China is in the middle of a crackdown on the Uighurs, a mostly Muslim minority group which lives in the western Chinese province of Xinjiang. Authorities are yanking the passport of key Uighur communities, The New York Times reports:
The policy is an attempt by the authorities to combat a surge in ethnic violence in the region of Xinjiang by putting in place systemic restrictions on who is allowed to leave and enter China, particularly from the prefecture near the border. Tensions between ethnic Uighurs and the ruling ethnic Han, the dominant group in China, have been on the rise in the region in recent years. […]
The mandate on turning in passports was issued in Ili Kazakh Autonomous Prefecture, a large and rugged area of northern Xinjiang that has a diverse ethnic mix among its three million people, including Kazakhs, Uighurs and Mongolians. Official statistics say 63 percent are ethnic minorities and the rest are Han [the proper name for the majority Chinese ethnicity].
[Nicholas Bequelin, East Asia director of Amnesty International] said the restrictions were part of an array of counterinsurgency measures that have been rolled out by the authorities since Xi Jinping, the Chinese president and head of the Communist Party, began holding a series of meetings on Xinjiang policy since 2013.
A spate of Uighur knife attacks has Beijing worried about the rise of terrorism in its borders. Amid the Islamic State’s rise, it’s especially concerned that Uighur connections with Middle Eastern Muslims in places like neighboring Pakistan will lead to more Islamist violence within its own borders. This is a legitimate concern, and it raises interesting questions about China’s extremely warm relations with Pakistan. But Beijing’s Uighur policy is also, worryingly, part of a broader crackdown on Chinese religious minorities, including Christians, in the Xi era.
It remains to be seen how far China will take this, but with in light of Beijing’s other harsh moves to consolidate power under the rubric of nationalism and renewed “cultural revolution,” it may not be wise to expect much restraint.