September 17, 2008 / 9:41 AM / 11 years ago

China vows "preemptive strikes" on Xinjiang separatists

BEIJING, Sept 17 (Reuters) - China’s tense far-western region of Xinjiang will conduct a “re-education” drive against separatist unrest in the wake of attacks during the Olympics, with its Party chief vowing preemptive attacks on foes.

Wang Lequan, the hardline Communist Party boss, told officials that a sweeping propaganda campaign was needed to fight separatism in Xinjiang, where mostly Muslim Uighurs have bucked at Chinese influence and religious controls, the Xinjiang Daily reported on Wednesday.

Before and during the Beijing Olympics in August, the region that borders Pakistan and Afghanistan suffered several deadly attacks on security forces by separatist militants.

Critics of China’s policies in the remote region said there would be an official reckoning after the Games, and Wang’s fiery words seemed to confirm that prediction.

“We must always maintain a high-pressure strike-hard posture, adhering to a policy of taking the offensive, striking when they show their heads and making preemptive attacks,” he told a meeting on Tuesday, according to the report also carried by the China News Service.

“This winter and next spring we will launch a concentrated anti-separatist re-education across the whole region.”

Xinjiang’s 8 million Uighurs make up slightly less than half the region’s people, and most of the rest are Han Chinese, including recent migrants.

The government points to big investments in the region’s economy and resources, which include oil and gas, and efforts to lift living standards. But critics say too few decent jobs and benefits flow to Uighurs.

Wang spelt out measures to tie the region more closely to the rest of China and to Communist Party control — measures that are sure to draw criticism from advocates of an independent “East Turkestan” homeland for Uighurs.

The re-education campaign will seek to enhance “identification with the Chinese nation and Chinese culture”, Wang said, promising measures to spread teaching in Mandarin Chinese among Uighur children.

Religious activities must also be carefully policed, he said.

“Our region has constantly been a smokeless battleground in the ideological sphere,” Wang said. (Editing by Nick Macfie)

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