On Friday, China’s Foreign Ministry announced Friday that a Chinese national, who was reported as being held hostage by the Islamic State (IS) group, appears to be one of its missing citizens. Earlier this week, IS, which controls territory in Iraq and Syria, published two photographs of men whom they called “prisoners” in its English-language magazine Dabiq. In the magazine, the militant group indicated that one of the hostages was from Norway while the other was a Chinese man identified as Fan Jingui. It shows Fan, who has been identified as a 50-year-old “freelance consultant” from Beijing, against a black background wearing a yellow top. He provides a telegram number for anyone who wishes to pay his ransom. It remains unclear where he is being held and the magazine did not give a ransom amount.
Speaking on Friday to reporters at a regular press briefing, Foreign Ministry spokesman Hong Lei disclosed that “after initial verification of the relevant media reports of the two hostages, one of them matches the characteristics of a Chinese citizen who has gone missing overseas.” Hong has disclosed that China had launched an emergency response mechanism and reiterated that the Chinese government is firmly opposed to violence against innocent civilians.
In the past, Chinese citizens have been held hostage overseas before, including in Africa and in Pakistan. According to Pakistani officials, a Chinese tourist kidnapped in Pakistan by the Taliban more than a year ago was freed in August, as a result of an intelligence operation.
As China commemorates the 70th anniversary of the end of World War II with a massive parade through the centre of Beijing’s Tiananmen Square, President Xi Jinping has shocked world leaders by announcing his intention to cut 300,000 troops from the Peoples Liberation Army (PLA). While he gave no timeframe for this reduction in China’s military might, it is worth remembering that even with 300,000 fewer troops, Xi and his successors will still be able to command a force of around 2 million troops, the world’s largest standing army by a substantial margin. Xi gave no reason for the cutback, instead stating enigmatically that the PLA’s mission was to defend China and “uphold the sacred task of ensuring world peace.”
In a speech which preceded a highly choreographed show of 12,000 marching troops, missiles, tanks and jet fighter flyovers, Xi stressed China’s commitment to peace and regional security. Despite the enormous and slightly contradictory show of military muscle, Xi maintained that hegemony and expansion were the furthest things from his mind. “We Chinese love peace. No matter how much stronger it may become, China will never seek hegemony or expansion. It will never inflict its past suffering on any other nation,” Xi said to the crowd of handpicked guests, including 1,000 foreign troops who for the first time had been allowed to take part in the parade.
In spite of his protestations that China will remain committed to peaceful development, the thrust of his speech and the parade which followed it could not have been clearer. It sent a message to those at home and abroad – especially to Japan – that China’s military might, and his own abilities as a statesman and commander-in-chief, should not be underestimated.
Guo Boxiong, a former general in the People’s Liberation Army, has been expelled from the Chinese Communist Party and placed under investigation for graft, becoming the most senior military figure to be targeted in President Xi Jinping’s high profile anti-corruption campaign.
For thirteen years, Guo and Xu Caihou – another senior military figure expelled from the Party for corruption – all but controlled the People’s Liberation Army under Jiang Zemin, a former general secretary of the CCP and president and chairman of the Central Military Commission (CMC). With Jiang’s assistance, Guo became a Politburo member and, in 2004, first vice chairman of the CMC.
Xinhua, the Chinese Communist Party’s (CCP) official mouthpiece said that Guo has been accused of accepting bribes in exchange for favours while serving as vice chairman of the CMC. While no mention has yet been made of specific crimes he is believed to have committed or of individuals who might have benefited from his patronage, the CCP’s Politburo has said in a statement that “[a]n investigation has found that Guo Boxiong exploited his positions to seek gain for others through postings and promotions,” and that he “directly or through family members accepted bribes, gravely violating party discipline.”
The decision to mount a criminal investigation into these allegations is, according to the Politburo, proof that no official, however exalted his position, is immune from prosecution. “No matter what power one holds or how high one’s position is, if a person violates Party rules and law, he or she should be hunted down without compromise and without mercy,” the council has said. In recent months, Xi’s ongoing interest in rooting out top level corruption – or “fighting tigers” to use his own coinage – has been the subject of intense speculation. Guo’s dismissal from the Party and inevitable prosecution for corruption will no doubt assuage some of these fears.
Guo’s eventual downfall was presaged earlier this year by a corruption probe into the activities of his son, Major-General Guo Zhenggang, the deputy political commissar of the military in the eastern province of Zhejiang, and his younger brother, Guo Boquan, head of the Shaanxi Civil Affairs Bureau.
This morning, Wednesday November 6th, a homemade bomb detonated outside the headquarters of the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) in Shanxi province, northern China, killing one person. The attack comes amidst tight security across China, with sensitive official meetings due later this week that may see radical overhauls to China’s economy, and in the wake of last week’s suicide attack in Tiananmen Square by Uighur Muslims.
At around 7:40 am, reports indicate seven homemade explosive devices detonated outside the provincial headquarters of the CCP in Taiyuan, capital of Shanxi province. One person was killed and 8 were injured, one critically. The devices were apparently planted in flower beds outside the building, and detonated as government workers began to arrive for the day. Images widely distributed on Chinese social media show metal pellets and ball bearings that were reportedly scattered across the area after the explosions. No individual or group has yet claimed responsibility for the attack.
The incident comes at a politically sensitive time for China. Top CCP leaders are due to meet on November 9th for a three day session (the ‘Third Plenum’ of the new leadership) to outline China’s economic and political direction for the next decade. This is widely expected to include a raft of major social and economic reforms, aimed at promoting economic liberalisation, tackling corruption and providing social security with the goal of moving China towards more stable economic growth. Previous Third Plenums in 1978 and 1993 were the source of the most sweeping economic reforms in recent Chinese history.
Security across the country has also been stepped up following last week’s suicide attack in Tiananmen Square. In that incident, a car was driven into crowds of tourists before bursting into flames. The 3 occupants were killed along with a Japanese and Filipino tourist, while nearly 40 tourists and security personnel were injured. The attackers have been identified as Uighur Muslims, with the Chinese authorities calling it a terrorist attack and blaming the East Turkestan Islamic Movement, a Uighur terrorist group apparently with some loose connections to the Al Qaeda organisation. Uighurs are a large Muslim minority in China’s westernmost province of Xinjiang, and often complain of discrimination and repression. Terrorist attacks, riots and ethnic violence are not uncommon in the region, with Uighur extremists sometimes attacking targets outside Xinjiang as well.
However, homemade bombs and domestic terror attacks unrelated to the Uighur issue are a not entirely uncommon phenomenon in China. In 2009 two separate attacks on public transport systems by disgruntled citizens killed 26 and 24 people, while a man killed 47 people by setting alight a bus in Xiamen earlier this year. In September, a bomb exploded outside a school in Guilin, killing two and injuring more than 40. A disabled man was jailed last month for setting off a homemade bomb in Beijing airport in July. These incidents are often the result of disgruntled individuals who feel mistreated by the state bureaucracy, in issues ranging from criminal cases to land confiscations.
Following major ethnic violence and rioting last week, Chinese authorities appear to beginning a security crackdown in the remote and fractious Xinjiang province, in the far west of China. Xinjiang is the site of sporadic violence between the local Muslim Uighur population and authorities.
Paramilitary police and armoured vehicles have flooded the streets of Urumqi, the capital, and access to information in the province is even more strictly controlled than usual. Given that the 4 year anniversary of rioting that killed nearly 200 people is in 3 days, more violence and disorder is expected in the coming week. Though not commonly targeted in attacks, any foreigners in the region should exercise caution at all times and in particular avoid any demonstrations.
The most recent unrest began on Wednesday last week, in the township of Lukqun, about 200km southeast of Urumqi. Reports say a large mob, armed with knives, attacked several police stations and a government building, attacking individuals and setting police cars alight before the authorities opened fire. 35 people, including 9 security personnel, were killed in this incident. This was followed by an incident on Friday, in which more than 100 people riding motorcycles and armed with knives attacked a police station in the town of Hotan, though no-one was killed in this second incident.
Recent months have seen more occurrences of normally sporadic unrest. Of particular note is an incident at the end of April in the town of Selibuya, Kashgar province, in which 21 people died. 12 police officers were reportedly burned alive in this incident. The most serious unrest in recent years was in 2009, when nearly 200 people, mostly Han Chinese, were killed in widespread rioting.
Chinese authorities strictly control all media and information in Xinjiang, and accurately verifying facts surrounding incidents can be very difficult. Officially, Beijing blames ‘terrorists’ for any and all unrest, attributing it to separatist groups who want to establish an independent state of ‘East Turkestan’. It also typically attributes violence to the influence of foreigners in the province. In this recent incident, it has explicitly implicated the Syrian rebel movement, suggesting that the unrest was precipitated by Uighurs who have trained and fought in the Syrian civil war.
Despite the obvious bias of Chinese authorities in this matter, there is some truth to their claims that some Uighurs are connected with jihadist groups and similar. Al Qaeda has in the past threatened to attack Chinese targets following the deaths of Uighurs in Xinjiang, and over 20 Uighurs were detained following the 2001 invasion of Afghanistan and held in Guantanamo Bay. The small East Turkestan Independence Movement (ETIM) is reportedly affiliated with Al Qaeda and the Taliban in Afghanistan, and is classed as a terrorist organisation by the United Nations.
Nevertheless, the attitude of the Chinese authorities is also very likely a major contributing factor in ethnic unrest. While Xinjiang province has seen major investment following China’s economic growth, little of this appears to have benefited the ethnic Uighur population. Massive resettlement of Han Chinese has dramatically changed the ethnic demographics of the province, and Uighurs complain of losing jobs, confiscation of their land, an erosion of their traditional culture and of being deprived of their religious rights.
Xinjiang is in the far west of China, and has been controlled by various Chinese empires sporadically throughout history. Following a brief period of independence, it was brought under communist Chinese control in 1949. The province is extremely rich in resources, a fact that has brought increased investment by also increased immigration. Xinjiang’s population is now 43% Uighur and 40% Han.
While not commonly targeted in any unrest, foreigners in Xinjiang should maintain caution while in the province. Any demonstrations or protests should be avoided, particularly as the authorities typically respond harshly to any unrest. Foreigners may also encounter harassment and intimidation from state authorities, and should avoid taking pictures of sensitive incidents or locations.