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Xinjiang, A Crossroad of Narratives

David Verberckt | China

The central mosque in the Uyghur village of Tuyuk. Turpan District, Xinjiang, China, August 2019

Xinjiang is an autonomous region of Western China bordering eight countries, and has a landscape and culture that is in stark contrast to China's Easter regions. Xinjiang has long been at the crossroads of the ancient Silk Road and a gateway from China to the West and vice versa. This cultural mixture has laid foundations for multi-ethnic, cultural and multi-religion integration.

Nowadays, 23 million people live in Xinjiang of which 11 million are ethnic Uyghur. Despite massive Chinese Han migration during the past decades, slightly more than 50% of the population is Muslim. More than one million, mostly Uyghur, people have since 2017 allegedly been extra judicially detained for re-education in closed and secret camps all over the region. Xinjiang became China's frontier for the war on terror during the past decade. In 2009, rioting in Xinjiang's capital, Urumqi, broke out as mostly Uyghur demonstrators protested against Han-Chinese migration in the region. Nearly 200, mainly Han residents, were killed during the violence. This event, subsequent terrorist attacks on railway stations and markets in the region and beyond in 2014, and few hundreds Uyghur that went to Syria to join ISIS marked a turning point in Beijing's attitude towards the Uyghur considering that the community was at risk of becoming a hotbed of separatism and terrorism, possibly endangering China's development. Namely, Xinjiang is an essential link in China's Belt and Road Initiative, a massive development plan stretching through Asia, Europe and Africa. Beijing is hoping to eradicate any possibility of separatist activity to continue it development of Xinjiang, which is also home to China's largest coal and natural gas reserves. China is further developing the region as a prime tourist destination showcasing how secure and stable the region has become.

Xinjiang is an autonomous region of Western China bordering eight countries, and has a landscape and culture that is in stark contrast to China's Easter regions. Xinjiang has long been at the crossroads of the ancient Silk Road and a gateway from China to the West and vice versa. This cultural mixture has laid foundations for multi-ethnic, cultural and multi-religion integration. Nowadays, 23 million people live in Xinjiang of which 11 million are ethnic Uyghur. Despite massive Chinese Han migration during the past decades, slightly more than 50% of the population is Muslim. More than one million, mostly Uyghur, people have since 2017 allegedly been extra judicially detained for re-education in closed and secret camps all over the region. Xinjiang became China's frontier for the war on terror during the past decade. In 2009, rioting in Xinjiang's capital, Urumqi, broke out as mostly Uyghur demonstrators protested against Han-Chinese migration in the region. Nearly 200, mainly Han residents, were killed during the violence. This event, subsequent terrorist attacks on railway stations and markets in the region and beyond in 2014, and few hundreds Uyghur that went to Syria to join ISIS marked a turning point in Beijing's attitude towards the Uyghur considering that the community was at risk of becoming a hotbed of separatism and terrorism, possibly endangering China's development. Namely, Xinjiang is an essential link in China's Belt and Road Initiative, a massive development plan stretching through Asia, Europe and Africa. Beijing is hoping to eradicate any possibility of separatist activity to continue it development of Xinjiang, which is also home to China's largest coal and natural gas reserves. China is further developing the region as a prime tourist destination showcasing how secure and stable the region has become.

www.davidverberckt.com

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