March 1st. It was a warm balmy Saturday evening in Kunming, China when it happened. It was just like any other day, with tourists streaming into the tropical province of Yunnan’s capital city and commuters rushing back home from their weekend jobs. The Kunming Railway Station, a tall glass building, was bustling with activity when it happened. It was around 9:20 PM when it started, with maybe a scream, a maniacal yell, or a cold hiss of a blade cutting through air. A gang of more than 10, all clothed in black and armed with knives more than a foot long, stormed into the lobby and started hacking indiscriminately at unarmed civilians. As the bloodbath ensued, civilians desperately tried to protect themselves with whatever objects they could lay their hands on, including metal rods and fire extinguishers. After the police descended onto the scene and killed four of the terrorists and captured a fifth, 34 were found dead and more than 100 were wounded.
March 1st. It was a warm balmy Saturday evening in Kunming, China when it happened. It was just like any other day, with tourists streaming into the tropical province of Yunnan’s capital city and commuters rushing back home from their weekend jobs. The Kunming Railway Station, a tall glass building, was bustling with activity when it happened. It was around 9:20 PM when it started, with maybe a scream, a maniacal yell, or a cold hiss of a blade cutting through air. A gang of more than 10, all clothed in black and armed with knives more than a foot long, stormed into the lobby and started hacking indiscriminately at unarmed civilians. As the bloodbath ensued, civilians desperately tried to protect themselves with whatever objects they could lay their hands on, including metal rods and fire extinguishers. After the police descended onto the scene and killed four of the terrorists and captured a fifth, 34 were found dead and more than 100 were wounded.
In China’s worst terrorist attack and episode of ethnic violence since the 2009 Urumqi Riots, the Kunming Massacre has sent shockwaves throughout the country. Described as China’s “9/11,” the attack caught even the Chinese government completely by surprise. Although the motivation behind the attacks, Xinjiang independence, was already recognized as an issue by the PRC government, officials did not anticipate a highly orchestrated and merciless attack on the civilian populace. As the PRC was sent reeling after the incident, it is important to consider the reasons behind the attack and what proper steps China can take in order to prevent such acts of terrorism from continuing.

China is made up of 56 officially recognized ethnic groups, among which the Han Chinese is the most populous and thus dominant and recognizable to the West. One of the biggest minority ethnic groups is the Uyghurs, a mostly Muslim Central Asian peoples that inhabit the largest and westernmost territory of China, Xinjiang. Xinjiang, which means “new frontier” in Mandarin, was always in and out of Imperial China’s boundaries, constituting a large part of the ancient Silk Road. It was not until 1884 that it became part of China, when the Qing Dynasty officially annexed it as a territory of the Chinese Empire. In 1955, after the Communists took over China, Xinjiang was converted into an autonomous region for major ethnic minorities. However, the Chinese government enforced a migration policy that shipped Hans to Xinjiang, lowering the percentage of Uyghurs in Xinjiang from 95% from before Chinese annexation to 40% in 2008. The Hans, who were mostly from higher socioeconomic backgrounds, usurped many of the high-income jobs in Xinjiang, disgruntling the Uyghur populace.
Although Xinjiang was technically autonomous, a good part of Xinjiang desired complete separation from China and has resorted to violence to achieve it. In 2009, separatists rocked Urumqi, the capital of Xinjiang, with extremely violent riots that killed many Han civilians that were living in Xinjiang at the time. One of the more notable separatist groups, the East Turkestan Islamic Movement, is even classified as a terror group by the US Treasury Department.
With growing Uyghur-Han ethnic violence, Han civilians are growing more and more distrustful of Uyghur people. Much like how anti-Arab sentiment skyrocketed in the US after 9/11, the Chinese population has begun to keep watch on the Uyghurs. In Kashgar, Xinjiang, almost half of positions advertised on a reputable job listings website explicitly stated that Turkic-speaking Uyghurs need not apply. Xinjiang’s booming gas and oil economies have left the Uyghurs behind, enlisting only Mandarin-speaking Hans. Even security and governmental jobs have discriminated against the Uyghurs. Distrust not only exists in the workplace but has extended to government protections. Security officials harshly interrogate any Uyghurs that go or return from abroad. Laws have been implemented that prevent women from wearing scarves and men from growing long beards, religious commandments incumbent on many Uyghurs. Muslim college students are forced to eat during Ramadan. Public employees that stop work for prayer have on occasion been promptly dismissed. Assimilation programs have been instituted in schools to more or less wipe out Uyghur culture and language. Hans settling in Xinjiang mostly live in heavily guarded complexes, where policemen routinely profile Uyghurs, even prohibiting them from sitting in the front seat of taxis, ostensibly to lower crime rates.
The discrimination against Uyghurs and growing divide between the Han and Uyghur civilian populations implies one potential solution to the ethnic terrorism. It appears that mutual exposure is necessary to help the rancor between the two ethnic groups. It is becoming increasingly clear that the Han Chinese effort to merge the two populations is counterproductive, instead worsening relations between the two ethnic groups. In order to combat the terrorism, the government must at least consider a more peaceful reconciliation of the two ethnicities. What is the Communist government actually doing however?
Just like the steps the United States took after 9/11, China has stepped up its civilian monitoring systems and established committees specializing in internal security. Terrorist attacks are rare in China, with the Kunming one being the only major incident occurring outside of Xinjiang. In Xinjiang, police maintain a comprehensive web of paid informants, and wiretap cell phone conversations, in order to keep a finger on underground terrorist activities. It is easy to imagine the Chinese government and provincial police departments adopting similar measures. However, the biggest steps China has taken are military ones. The Uyghur-dominated neighborhoods in Kunming  have been kept under surveillance by heavy SWAT teams and police presence ever since the attack. Checkpoints have been established in many Uyghur neighborhoods across Yunnan, with armed policemen regularly asking Uyghur shop owners for their identification papers.
Although China certainly has the political legitimacy to conduct its extreme measures to combat Uyghur separatism and terrorism, it must realize the steps it is taking are counterproductive. Currently, China is trying to prevent what happened to the Soviet Union in 1986 when the it appeased Kazakh separatists by appointing a Kazakh as governor and giving in to many of the Kazakhs’ political demands. After other ethnic groups in the USSR saw what happened, they also took action and began protests that eventually unraveled the Union. However, Chinese actions seem to be just kicking the can further down the road. As the government severely punishes and discriminates against Uyghurs, it is taking exactly the opposite action of what the Soviets did.
That does not mean it will be successful. In fact, ethnic suppression through socioeconomic and political discrimination has a long history of eventually generating costly and bloody conflicts, such as in Yugoslavia. In order to combat terrorism, the PRC government must realize that Uyghur people and Uyghur terrorists are two different entities. Punishing the majority for the actions of a few resembles the British actions that prompted the American Revolution. Although appeasement is something China wants to avoid, appeasement is not the same as cooperation. If China takes steps to empathize with the Uyghur population and work together to solve the problem, as idealistic as it sounds, I believe that will be the ultimate solution to the ethnic violence. By segregating the two populations, China is only leading to future problems within the country. China simply must confront the problem head-on with an open mind for cooperation with the Uyghurs.
 In China’s worst terrorist attack and episode of ethnic violence since the 2009 Urumqi Riots, the Kunming Massacre has sent shockwaves throughout the country. Described as China’s “9/11,” the attack caught even the Chinese government completely by surprise. Although the motivation behind the attacks, Xinjiang independence, was already recognized as an issue by the PRC government, officials did not anticipate a highly orchestrated and merciless attack on the civilian populace. As the PRC was sent reeling after the incident, it is important to consider the reasons behind the attack and what proper steps China can take in order to prevent such acts of terrorism from continuing.

China is made up of 56 officially recognized ethnic groups, among which the Han Chinese is the most populous and thus dominant and recognizable to the West. One of the biggest minority ethnic groups is the Uyghurs, a mostly Muslim Central Asian peoples that inhabit the largest and westernmost territory of China, Xinjiang. Xinjiang, which means “new frontier” in Mandarin, was always in and out of Imperial China’s boundaries, constituting a large part of the ancient Silk Road. It was not until 1884 that it became part of China, when the Qing Dynasty officially annexed it as a territory of the Chinese Empire. In 1955, after the Communists took over China, Xinjiang was converted into an autonomous region for major ethnic minorities. However, the Chinese government enforced a migration policy that shipped Hans to Xinjiang, lowering the percentage of Uyghurs in Xinjiang from 95% from before Chinese annexation to 40% in 2008. The Hans, who were mostly from higher socioeconomic backgrounds, usurped many of the high-income jobs in Xinjiang, disgruntling the Uyghur populace.

Although Xinjiang was technically autonomous, a good part of Xinjiang desired complete separation from China and has resorted to violence to achieve it. In 2009, separatists rocked Urumqi, the capital of Xinjiang, with extremely violent riots that killed many Han civilians that were living in Xinjiang at the time. One of the more notable separatist groups, the East Turkestan Islamic Movement, is even classified as a terror group by the US Treasury Department.

With growing Uyghur-Han ethnic violence, Han civilians are growing more and more distrustful of Uyghur people. Much like how anti-Arab sentiment skyrocketed in the US after 9/11, the Chinese population has begun to keep watch on the Uyghurs. In Kashgar, Xinjiang, almost half of positions advertised on a reputable job listings website explicitly stated that Turkic-speaking Uyghurs need not apply. Xinjiang’s booming gas and oil economies have left the Uyghurs behind, enlisting only Mandarin-speaking Hans. Even security and governmental jobs have discriminated against the Uyghurs. Distrust not only exists in the workplace but has extended to government protections. Security officials harshly interrogate any Uyghurs that go or return from abroad. Laws have been implemented that prevent women from wearing scarves and men from growing long beards, religious commandments incumbent on many Uyghurs. Muslim college students are forced to eat during Ramadan. Public employees that stop work for prayer have on occasion been promptly dismissed. Assimilation programs have been instituted in schools to more or less wipe out Uyghur culture and language. Hans settling in Xinjiang mostly live in heavily guarded complexes, where policemen routinely profile Uyghurs, even prohibiting them from sitting in the front seat of taxis, ostensibly to lower crime rates.

The discrimination against Uyghurs and growing divide between the Han and Uyghur civilian populations implies one potential solution to the ethnic terrorism. It appears that mutual exposure is necessary to help the rancor between the two ethnic groups. It is becoming increasingly clear that the Han Chinese effort to merge the two populations is counterproductive, instead worsening relations between the two ethnic groups. In order to combat the terrorism, the government must at least consider a more peaceful reconciliation of the two ethnicities. What is the Communist government actually doing however?

Just like the steps the United States took after 9/11, China has stepped up its civilian monitoring systems and established committees specializing in internal security. Terrorist attacks are rare in China, with the Kunming one being the only major incident occurring outside of Xinjiang. In Xinjiang, police maintain a comprehensive web of paid informants, and wiretap cell phone conversations, in order to keep a finger on underground terrorist activities. It is easy to imagine the Chinese government and provincial police departments adopting similar measures. However, the biggest steps China has taken are military ones. The Uyghur-dominated neighborhoods in Kunming  have been kept under surveillance by heavy SWAT teams and police presence ever since the attack. Checkpoints have been established in many Uyghur neighborhoods across Yunnan, with armed policemen regularly asking Uyghur shop owners for their identification papers.

Although China certainly has the political legitimacy to conduct its extreme measures to combat Uyghur separatism and terrorism, it must realize the steps it is taking are counterproductive. Currently, China is trying to prevent what happened to the Soviet Union in 1986 when the it appeased Kazakh separatists by appointing a Kazakh as governor and giving in to many of the Kazakhs’ political demands. After other ethnic groups in the USSR saw what happened, they also took action and began protests that eventually unraveled the Union. However, Chinese actions seem to be just kicking the can further down the road. As the government severely punishes and discriminates against Uyghurs, it is taking exactly the opposite action of what the Soviets did.

That does not mean it will be successful. In fact, ethnic suppression through socioeconomic and political discrimination has a long history of eventually generating costly and bloody conflicts, such as in Yugoslavia. In order to combat terrorism, the PRC government must realize that Uyghur people and Uyghur terrorists are two different entities. Punishing the majority for the actions of a few resembles the British actions that prompted the American Revolution. Although appeasement is something China wants to avoid, appeasement is not the same as cooperation. If China takes steps to empathize with the Uyghur population and work together to solve the problem, as idealistic as it sounds, I believe that will be the ultimate solution to the ethnic violence. By segregating the two populations, China is only leading to future problems within the country. China simply must confront the problem head-on with an open mind for cooperation with the Uyghurs.