Urumqi, capital of northwestern China’s troubled Xinjiang province, has been turned into a virtual fortress.
Nowadays, if you want to visit this exotic city, you have to prepare yourself for seemingly endless security checks and searches.
The heightened security alert is understandable: Urumqi has become one of China’s most dangerous cities following a series of deadly attacks blamed on the East Turkestan Islamic Movement, which is seeking to establish an independent state in Xinjiang.
The situation became even more complicated when Urumqi hosted the China-EurAsia Expo earlier this month, an annual trade fair attended by state leaders and tens of thousands of businessmen.
Chinese Vice Premier Wang Yang and his counterparts from Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan and Georgia attended the opening ceremony.
Behind the fanfare was a sense of unease across the city. Local authorities implemented elaborate security measures during the six-day event and People’s Liberation Army soldiers were deployed to ensure the safety of delegates and guests.
A businessman who just came back from the fair told the Hong Kong Economic Journal that Urumqi was turned into a city of security checkpoints and closed-circuit television cameras.
From his hotel to the exhibition venue, he had to repeatedly present his travel documents and visitor badge to security personnel, go through numerous X-ray control gates and have his bags inspected. The process was stricter than security checks at many airports.
Fully armed policemen were constantly patrolling the streets. Armored vehicles and tanks could be seen near train stations, government office buildings and around the business districts.
Yet this level of vigilance, which could be described as bordering on paranoia, seemed only appropriate if viewed in relation to what happened in July during a three-day trade fair in Kashgar, a prefecture-level city in southern Xinjiang.
The event was cut short after suspected Uyghur separatists launched an attack that claimed more than a dozen lives.
All these heightened security arrangements cost a lot of money.
Hotan, another prefecture in southern Xinjiang, granted cash rewards of up to 300 million yuan (US$48.84 million) to policemen and security staff after a suspected mastermind of terrorist attacks in the region was caught in the city, according to Xinjiang Daily.
A finance official estimates that 13 yuan out of every 100 yuan spent by the local government in Kashgar is for public security.
Other southwestern prefectures like Hotan, Ili, Aksu and Kizilsu have also set aside substantial portions of their fiscal incomes for security. Such expenses include purchase of weapons and counter-terrorism training and exercises.
Analysts say the fight against Uyghur separatists has been a matter of utmost importance for the Chinese leadership since the 1990s when the already tense relations between local Uyghurs and Han Chinese immigrants was exacerbated by tensions over the exploration of natural resources and appointment of local chiefs.
Southern Weekend notes in a separate report that the Xinjiang government spent 306.7 billion yuan in 2013. Of that amount, more than 60 percent, or nearly 200 billion yuan, came from the central authorities.
Allocation has been approved for a 24-hour CCTV monitoring system that will cover virtually all streets and lanes in Urumqi.
Owners of shops fronting major thoroughfares have been told to install intercoms to be used in reporting emergency cases. The total investment for the system is said to be well over 9 billion yuan.
– Contact the writer at [email protected]