What the Hell is Happening in Xinjiang?

With students starting to file in and a new school year just around the corner, things have been a bit busy here at ChinaGeeks HQ, so you’ve probably already heard that there are more rumblings in Xinjiang. The short version: some people (Han) were being stabbed (by Uighurs) with syringes, which led to protests and even some deaths.

But according to an AGI report (via Shanghaiist), things are getting even crazier than we originally thought:

There are a reported 470 people hit in Xinjiang by syringes presumably filled with AIDS contaminated blood, reported television broadcaster ‘Bingtuan’, which has its headquarters in the same autonomous region which depends on central authority, after new clashes which occurred in Urumqi, capital of former Eastern Turkestan, between the local Uiguri community and ethnic Han immigrants, who hold the majority in China. ”Since last August 20 the government in Xinjiang has received reports from local epidemiological centres that say 476 people have been assailed using syringes”, the television network reported. Before the news, without making a precise estimation, the report was denied.

Violent clashes between the communities already erupted in July with a toll of at least 200 dead and 1,700 wounded. The Uiguri, Muslims who speak a language similar to Turkish, have always called for greater autonomy from Beijing and an end to economic discrimination by the Han.

Personally, I find this report a bit perplexing, and not just because AGI is trying to set the record for longest run-on lede in a two-paragraph news item, or because the rest of their report is full of typos. No, what I wonder is: why are the syringes presumably filled with AIDS? First of all, what the blood would actually contain is not AIDS but HIV, but secondly, where is all this infected blood coming from? Are people being injected with infected blood, or simply stabbed with contaminated needles? Why on earth would Uighur separatists adopt this tactic, virtually guaranteed to turn any and all supporters against their cause? Is there any real evidence the perpetrators (perpetrator?) is even Uighur at all? Protests, even when they turn into riots, can be spun, especially in a world media climate that hungers for evidence of communist evil. But stabbing people with HIV infected needles? Not likely to win anyone any popularity contests.

I suppose the motive could be pure spite, but that seems awfully thin, especially in the absence of any significant evidence about any of this stuff. Your guess is as good as mine, folks: what the hell is going on in Xinjiang?

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0 thoughts on “What the Hell is Happening in Xinjiang?”

  1. Wikipedia states that HIV transmission is relatively low for needle sharing or a needle stick that pierces the skin:

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/HIV#Transmission

    This definitely sounds like some sort of fear mongering urban legend rather than an actual terrorist based plot. I may sound morbid when I say this, but I don’t think terrorists would use this as a tactic because of its low casualty rate.

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  2. I do believe there is this kind of attack, just not necessariliy from separatists
    It’s a good way to scare and terrorize people, purely for revenge at least.

    When hundreds of people report being attacked this way, took to the streets, demanding a politburo member to step down (which have not happened since 1989, if I get my history right), it is definitely very very serious.

    Anyway, have any reporters in Urumqi bothered to go to hospital to interview these who reported this and their doctors? Last time I checked, at least western reporters in urumuqi can move freely, even though some Hongkong reporters were detained for a few hours.

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  3. Yes, because we should always assume the worst. Those evil Uighurs are always lying!!!

    See, it works both ways. I was thinking we might look for some evidence of either claim. Silly me, I should have just asked you what the truth was.

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  4. I’m skeptical. First of all, this is not the first time this ultra-specific type of threat has been projected on the Uyghurs. Over a year ago rumors that Uyghurs were transmitting AIDS through their kebabs stands (yes, cue most people who know, um, anything about AIDS to be completely confused) electrified China and, would you believe it, actually prompted a number of people to say in interviews that they would consequently not frequent kebab stands anymore.

    The Star has pointed some pretty cynical critical analysis of the recent “stabbings” here. Also, note that apparently the frenzy began with a text message, according to Reuters reporter Lucy Hornby. Which is suspicious, because that’s how the AIDS kebabs rumors spread a year ago.

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  5. Porfiriy:

    Good point. However in this case hundred+ people have been confirmed by the hostpital with what looked like syringe, or at least pin pricks.
    So this is not purely rumor.
    This is serious enough that a medical team from Beijing was flown to XJ.

    Now, it was reported that some perpetrators were caught in the act of pricking people. It would be interesting to learn what unfolds.

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  6. The Uighur, although 999,900 out of 100,000 probably do not commit crimes, are known around China not only among the Han (but among the Mongols, Xibe, Tibetans) for having a higher crime rate.

    To instantly doubt Chinese reports is pure Western bigotry.

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  7. Ah yes, skepticism when someone presents rather unbelievable information with no proof! How bigoted of me!

    Also, when did I miss Italy becoming a part of China? Or does anything critical of Uighurs now count as a “Chinese report”. (Yes, the AGI report I’ve quoted does cite Chinese original sources, but not very well, and it’s unclear from their wording who, exactly, came up with the AIDS bit. I was going to give Xinhua the benefit of the doubt, at least until I’d had time to read their reports myself.)

    At the end of the day though, if people are being injected with AIDS, that’s pretty easy to prove. So why exactly, if this is true, haven’t we seen any evidence, and without evidence, would you believe something like this? If I reported on this site that black people around the US had started injecting people with AIDS, wouldn’t you want to see some kind of proof?

    Questioning things that don’t make sense and asking for evidence isn’t bigotry, it’s common sense, and it’s what blogs (and other sources of news and analysis) do. If that offends you, I suggest you take up reading fiction or something.

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  8. You’ve already shown your prejudice by immediately accusing the “evil Han Chinese” of spreading rumors.

    I just keep tabs on the story until evidence comes out. That’s too hard for some people.

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  9. C. Custer.

    “But stabbing people with HIV infected needles? Not likely to win anyone any popularity contests.”

    HIV or AID or whatever virus/bacteria or poison or radioactive material – it does not matter.

    It also does not matter whether I am using a syringe or needle or tookprick or toothbrush or stone or pebble or twig or stick or bare finger or even my buttock.

    If I am a separatist doing all these things, why should I tell the world that I the separatist am doing these? I don’t seek to win popularity contest. I prefer no one knows who is doing these and who or what I am.

    I seek to arouse panic and hysteria, to sow distrust and hatred between communities, to destabilize the region, to make the local government bankrupt, etc. The final end is to make the people distrust the government and finally to overthrow it.

    I almost succeeded in at least one minor goal. I wanted to overthrow the Xinjiang Party Secretary. But instead, the Urumqi city Party Secretary was sacked. I am terribly disappointed!!!

    There are dozens, perhaps hundreds, of separatist groups in India today. They don’t seek to be popular in the eyes of the West. They just rob and destroy and burn and kill and commit terror. Same for the separatists in Philippine and Southern Thailand.

    You need to think through again and think harder.
    Read a little bit about separatist rebel activities in India –
    http://rupeenews.com/2009/08/02/cracks-in-india-maoist-insurgency-spreads/

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  10. I don’t know, it still seems like a comparatively stupid strategy to me, because it would hinge on everyone outside China buying their claims of innocence. If you’re the Dalai Lama, no problem in America, but this is a Muslim organization most people in the US have never heard of. They could have been passing out balloons and cookies in Xinjiang and there would be Americans who called them terrorists, so any hint of a connection with something like needling people with AIDS is going to sink the boat entirely, I’d think.

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  11. I see a connection between 2008 Lhasa riots and Urumuqi riots. They wanted to imitate Lhasa riots, hoping the West would unite to condemn China for the “crackdown”. And Kadeer will become for the Uighurs what the Dalai Lama is for Tibetans.

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