China's security chief calls for better intelligence on terrorism

Paramilitary policemen during a security operation in Urumqi in 2013.
Paramilitary policemen during a security operation in Urumqi in 2013. PHOTO: REUTERS

BEIJING (Reuters) - China needs to improve its intelligence gathering abilities and intelligence sharing between different departments it if wants to better deal with the threat of terrorism, its domestic security chief said, in a rare admission of the problems faced.

Speaking in Xinjiang's regional capital Urumqi, domestic security chief Meng Jianzhu said while some success had been achieved in the fight against terrorism, the situation remained serious.

Mr Meng said intelligence gathering had to improve, in both what he called "hard and soft intelligence", according to a government statement issued late on Friday. "Push the joining up and deeper integration of both the national and Xinjiang anti-terrorism intelligence platforms, put into effect the sharing of intelligence information," the statement paraphrased Meng as saying.

"Raise the early warning ability of intelligence analysis, effectively prevent against (terrorism), discover things in a timely way, react quickly and resolutely nip in the bud violent terrorist activities, destroy them before anything happens."

Hundreds of people have been killed in the past few years in China's western region of Xinjiang, home to the mainly Muslim Uighur people, in violence blamed by the government on Islamist militants who want to establish an independent state called East Turkestan.

China has been hampered in the past by poor intelligence in a part of the country where few officials understand the Uighur language or Islam and the government has had difficulty recruiting Uighur operatives, diplomats and experts say.

In one embarrassing incident for China last year, three people were killed and 79 wounded in a bomb and knife attack at an Urumqi train station just as President Xi Jinping was wrapping up a visit to the area under supposedly tight security.

China needs a better command system to respond to incidents too, Mr Meng said.

Rights groups and exiles say the violence in Xinjiang stems more from widespread Uighur resentment at Chinese controls on their religion and culture rather than the action of a well-organised militant group.

China strongly denies abusing human rights in Xinjiang, and says it is facing a determined campaign from Islamist radicals and separatists.

China has blamed overseas militants for stoking tension in Xinjiang, and Mr Meng said border controls also had to be tightened and more effort put into deradicalisation.

"Deepen de-radicalisation work, strengthen management of religion in accordance with the law, have targeted propaganda and persuasive education to eliminate the atmosphere for radical religion," Mr Meng said.