Twenty-seven deaths in a series of attacks by separatist militants wielding explosives are not the ideal background for China’s Olympic Games. But when you look more closely at the recent violence in the restless Muslim region of Xinjiang, it does not look so bad for Beijing after all.
For a start, the two attacks – one killing 16 policemen and the other involving the deaths of 10 assailants and one security guard on Sunday morning, according to the police – happened more than 1,750 miles from Beijing.
Armed separatists have issued two videos in recent weeks threatening to attack Olympic sites. But so far they have confined their operations – destructive as they are – to the western province of Xinjiang, where the Muslim Uighur minority chafes under Chinese rule.
There has been no indication that the East Turkestan Islamic Movement (ETIM), the central pro-independence group, is capable of launching an operation in Beijing, which the Chinese authorities have swamped with security forces.
That is key for the Chinese government, which has promised the world a safe Olympics, and which has stressed repeatedly to its own officials that security should be their top priority.
Still, the attack on the policemen in Kashgar and the spate of bomb attacks on government buildings before dawn on Sunday in Kuqa mark the most dramatic wave of violence by presumed Uighur separatists for more than a decade.
The Chinese police have been claiming for more than a year now to have been killing or arresting “terrorists,” breaking up their plots and foiling their attacks. They have shared very little evidence of their success with the outside world, however, which has made some observers skeptical of Beijing’s insistence that ETIM represents a real threat.
Nobody has yet claimed responsibility for the attacks, but assuming that they are indeed the work of ETIM, or a group associated with them, they give credence to Beijing’s arguments.
Another plus for the authorities.