CHINA is tightening its strict controls over Muslims in an effort to wipe out separatist unrest in the far western region of Xinjiang. The government has strengthened its restraints on the influence of Islam on society, politics, and culture since an uprising in April in which 22 people died, says an official newspaper.
Xinjiang authorities on May 12 also reinforced curbs on foreign religious contact, religious training, and the construction of mosques, says the official newspaper, Xinjiang Daily. The paper adds that the authorities have prohibited Christians from proselytizing or building churches in areas dominated by Muslims.
The report gives the first detailed account of alleged foreign subversion in the region. The newspaper, published May 18, was recently received in Beijing.
Foreign subversives have slipped into Xinjiang to distribute religious books and videotapes and ``spread separatist ideas,'' Meihemaiti Simayi, a high-level regional official, said May 8.
``A handful of reactionaries, under the cloak of religion, have engaged in subversive activities, coordinating themselves at a distance with separatists abroad,'' the newspaper reported Mr. Simayi as saying.
The ``hostile forces from abroad,'' acting mostly in the areas around Kashgar and Aksu, have funded the renovation of mosques and invited Muslims to go on the annual pilgrimage. The alleged subversives have also tried to nurture separatist sentiments among Chinese pilgrims overseas, Simayi says.
The comments were the first by an official supporting claims that foreign Muslims helped incite an April 5 and 6 uprising in Baren township. Fifteen rebels, six police, and an official were killed in the rebellion, according to official reports. Simayi did not identify the alleged overseas subversives or their base abroad.
China hasn't further detailed its claims of foreign subversion primarily to avoid irritating friendly Muslim states in the Middle East, diplomats say. Many Muslim countries have maintained good ties with Beijing while much of the world has condemned its harsh treatment of dissent since last June.
``Now that it's one of the world's polecats, China needs its friends in the Middle East more than ever,'' said a Western diplomat on condition of anonymity.
``It's not about to alienate them with claims of subversion,'' he says.
Chinese authorities have previously accused a former regional official under the Nationalist government, Isa Yusuf Alptekin, of stirring up separatist sentiments from abroad.
Mr. Alptekin broke with the Nationalists and was secretary-general of a short-lived East Turkestan Republic in Xinjiang before fleeing to Turkey in 1949. He is an Uygur, the largest Turkic minority in Xinjiang.
The quelling of the rebellion in Baren has not wiped out the effort to overthrow the rule by Beijing, says Ba Dai, a member of the region's Communist Party standing committee.
``Hostile forces at home and abroad are stepping up their infiltration, the national separatists are intensifying their sabotage, hot spots of social contradictions have increased, and the public security situation is grim and complex,'' the official Xinjiang television quoted Mr. Ba as saying.
Tensions between Turkic minorities and indigenous Han Chinese have flared for decades in Xinjiang, a vast region bordering India, Pakistan, Afghanistan, and the Soviet Union's restive Turkic republics. China's officials last month accused the rebels in Baren township of forming the Islamic Party of East Turkestan and of attempting to revive the East Turkestan Republic through a ``holy war.''
Nevertheless, the officials say that the Turkic nationalists are not acting on religious grounds but merely exploiting Islam in an effort to ``undermine national unity'' and achieve ``counterrevolutionary aims.''
China says the unrest is caused by separatism and class struggle rather than Islamic fervor so as not to aggravate tensions between Muslims and Marxists, say Western diplomats and other analysts.