In the days after a major terror attack in Kunming, state media outlets are calling for a united front to combat terror and warning against excusing the attackers or criticizing the government’s policies on minorities.
On the evening of March 1, a group of assailants armed with large knives stormed the main train station in Kunming, the capital of the southwestern province of Yunnan, and killed twenty-nine people. Some 143 were injured.
Authorities say this was a terror attack launched by extremists from the northwestern Xinjiang Uighur Autonomous Region, which is home to the Uighur ethnic group whose religion is Islam and language is Turkic. The Kunming city government said evidence at the scene indicates separatists from Xinjiang were responsible. No details were provided.
The official Xinhua News Agency ran an editorial the day after the attack that called it “China’s 9/11,” condemning it as an “undisguised challenge against human nature and peace.”
The Global Times echoed this view. “The slaughter at the crowded railway station is a deadly incident of violence,” its editorial said. “The inhumane and brutal attack is not about ethnic conflict, but an act of terrorism in accordance with the modern international definition of terror.”
The next day the Global Times ran an editorial headlined: “Iron Fist Needed to Fight Against Violent Terror.” It said the attack could not be used as a reason to question policies. “A few people, including some opinion leaders in the cyber world, have criticized the government and the system for being the reasons behind violent terror. Such voices, undermining the united opinion front against terror, have to be cleaned up.”
Meanwhile, the Dongfang Daily of Shanghai pleaded for calm in an editorial headlined: “Continue to Eat at Xinjiang Restaurants.” It said people should treat Uighur migrant workers from Xinjiang as usual because “a small group of terrorists cannot represent the 20 million compatriots in Xinjiang. Associating terrorism with a certain place, ethnicity, or religion will only create more enemies.”
Many users of Sina Weibo, the country’s version of Twitter, took exception to coverage of the attack by foreign news outlets like CNN, the Associated Press, and the Washington Post. Many people were annoyed that the word terrorist was placed in quotes, interpreting the punctuation as questioning whether they were really terrorists, then went further to say it indicated a bias against China. People’s Daily picked up on the uproar on social media, condemning Western media for being “hypocritical and cold.”
The incident has prompted discussion about the government’s policies in Xinjiang. The Global Times says that since Zhang Chunxian became the region’s Communist Party chief in 2010, policies have been more moderate. But Pan Zhiping, a research fellow with the region’s Academy of Social Sciences said economic aid is not helping to rein in terror attacks and the government should not rely on development to fix political problems.
Turgunjan Tursun, also a research fellow at the region’s major think tank, said the previous “heavy hand” policy failed and the new approach needed more time to prove itself. “The emergence of violence follows long-term accumulation and the current terrorist attacks are a result of the previous policy instead of the current one,” he said. “The Xinjiang policy will be adjusted and improved as the situation develops, but will never return to the previous one.”
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