The Chinese government has blamed one of two deadly attacks in western China on Muslim extremists trained in Pakistan, an accusation that throws a wrinkle into reports that Beijing is on the verge of replacing Washington, D.C., as the Pakistani government and military’s preferred source of outside support. The tumultuous Xinjiang region, which borders Pakistan, Afghanistan, and Russia, has long been the site of persistent ethnic tensions, but most reports in recent years have focused on the unrest as a domestic issue. Now it appears that China — like India and U.S. before them — has realized that a relationship with their neighbor comes with serious baggage.
In the Xinjiang city of Kashgar, a “group of armed terrorists” killed two people in a restaurant Sunday, set fire to the building, and then stabbed civilians at random in the street, leaving another four dead and 12 injured. Police shot and killed four suspects at the scene, and another died in the hospital. According to AP reports:
The city said Monday an initial investigation showed members of the group allegedly behind Sunday’s attack had been trained in explosives and firearms in Pakistani camps run by the banned East Turkestan Islamic Movement, a militant group advocating independence for Xinjiang. It offered no proof in the statement on its website. China says the group is allied with al-Qaida.
Despite these allegations, authorities have still not named suspects in the violence on Saturday that killed seven people when two men hijacked a truck and drove into a crowd in Kashgar.
The western province is no stranger to violence. In 2009, fighting between Han Chinese and minority Uighurs in the Xinjiang region left almost 200 people dead. The weekend’s bloodshed has led to concerns that the government will crack down on all Uighurs, a largely Muslim ethnic group that has complained of unfair treatment and growing marginalization. Xinjiang has faced increased security since the 2009 clashes, and the weekend’s events have led to even more police patrols and concerns about retribution attacks by Han Chinese.
Pakistan condemned the recent violence and asserted its support in fighting the East Turkestan Islamic Movement. Even so, the bloodshed casts a shadow on the two countries’ relationship. As the United States has recently cut aid to Pakistan, China has been offering to fill the void in recent months by providing more weapons and fighter jets to its neighbor. Pakistan has already been placed on shaky ground with the U.S. because of its failure to effectively combat terrorism; now, reeling from attacks, China finds itself in a similarly complicated situation.