 12 people. The official news agency for the Chinese government Xinhua News Agency, has released sparse details about the violence in the town of Hotan near Kashgar.
The province of Xinjiang has seen civil unrest over the past few years as the primarily Muslim population has seen an influx of Han Chinese into their area. This has led to accusations of economic marginalization and discrimination and repression of the Uighur culture and religion.
Radio Free Asia reported on February 21 that illegal activities were being targeted in the region as part of a security crackdown prior to the March national legislative convening. As part of the crackdown places of worship were closed and people were fined for various offences such as wearing traditional Uighur dress.
Dilxat Raxit speaking on behalf of the World Uyghur Congress was quoted on RFA:
"China has closed more than 200 places of worship in Hotan and detained 129 people, as well as issued fines to nearly 3,000 people," Radio Free Asia
Violence and the death toll in the restive province has been mounting, particularly since 2009 when widespread violence took many lives. Those pushing for independence from the PRC have alleged that thousands have been disappeared in that aftermath. Others have sought asylum in other countries. The headquarters for the exiled World Uyghur Congress is in Munich, Germany.
It is unlikely that the central Chinese government will entertain the ambitions of the “splitists” in Xinjiang Province. The province is a store house of mineral wealth including iron-ore, coal, oil and natural gas. Its topography and abundant water lends itself to the development of hydro-electric power as well.
Xinjiang Province is the site of the nuclear weapons test facility at Lop Nor(Lop Nur).
This far west province also shares its borders with eight countries making it a strategic possession for Chinese security.
And last but definitely not least, allowing Xinjiang to regain its independence from the central government would give hope and impetus to the independence movement in Tibet.