A Uighur man in front of military police during a counter-terrorism drill in Xinjiang. Photo: Reuters
A Uighur man in front of military police during a counter-terrorism drill in Xinjiang. Photo: Reuters

China’s government wants Communist Party members and civil servants to live with Uighurs in Xinjiang province in a move to foster “social cohesion.”

There has been resistance to this idea from not only Uighurs, but also from civil servants. The new initiative is part of a host of measures being rolled out in the name of “promoting communication and interaction among different ethnic minorities.”

The People’s Daily reported on Wednesday that from September, more than 1.1 million civil servants in Xinjiang, most of whom were of the predominant Han race, had paired up with some 1.7 million Uighur, Kazakh and Hui people and families to disseminate Beijing’s policies and weed out extremism.

In prefectures like Kashgar, Hotan and Aksu in the most volatile parts of southern Xinjiang bordering Afghanistan and Pakistan, where Uighurs still make up nearly half of the local population – a region hit by a string of terrorist attacks over the years – government employees were told to move into the homes of local Uighur families to “form bonds and brotherhood by living under the same roof.”

Uighurs call this campaign “a stranger-in-the-house surveillance scheme,” according to reports in Hong Kong newspapers.

Uighur men outside the Id Kah Mosque in Kashgar in China’s Xinjiang province.  The region is inhabited by several ethnic minorities including Muslim Uighurs who often clash with the central authorities. Photo: Asia Times

It was also reported that members of the local garrisons of the People’s Liberation Army, as well as those from the Xinjiang Armed Police Corps and the paramilitary Xinjiang Production and Construction Corps, had conducted “home visits” to 49 million ethnic residents throughout the region.

The home visits and the living-together program were first implemented in these southern prefectures two years ago and are now being rolled out across Xinjiang, including in the capital city Urumqi.

There, some government employees had to sleep in staircases or book rooms in nearby hotels at their own expense after the Uighur family they were assigned to live with refused to let them in.

Tensions were also mounting in some Uighur communities in Urumqi after intrusions by Han people. In the past, residents of different races in the city tended to congregate in their own communities to minimize conflicts arising from different religious beliefs and customs.

These latest moves have brewed more uncertainty at an already sensitive time in Urumqi after Beijing abruptly axed the director of the State Energy Administration, Nur Bekri, a Uighur, who once served as the city’s mayor and chairman of the Xinjiang Uighur Autonomous Region government.

But Xinjiang’s party chief Chen Quanguo is determined to press ahead.

Chen, a Han Chinese whose iron-fisted approach to stopping Buddhists from self-immolation won praise from Beijing during his tenure in neighboring Tibet, said at a recent meeting that the home visits and living-together policy as well as the re-education camps for Uighur families must continue at all costs.

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