China's military on mission to bring "modern civilisation" to Xinjiang

Muslims gather to break their fast on the first day of Ramadan, the Muslim holy month, at a mosque in Beijing on June 18, 2015.
Muslims gather to break their fast on the first day of Ramadan, the Muslim holy month, at a mosque in Beijing on June 18, 2015.PHOTO: AFP

BEIJING (REUTERS) - China's military must bring"modern civilisation" to the restive southern areas of the Xinjiang region, where Muslim ethnic Uighurs are in the majority, and help develop its economy, two senior army officers wrote in an influential journal.

Hundreds have died in violence in Xinjiang in the past few years. The government blames the unrest on Islamist militants and separatists who want to establish an independent state called East Turkestan.

Writing in the latest edition of the bimonthly Communist Party magazine Qiushi, the commander of the southern Xinjiang military region Li Haiyang and its military commissar Miao Wenjiang said that soldiers must "ardently love" the area. "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.

Experts say employment discrimination, fuelled by an influx of ethnic majority Han Chinese taking up jobs, has fuelled resentment and unrest among Uighurs in Xinjiang.

Beijing has begun to pay more attention to the region's development, particularly in the southern areas dominated by Uighurs and religious conservatives.

The article said soldiers must help develop the economy in southern Xinjiang, and encourage the people to "move toward modern civilisation and move away from religious extremism", by providing villagers access to science, culture, law and health.

Every year all military units must contribute funds to help resolve problems like a lack of drinking water or difficulty in seeing doctors, the article said.

The article also called for greater emphasis on education, saying children should "study, live and grow up" in schools.

Uighurs have traditionally followed a moderate form of Islam but many have begun adopting practices more commonly seen in Saudi Arabia or Afghanistan, such as full-face veils for women, as China has intensified a security crackdown in recent years.

The article promised an even greater zeal in fighting terror. "The struggle against terror and to maintain stability is severe and complex. It is a real war with knives and guns, a life and death war," it said. "Strike early, strike at the small and strike at the roots."