Tackling terrorism on China's western frontier

The Urumqi bus bombings on February 5, 1992, killed at least three people. Five years later, another bus detonation in the city left nine dead. The capital of northwestern China's Xinjiang Uygur Autonomous Region was hit by the largest riot in years on July 5, 2009, when terrorists killed 197 people and injured more than 1,700, amid hours-long clashes between over 1,000 rioters and the police.

In 2008, the Kashgar truck attack killed 16; in 2011, also in Kashgar, seven died when two men hijacked a truck, careened into a crowd and randomly stabbed people. In Aksu, knife-wielding men killed 16 workers at a coal mine in September 2015. These were just a few cases of countless grievous attacks that struck the land of Xinjiang.

From 1990 to 2016, the "three evil forces" (terrorism, extremism and separatism) in China and abroad have plotted, organized and conducted thousands of violent terrorist attacks including bombings, assassinations, poisoning, arson, assaults, unrest and riots. A large number of innocent people and hundreds of police officers were killed, and damage to property was beyond calculation.

The horrific attacks broke the peace and hindered the development in Xinjiang – once a shining western frontier of China on the ancient Silk Road. What's more, they trampled upon the essential human rights of people of all ethnic groups in the region, putting their lives, development and property at risk.

The right to subsistence constitutes the most fundamental human right. To address this conundrum, Xinjiang established vocational education and training centers to prevent the breeding and spread of terrorism and religious extremism, which, however, has drawn much criticism from the West.

In Western rhetoric, the centers are framed as "internment camps." But given the harrowing scenario, the centers constitute a new approach to countering terrorism.

"What I witnessed in Xinjiang is very unique. Best practices have been shaped by the Chinese government. And the uniqueness of this approach derives from its multi-dimensionality. It has the soft power. But it has also the security dimensions," said Ahmed Abaddi, secretary-general of the Muhammadan League of Religious Scholars, during an interview with CGTN.

Ahmed Abaddi was one of the scholars who attended an international seminar on anti-terrorism, de-radicalization and human rights protection in Urumqi last month. After a tour of the capital city and other prefectures, they came to understand the importance of the education and training centers.

"It is almost stupid to criticize the Chinese for this respect of human rights. Because, if we compare policy, we see that China actually improved the lives instead of ruining them," Matteo Bressan, an international relations professor at the University Lumsa of Rome.

Since 2014 in Xinjiang, 1,588 terrorist groups have been broken up and 12,995 terrorists have been arrested, 2,052 explosive devices have been seized, 4,858 illegal religious activities involving 30,645 people have been investigated, and 345,229 items of illegal religious propaganda have been confiscated.

And from 2014 to 2018, Xinjiang lifted over 2.31 million people above the poverty line. The region's rural poverty rate has declined to 6.1 percent. About 70 percent of the autonomous region's annual government budget is used to improve people's well-being, including education, healthcare, and housing.

Ibrahim Abdulaziz Alsheddi, who's on the advisory committee of the United Nations Human Rights Council, viewed the establishment of the centers as a chance for the young people to be engaged in learning skills essential to their career development. "The experience of China in reducing or combating terrorism should be exchanged with other countries," he told CGTN.

Video edited by Zhu Danni