China’s Xinjiang Offering $800,000 for Information on Uighur Separatists

Armed Chinese paramilitary policemen stand guard on a road in Kashgar, northwest China's Xinjiang Uygur Autonomous Region, 2 September 2015.(Imaginechina via AP Images)
Imaginechina via AP Images

The communist regional government of Xinjiang, China, is offering up to five million yuan — or almost $800,000 — for any information leading to the prevention of jihadist terror attacks or the arrest of radical Islamists in the region. Xinjiang is home to most of China’s large Muslim Uighur population.

Reuters reports that regional officials are seeking more cooperation from the Xinjiang population to find and arrest individuals the Chinese government says are working to plan and execute jihadist terror attacks. It notes that tips on “attacks, kidnappings, murders and other terrorist acts” will all be rewarded with prizes ranging from 200,000 yuan to five million. While the regional government has previously offered similar rewards for information, these prizes are significantly larger than those typically offered. Authorities noted that around 10,000 people have given the police tips on terrorists in the region since 2014.

The Chinese government has long sought close ties to members of the Uighur population in order to collect intelligence on the activities of human rights activists and political opposition among them. A report surfacing last year found that this is also true outside of China, with Communist Party agents approaching Uighur community organizers abroad and threatening to hurt their family at home if they do not provide intelligence on their exile communities. Tibetan independence activists have also complained of similar coercion.

As home to the ethnic Uighur population, Xinjiang is one of the most heavily Muslim-populated regions in the country and lies on its western border. Uighurs are ethnically Turkmen, and many identify with the Turkic populations of central Asia and Turkey. Xinjiang is also home to the East Turkestan Islamic Movement (ETIM), a separatist group looking to establish a sovereign Muslims state in Xinjiang. The ETIM is a U.S.-designated terrorist group responsible for a number of deadly attacks in recent years in Urumqi, the regional capital.

In addition to ETIM members, ethnic Uighurs have been arrested worldwide for working with radical Islamist groups. Most recently, an ethnic Uighur man was arrested in March in Indonesia, working with a jihadist group called the Eastern Indonesia Mujahideen.

The Chinese government has also estimated that up to 300 Chinese citizens, most Uighurs, have left China to join the Islamic State’s terror activities in Syria and Iraq. The Islamic State has targeted China specifically in multiple propaganda videos, demanding the nation’s ethnic Han population pay the jizya, or punitive submission tax, to the Islamic State or face subsequent waves of terrorism throughout the country.

The Chinese government has previously taken a much less cooperative approach with Xinjiang’s population than offering lavish rewards for information. All shops in the region must sell a variety of cigarettes and alcohol, both banned in Islam, and Islamic garb is not allowed on public transportation. Communist Party members are banned from publicly fasting during the Muslim holy month of Ramadan.

Chinese state media has instead emphasized public works projects in the region to promote support for Beijing on the other side of the country. In a column last week, the state-run newspaper Xinhua boasted of an 160 yuan invested into the region’s infrastructure, designated for energy projects, the expansion of Urumqi Airport, education programs, and natural gas exploration. A column in early April, meanwhile, highlighted Beijing’s efforts to promote “ethnic unity” in Xinjiang. “More should be done to reinforce the ideological, material and social basis for ethnic unity in Xinjiang, and called on officials to promote unity and improve people’s livelihoods and foster closer ties between the CPC and the public,” Chinese Communist Party official Sun Chunlan is quoted as saying.