BEIJING Chinese President Xi Jinping said on Saturday that China faces increasing threats to national security and warned of the dangers of terrorism in a speech indicating that Beijing could impose tougher controls on its ethnic minorities.
Xi told a study session of the party's decision-making Politburo "to resolutely stamp out the brazenness of the terrorists," the state-run Xinhua news agency said.
Xi's comments come at a sensitive time for China, as authorities battle unrest in the Tibetan regions and in Xinjiang, home to Muslim Uighurs.
Unrest in Xinjiang has led to the deaths of more than 100 people in the past year, prompting a tougher stance against the Muslim Uighur minority.
The government blames the violence in Xinjiang on Islamist militants and separatists who want to establish an independent state called East Turkestan in the far western region.
More than 120 Tibetans have set themselves on fire since 2009 to protest Beijing's rule, with many calling for the return of their exiled spiritual leader, the Dalai Lama.
Beijing says the self-immolators are "terrorists". Most have died from their injuries.
"We have to be clearly aware that in the new situation, our country is facing increasing threats and challenges to our national security and increasing threats to our social stability," Xi said.
The Chinese public must build a "wall of bronze and iron" to fight terrorism, and "make terrorists become like rats scurrying across a street, with everybody shouting 'beat them'," he said.
Xi called on officials to "properly resolve disputes affecting national unity and resolutely curb and combat hostile forces from outside and inside the country from using the ethnic issue to engage in separatist, infiltration and sabotage activities".
Xi did not refer to Tibetans or Uighurs, but his remarks reflect the rhetoric often used by party leaders when discussing ethnic unrest and underscore Beijing's anxiety about minority issues.
Human rights groups have said that Beijing tramples on the religious and cultural rights of Tibetans and Uighurs and enforces its rule with brutality. China says ethnic minorities enjoy broad freedoms.
Beijing has called the Dalai Lama, who fled to India after a failed uprising in 1959, a "wolf in sheep's clothing" who wants to establish an independent Tibet. The Dalai Lama says he wants autonomy for Tibet and denies advocating violence.
Security has been tightened in Xinjiang after a spate of deadly attacks, including an incident in the southwestern city of Kunming in March, in which at least 29 people were killed and 140 injured, blamed by Beijing on Uighur militants.
Last October, a vehicle ploughed into tourists on Beijing's Tiananmen Square, killing the three people in the car and two bystanders. Authorities said it was a suicide attack by militants from Xinjiang.
Xi's administration has intensified a crackdown on dissent. Beijing sparked an outcry from Western nations in January when police detained Ilham Tohti, a professor who has championed the rights of Uighurs.
(Reporting by Sui-Lee Wee;Editing by Lynne O'Donnell)