China party urges Uighur youth to 'love motherland' to avoid 'terrorist' label

BEIJING (Reuters) - Young members of China’s Uighur Muslim minority should “love the motherland” and learn Mandarin to help fight a perception they are “terrorists”, Uighur members of the ruling Communist Party said in state media on Thursday.

Shopkeepers line up with wooden clubs to perform their daily anti-terror drill outside the bazaar in Kashgar, Xinjiang Uighur Autonomous Region, China, March 24, 2017. REUTERS/Thomas Peter

Sporadic violence, from knife attacks to riots to car bombs, have hit China’s far western region of Xinjiang in recent years. Most incidents are carried out by Uighurs, a mostly Muslim, Turkic-speaking minority who call the region home.

The government has responded with displays of military might, including regular “anti-terror” police rallies in various cities, most recently in the regional capital of Urumqi on Tuesday.

Four senior Uighur officials, writing in a front-page article in the official Xinjiang Daily newspaper, asked young people to reflect on why Uighurs are labeled “terrorists”.

“A small group of devils create violence and terror in order to split the motherland and destroy ethnic unity,” they said.

“Because of this, we regularly face round-upon-round of safety checks, sometimes we finding it hard to stay in hotels or to rent housing.”

Young Uighurs should reflect on how the party had created a “harmonious, prosperous, happy and safe” life for minorities in Xinjiang, they said, adding that a failure to grasp the nation’s common language of Mandarin was a “disgrace”.

“Siblings, the great motherland has granted us a blessed, heavenly life, how can we follow those devils to abandon our motherland?” they said.

Rights groups say restrictions on the culture and religion of Uighurs, combined with policies encouraging the Han minority to live and work in the region, foster tension that bubbles over into violence.

Beijing denies any repression and blames attacks on groups spreading “splittism” and “religious extremism” in the region.

Officials have also launched a propaganda campaign, asking people to “warmly love the party, motherland, and the big family of the Chinese people” and “oppose splittism, extremism and violence”.

Such campaigns are common, but in the current effort, an unusually large number of Uighur officials have come forward to ask fellow Uighurs to do more to support counterterrorism and to weed out “two-faced” people.

The new party secretary of the region, Chen Quanguo, has also beefed up already expansive security, increasing identification checks and expanding a network of police posts.

Reporting by Christian Shepherd; Editing by Robert Birsel