China’s military has vowed to bring “modern civilisation” to the country’s largely Muslim Uighur Xinjiang region, where separatists have been working towards establishing an independent state.
The region’s military commander and his aide wrote in an influential journal on Tuesday that the army must help develop the economy of the restive southern areas of the Xinjiang region, knows as East Turkestan to Uighurs, in order to establish what they called “modern civilisation”.
The commander, Li Haiyang and its military commissar Miao Wenjiang said that soldiers must “ardently love” the area, in the latest edition of the bimonthly Communist Party magazine, Qiushi.
The article said soldiers must help develop the economy in southern Xinjiang and encourage the people to “move towards modern civilisation and move away from religious extremism”, by providing villagers access to science, culture, law and health.
“We must cherish ethnic unity like we take care of our eyes and … nestle together with people of all ethnic groups as close as pomegranate seeds,” they wrote.
Exiled Uighur activist Nur Muhammad Majid was scathing of the policies outlined in the article, telling Al Jazeera that Chinese officials were being disingenuous.
“There’s no sincere intention when they talk about modernisation, all technical jobs that come up in the region are given to ethnic Han Chinese,” Majid said referring to the dominant ethnic group in the country.
Majid, who is the secretary of the East Turkestan Australian Association based in the city of Adelaide, told Al Jazeera that China was using the pretext of modernisation to further repress his community.
“In East Turkestan being Muslim is a crime, they’re trying to find every way to repress the Uighur nation,” Majid said.
Hundreds have died in violence in Xinjiang in the past few years. The government blames the unrest on separatists who want to establish an independent state called East Turkestan, while Uighur activists say China is trying to make their community a minority in its own land.