Military Wiki
Xinjiang conflict
Status Ongoing

Soviet Union East Turkestan People's Revolutionary Party (ETPRP)
Soviet Union United Revolutionary Front of East Turkestan (URFET)
Supported by:
Soviet Union Soviet Union (1968-1991)
Mongolia Mongolian People's Republic(1960s)

23x15px TIP
Supported by:

1,000 operatives
Casualties and losses
2,000–3,000 deaths

The Xinjiang conflict[1] is an ongoing[2] separatist struggle in the People's Republic of China (PRC) far-west province of Xinjiang.[3] A group of Uyghur separatists claim that the region, which they refer to as East Turkestan, is not legally a part of China, but was invaded by the PRC in 1949 and has since been under Chinese occupation. The separatist movement is led by Turkic Islamist militant organizations, most notably the East Turkestan independence movement, against the national government in Beijing.


Previous uprisings

The Xinjiang Wars were a series of armed conflicts which took place in the early and mid 20th century, during the Warlord Era of the Republic of China; and during the Chinese Civil War, which saw the establishment of the People's Republic of China. The wars also played an important role in the East Turkestan independence movement.

The Soviet Union supported the Uyghur Second East Turkestan Republic in the Ili Rebellion against the Republic of China.

Immediate causes

Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch speculate that Uyghur resentment towards alleged repression of Uyghur culture may explain some of the ethnic riots that have occurred in Xinjiang during the People's Republic of China (PRC) period.[citation needed]

Conversely, some Han Chinese opponents of the movement are unhappy at being, in their perspective, treated as second-class citizens by PRC policies, in which many of the ethnic autonomy policies are discriminatory against them (see Autonomous entities of China). Some go so far as to posit that since previous Chinese dynasties owned Xinjiang before the Uyghur Empire, the region belongs to them as opposed to the Uyghurs. Supporters of the movement, on the other hand, have labelled Chinese rule in Xinjiang, and policies like the Xinjiang Production and Construction Corps, as Chinese imperialism.


Early events

Some put the beginning of the modern phase of the conflict in Xinjiang in the 1950s.[2]

Soviet support for Uyghur uprisings

The Soviet Union was involved in funding and support to the East Turkestan People's Revolutionary Party (ETPRP), the largest militant Uyghur separatist organization in its time, to start a violent uprising against China in 1968.[4][5][6][7] In the 1970s, the Soviets also supported the United Revolutionary Front of East Turkestan (URFET) to fight against the Chinese.[8]

In the 1980s, there was a scattering of student demonstrations and riots against police action that took on an ethnic aspect; and the Baren Township riot in April, 1990, an abortive uprising, resulted in more than 50 deaths.

China supported the Afghan mujahideen during the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan, and broadcast reports of Soviet atrocities on Afghan Muslims to Uyghurs in order to counter Soviet propaganda broadcasts into Xinjiang.

Late 1990s

A police round-up and execution of 30 suspected separatists[9] during Ramadan resulted in large demonstrations in February 1997 which were characterized as riots in the Chinese media,[10] but which the western media allege were peaceful.[11][unreliable source?] These demonstrations culminated in the Gulja Incident on the 5th of February, in which a People's Liberation Army (PLA) crackdown on the demonstrations led to at least nine deaths [12] and perhaps more than 100.[9] The Ürümqi bus bombings of February 25, 1997 killed nine and injured 68. The situation in Xinjiang was relatively quiet from the late nineties through mid-2006, though inter-ethnic tensions no doubt remained.[13]


In 2007, the world's attention was brought to the conflict following the Xinjiang raid,[14][unreliable source?] a thwarted 2008 suicide bombing attempt on a China Southern Airlines flight,[15] and the 2008 Xinjiang attack which resulted in the deaths of sixteen police officers four days before the Beijing Olympics.[16][17]

Further incidents include the July 2009 Ürümqi riots, the September 2009 Xinjiang unrest, and the 2010 Aksu bombing that led to the trials of 376 people.[18] The 2011 Hotan attack in July led to the deaths of 18 civilians. Although all of the attackers were Uyghur,[19] both Han and Uyghur people were victims.[20] In 2011, six ethnic Uyghur men attempted to hijack an aircraft heading to Ürümqi, but failed after passengers and crew resisted and restrained the hijackers.

On 24 April 2013, clashes occurred between a group of armed men and social workers,then police near Kashgar. The violence left at least 21 people dead, including 15 police and officials.[21][22][23] A local government official said that the clashes broke out after three local officials had reported suspicious men armed with knives who were hiding at a house in Selibuya township, outside Kashgar.[24]

Two months later, on 26 June 2013, 27 people were killed in riots; 17 of them were killed by rioters, while the other ten people were alleged assailants who were shot dead by police in the township of Lukqun.[25]

On March 1, 2014, a group of knife-wielding assailants attacked people at the Kunming Railway Station killing at least 29 and injuring 130 others.[26] China blamed Xinjiang militants for the attack.[27]


Critics have argued that the government's response to Uyghur concerns do little to address the underlying causes of their discontent.[28]


  1. "The Xinjiang Conflict: Uyghur identity, Language, Policy, and Political discourse" (PDF). East West center. .
  2. 2.0 2.1 "Uyghur Separatist conflict". American. .
  3. Ismail, Mohammed Sa'id; Ismail, Mohammed Aziz (1960 (Hejira 1380)). "Moslems in the Soviet Union and China" (Privately printed pamphlet). p. 52.  translation printed in Washington: JPRS 3936, 19 September 1960.
  9. 9.0 9.1 1997 Channel 4 (UK) news report on the incident which can be seen here
  10. "Xinjiang to intensify crackdown on separatists", China Daily, 10/25/2001
  11. Amnesty International Document - "China: Remember the Gulja massacre? China's crackdown on peaceful protesters", Web Action WA 003/07 AI Index: ASA 17/002/2007, Start date: 01/02/2007 The article.[dead link]
  12. Human Rights Watch
  13. See Hierman, Brent. "The Pacification of Xinjiang: Uighur Protest and the Chinese State, 1988–2002." Problems of Post-Communism, May/Jun2007, Vol. 54 Issue 3, pp 48–62
  14. "Chinese police destroy terrorist camp in Xinjiang, one policeman killed". CCTV International. 1 October 2007. Retrieved 26 November 2008. [unreliable source?]
  15. Elizabeth Van Wie Davis, "China confronts its Uyghur threat," Asia Times Online, 18 April 2008.
  16. Jacobs, Andrew (5 August 2008). "Ambush in China Raises Concerns as Olympics Near". The New York Times. Retrieved 27 March 2010. 
  17. "Waterhouse Caulfield Cup breakthrough".,,24124957-5014104,00.html. [dead link]
  18. "China prosecuted hundreds over Xinjiang unrest". London: The Guardian. 17 January 2011. Retrieved 18 January 2011. [dead link]
  19. Choi, Chi-yuk (2011-07-22). "Ban on Islamic dress sparked Uygur attack". Hotan: South China Morning Post. 
  20. Krishnan, Ananth (2011-07-21). "Analysts see Pakistan terror links to Xinjiang attack". The Hindu. Retrieved 2011-07-29. 
  21. "China's Xinjiang hit by deadly clashes". BBC News. 24 April 2013. Retrieved 24 April 2013. 
  22. "Violence in western Chinese region of Xinjiang kills 21". CNN. 24 April 2013. Retrieved 24 April 2013. 
  23. "21 dead in Xinjiang terrorist clash". CNTV. 24 April 2013. Retrieved 24 April 2013. 
  24. "Violence erupts in China's restive Xinjiang". Al Jazeera. 24 April 2013. Retrieved 24 April 2013. 
  25. "State media: Violence leaves 27 dead in restive minority region in far western China". June 26. Archived from the original on 2013-06-28. [dead link]
  26. "Unidentified Assailant kills 29 at Kunming Railway Station in China". IANS. Retrieved 2 March 2014. 
  27. Blanchard, Ben (2014-03-01). "China blames Xinjiang militants for station attack". Reuters. Chicago Tribune. Archived from the original on 2014-03-02. Retrieved 2014-03-01. 
  28. Hasmath, R. (2013) “Responses to Xinjiang Ethnic Unrest Do Not Address Underlying Causes”, South China Morning Post, 5 July.

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