Rocked by a fresh outbreak of anti-government violence, officials in China’s far western Xinjiang region are urging expanded free education to staunch support for Islamic separatists.
The appeal appeared to acknowledge that force alone would not vanquish pro-independence sentiment, although it was matched by a renewed call for high-pressure security tactics against terrorism, separatism and religious extremism.
Radicals among Xinjiang’s native Turkic Uighur population have waged a long-simmering campaign against Chinese rule, although last year saw the worst outbreak of violence in recent years, intended — authorities say — to sabotage the Beijing Olympics.
Students in the traditionally Muslim region who quit after middle school become easy targets for radical groups, the head of the regional education department was quoted as saying by the official China Daily newspaper yesterday.
Keeping them in school for 12 years rather than nine would help prepare them for the job market and better shape their “ideology and mentality,” Zhao Dezhong (趙德忠) said.
The plan specifically targets the region’s most underdeveloped areas, where a mere 15 percent of all junior high graduates continued their studies, Zhao said. The last three additional years of school would be devoted to vocational education, he said.
“In terms of maintaining social security and stability, the move is of strategic significance,” Zhao was quoted as saying on Wednesday on the sidelines of the regional assembly’s annual session.
The plan would cost around US$500 million and has yet to win central government approval, Zhao said.
Culturally, religiously and linguistically distinct from the China’s Han majority, Uighurs have long complained of economic marginalization by migrants who have flooded into Xinjiang since communist occupation in 1949. Like Tibetans, China’s other restive minority, many Uighurs claim they were independent for much of their history.