In China’s Xinjiang, economic divide seen fuelling ethnic unrest
Hundreds of migrant workers from distant corners of China pour daily into the Urumqi South railway station, their first waypoint on a journey carrying them to lucrative work in other parts of the far western Xinjiang region.
Like the columns of police toting rifles and metal riot spears that weave between migrants resting on their luggage, the workers are a fixture at the station, which last week was targeted by a bomb and knife attack the government has blamed on religious extremists.
“We come this far because the wages are good,” Shi Hongjiang, 26, from the southwestern metropolis of Chongqing, told Reuters outside the station. “Also, the Uighur population is small. There aren’t enough of them to do the work.”
Shi’s is a common refrain from migrant workers, whose experience finding low-skilled work is very different to that of the Muslim Uighur minority.
Employment discrimination, experts say, along with a demographic shift that many Uighurs feel is diluting their culture, is fuelling resentment that spills over into violent attacks directed at Han Chinese, China’s majority ethnic group.
The apparent suicide attack on the station, which killed one bystander, was the latest violence to hit Xinjiang, despite a pledge from China’s President Xi Jinping to rain “crushing blows against violent terrorist forces”.
Many of the nearly 80 people wounded in the incident were likely to have been brought to Xinjiang, where Uighurs once formed the majority, by Han-controlled businesses to be construction workers or cotton-pickers.