BEIJING College students in China's restive western Xinjiang region will not graduate unless their political views are approved, a university official said, as the country wages what school administrators called an ideological war against separatism.
Xinjiang is home to the Muslim Uighur ethnic group, many of whom resent controls imposed by Beijing and an inflow of Han Chinese migrants. Some Uighur groups are campaigning for an independent homeland for their people.
University officials from Xinjiang said their institutions were a frontline in a "life and death struggle" for the people's hearts and a main front in the battle against separatism, the ruling Communist Party's official newspaper in the region, the Xinjiang Daily, reported on Tuesday.
"Students whose political qualifications are not up to par must absolutely not graduate, even if their professional course work is excellent," said Xu Yuanzhi, the party secretary at Kashgar Teachers College in southern Xinjiang, which has been an epicenter for ethnic unrest.
It is unclear if such a policy has been officially implemented throughout the region.
"Ideology is a battlefield without gun smoke," Xinjiang Normal University President Weili Balati said.
"As university leaders, we have the responsibility to do more to help students and teachers properly understand and treat religion, ethnicity and culture and help them distinguish between right and wrong," he said.
China blamed the East Turkestan Islamic Movement (ETIM) for an attack on October 28, when a vehicle ploughed through bystanders on Tiananmen Square in Beijing and burst into flames, killing three people in the car and two bystanders.
Uighur exiles, rights groups and some experts have cast doubt on the official accounts of what China has deemed terror attacks and foreign reporting of the incident has discussed whether it was motivated by punitive ethnic policies.
An Islamist militant group has released a speech claiming responsibility for the incident, which China's Foreign Ministry said should silence those who are skeptical about the threat of terror within China's borders.
The Uighurs are culturally closer to ethnic groups across central Asia and Turkey than the Han Chinese who make up the vast majority of China's population.
(Reporting by Michael Martina)