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China: Are syringe attacks terrorism?

Categories: East Asia, China, Development, Ethnicity & Race, Indigenous, Protest

Xinjiang [1] in northwestern China has been offline since the riots [2] involving hundreds of Uighurs on July 5 and netizen reports are scarce, but with several hundred syringe attacks [3] having taken place since, leading Han [4] residents of Ürümqi [5] to take to the streets over the past few days, dialogue doesn't seem to be a priority.

Photos from the streets of Ürümqi have been posted to discussion board website Paowang, however, on September 4th [6] and 5th [7].

Why resort to syringe attacks? nkpoper at Bullog International considers [8] the resistance struggle perspective:

新疆又出事了。

这次好像没人说“新疆扎针案是中共的阴谋”了吧?珍珠港有人说阴谋,911有人说阴谋,75有人说阴谋…嗯,最后一条有人说得还有鼻子有眼,我也只能说“按道理说不是”,没处核实去。

当时我就想,要是这回60周年,维族人把XXX给炸飞了,保不定也有人说是阴谋呢!现在出了扎针事件,有了这个铺垫,万一XXX飞了,也许还可以不算阴谋,纵做鬼,也幸福啊。

More trouble in Xinjiang.

Doesn't look like anyone's saying this time though that these syringe attacks were a CCP [9] conspiracy. People said Pearl Harbor was a conspiracy, people said 9/11 was a conspiracy, and people said the July 5 riots were a conspiracy…even supplying all the details, but all I can say is, that doesn't make sense, and I have no way to confirm.

But it got me thinking, if Uighurs blow up Zhongnanhai [10] during the 60th anniversary of the founding of the People's Republic of China [11], you never know, people might see a conspiracy in that too! Now with these syringe attacks, there's something to go by, and if by some small chance Zhongnanhai does get blown up, it might just not be a conspiracy, but people up to no good, and happily at that.

虽然没看到阴谋论,不过针对此事却有毛左式的语言冒出来:毛泽东说过“哪儿有压迫,哪儿就有反抗。”这哪儿对哪儿啊!汉人游行倒算反抗,但游行的由头却是扎针,扎针既不能算压迫,也不能算反抗。要真是想引用名人的语录,希特勒倒是有句比较沾边的:“恐怖只能用恐怖来对抗。”

不过,我可要声明:希特勒这句话只是沾边而已,未必贴切,更不能说就该这么干。我只想重申那个最基本的逻辑:

在斗争中犯规也许不可避免,尤其是激烈的斗争。象二战,各方都用过很多过激的手段。但是象75事件那样纯粹地指向平民,那就绝对不可接受了。制造这种恐怖的人是不值得任何同情的,任何同情都只能鼓励他继续制造恐怖。75如此,扎针事件也如此。

Though I haven't seen any conspiracy theories, Maoist-style language has popped up over this incident: Mao Zedong once said, “wherever there is oppression, there will also be resistance.” Just who are we talking about here though? Han rallying on the street, that counts as resistance, but the cause of the cause of the protests was the syringe attacks, and syringe attacks don't really count as oppression, but not resistance either. If people really want to quote some great figure, Hitler actually has one line that quite fits here: “only terror is capable of smashing terror.”

However, to make myself clear, this Hitler quote only fits this situation, which isn't to say it's appropriate, and definitely isn't what should be done. I'm merely reiterating that most base of logic:

Violation in the midst of struggle may be inevitable, particularly in fierce struggle. Like WWII, wherein all parties resorted to extreme measures. But with the July 5 riots, aimed solely at civilians, such measures are completely unacceptable. The people manufacturing this kind of terror don't deserve any sympathy; any sympathy they are given will only encourage them to continue creating terror. That was the case with the July 5 riots, and that's the case now with the syringe attacks.
[…]

Can low-grade terror tactics be justified and should Wang Lequan [12] step down, as so many Han have demanded this past week? Roland Soong comments at EastSouthNorthWest on his translation of opinions expressed in Hong Kong media by two mainland (both also active bloggers) voices on Xinjiang issues in his September 4 post, The Xinjiang Syringe Riots [13]:

Central University of Nationalities (in Beijing) Uighur associate professor Ilham pointed out that the 7.5 incident had been violently suppressed and Xinjiang is now under high-pressure policies now. Therefore, it can be expected that the Uighurs should use methods such as syringe attacks to take revenge. He believes that it is not enough to use force to heal the hurt in the hearts of the Uighur people.

The Han writer Huang Zhangjin who studies the Xinjiang problem pointed out the authorities have failed to recognize their mistake after the 7.5 incident and continues to lock down information. “The syringe revenge attacks have been circulated around for quite some time and the citizens are scared. They wouldn't allow this to be reported until after the attacks exploded. How can this satisfy the anger of the citizens?” Huang Zhangjin believes that in order to calm down the tense situation in Xinjiang now, the best thing is to relief Wang Lequan from his job. “The mistakes in the ethnic policies may not have been created by him, but only he can be the scapegoat that can relieve the angers of the Uighurs and the Hans and bring them down the road to reconciliation.”

(ESWN Comments: These are extraordinary comments. On the first comment, it would seem that most people regard it as wrong to use syringe to attack people at random and sow terror. This is called terrorism (“premeditated, politically motivated violence perpetrated against noncombatant targets by sub-national groups or clandestine agents”). Instead, the comment seems to justify the use of terrorism. This is not going to convince many people.

On the second comment, Wang Lequan is proposed as the scapegoat to be sacrificed for the sake of reconciliation between the Hans and the Uighurs. But why is Wang Lequan unsatisfactory to the Uighurs and the Hans? Because both sides perceived Wang to be tilted towards the other side and they want someone who tilts more to their side. Why were water bottles thrown at Wang Lequan during his speech? Because he promised “severely punishing the criminals in accordance with the law” and the demonstrators did not consider this good enough. To appease these Han demonstrators, the replacement would have to be even more oppressive and draconian, which would upset the Uighurs even more. So the idea of scapegoat will only postpone the problem temporarily. It isn't going to lead to reconciliation.)

Possibly related, an anonymous netizen account of the recent situation in Xinjiang, ‘Just back from Xinjiang, the situation there is far more severe than can be imagined’ [14], appeared online on Saturday and received more circulation Sunday:

31号到新疆,4号离开,基本都在乌鲁木齐和石河子。先说说看到听到的各种见闻:

1. 老王没啥前途了,不管他有多么辉煌的历史,现在一切都完了,原因就一个:所有的老百姓,包括汉族和各少数民族,都不信任他,都在骂,让他滚。传闻:75出事时在招待一个山东代表团,喝高了。。。93出来安抚群众,挨了矿泉水瓶。。。最新听到的替代人选是强卫,团派,有化工,纪检,边疆经验,各项指标位居前列,热门人选。

2. 75的反应远没有某些人所说的处置及时,出租司机说,警察都在挨打,根本顾不上救人。。。到了76还有数人结伙的歹徒在闹事,77的反击也比原先听到的规模更大,人,饭店,清真寺,都砸的不轻。最郁闷的一个传闻:牺牲的战士,最紧急时对天开了三枪,没子弹了。。。靠。。。希望是假的。。。

3. 乌市乱得很,乌洽会只办了两天就停摆。93当天,乌市全面戒严,准出不准进,只有新A牌照车在严查后可以进,机场火车站必须出示机票车票,否则一律免进。我们正好在石河子参加招标,来的人说高速路上几十辆军车满载荷枪实弹的战士往乌市方向疾驰,走的一个哥们更惨,想去市里结果到处封路,转悠了十几个小时只能回石河子。

I arrived in Xinjiang on August 31 and left September 4, with most of my time spent in Ürümqi and Shixenze. First I'll just say what I saw and heard:

1. Old Wang Lequan has no future there, irregardless of how splendid his past was, that's all gone now and for one reason only: all people, including Han and all the ethnic minorities, do not trust him, are cursing him out, want him to scram. There's a rumor: when the July 5 riots broke, he was hosting a representative group from [Wang's home] Shandong province, and very drunk. When he came out to placate the crowds on September 3, people threw water bottles at him…the last I heard was that Qiang Wei [15] has been chosen to replace him: he's from the Youth League Faction [16], has a chemical engineering background, experience in the central discipline inspection commission, border control, and his outstanding performance makes him a hot candidate.

2. Certain people weren't as quick as they said in responding to the July 5 riots; taxi drivers said that police were being attacked all over, unable to help people needing saving…by July 6 thugs had ganged up and were making trouble; the Han backlash on July 7 was far bigger than was originally understood: people, hotels, mosques, all damaged quite badly. The most depressing rumor is that the soldiers who were martyred who, when things were at at their worst, went to fire three warning shots in the air, were out of bullets…damn…I hope that isn't true…

3. Ürümqi is a mess. The Urumqi Fair had to stop after just two days. On September 3, all of Ürümqi was locked down, nobody allowed in or out, only vehicles with ‘Xinjiang A’ license plates were allowed through the tight inspection points, and all people at the airport and train station were required to show their seat tickets to get on board. We were in Shixenze to participate in an invitation for bidding, and people there said the highways were full of manned emergency army trucks rushing into Ürümqi. One guy who left got it bad, he went to head into the city but all the roads were blocked; after being stuck for more than ten hours, he had no choice but to head back to Shixenze.

4. 31号到新疆的时候就听说有歹徒在扎黑针,捅黑刀,尤其是对上学的孩子们下手,很多大人没办法只能不上班,给孩子们当保镖。让人无法接受的是,乌市8月5 号以来就有这样的事件发生,石河子也有传闻,一个来月,愈演愈烈,ZF不说毫无举措吧,至少是办案不力,怎么让老百姓信任?93当天在石河子至少有三个出租司机说,我们宾馆对面的小区里当天有两人被扎,有人说被杀。。。

5. 歹徒们放话,75只是开始,国庆之前,还有大动作。。。

6. 当地人的生活虽然受到影响,但都对这样的事情有心理准备,生产生活还都算正常,有钱的都想走,流动的人包括我们这些来做业务的,在街上也看不出什么异常,但心里总是紧张,终于明白啥叫笼罩在恐怖气氛里了。

4. When I got to Xinjiang on August 31, I heard that thugs were pricking people with dirty needles, dirty blades, even targeting children on their way to school; many adults had no choice but to stay home from work and be bodyguards for their children. What's unacceptable is that these things began on August 5, similar rumors in Shixenze, and things continued to worsen for a month, with no word from the government of any response, meaning at the very least that they couldn't handle the situation, so how are people supposed to trust them? On September 3 no fewer than three taxi drivers in Shixenze told me that two people had been pricked that day in the neighborhood across from our hotel, someone said someone had been killed…

5. The hooligans have said that July 5 was just the beginning, and that something big is yet to come before the October 1 National Day celebrations…

6. Despite the impact on the lives of locals, most are prepared for something like this, and life is more or less going on as normal; those with money want to leave, and those getting out includes types like us just visiting on business. Nothing too out of the ordinary can be seen on the streets, but I was perpetually nervous, and now I finally understand what it means to be in the midst of a cloud of terror.