After knife-wielding assailants dressed in black killed 29 people and injured 143 at the train station [in Kunming] on Saturday, shocking the nation with an act of unfathomable terror, Chinese authorities appeared eager to change the subject, Andrew Jacobs reports for the New York Times:
On Tuesday, upbeat coverage of the annual gathering of Communist Party leaders, which begins Wednesday in Beijing, dominated the website of nearly every news media outlet; reports that the police had just apprehended the remaining three suspects in the rampage was relegated to a brief dispatch issued by the state-run Xinhua news service.
Apart from releasing the name of the man said to be the ringleader of the “terrorist gang” from China’s far west Xinjiang region, the authorities have yet to provide details about the assailants, like names or hometowns or what might have prompted the six men and two women to carry out what the state news media calls China’s 9/11.
“It’s quite clear the government is trying to kill the story, deny it any air and shift attention elsewhere,” said James Leibold, a professor at La Trobe University in Australia who studies China’s ethnic policies.
Analysts outside China say the lack of transparency — as well as the authorities’ efforts to thwart reporting by foreign journalists in Xinjiang — impedes any meaningful examination of the motivating factors behind such bloodshed, including the possibility that religious restrictions, discrimination or draconian security measures in the region might be stoking Uighur discontent, Jacobs adds.
“When you think about the coverage of the Boston Marathon bombings, the American media immediately talked to the relatives of the suspects, helping the broader public understand how isolated these individuals were from the mainstream Muslim community,” said Prof. Dru C. Gladney, an anthropologist at Pomona College in California who studies Xinjiang. “By not providing more information, the government gives support to the stereotype that all Uighurs are terrorists.”
Wang Lixiong, a scholar who is one of the few Chinese intellectuals to openly criticize the government’s ethnic policies, said censorship and the lack of honest discourse about the problems in Xinjiang were self-defeating. In an essay posted online Monday, he said the government must also be held accountable for the cycle of violence that he predicted would one day lead to all-out conflict between Han and Uighur. He also urged his compatriots to look past the official talk and their own anti-Uighur attitudes and bigotry to understand what drives the mounting bloodshed.
“Of course we condemn such acts of terrorism, but we must recognize that many of them spring from ethnic oppression,” he said in a phone interview. “If we don’t solve the problem of oppression, but instead continue it, in the end we will be completely defeated.”