Xinjiang drivers to be tracked or face being refused to fill up fuel

28th Apr 2017

Meng Yihua

China has mandated all cars in the Bayingolin Mongol Autonomous Prefecture of Xinjiang to install Government-issued tracking devices, in attempts to “ensure social security and safety and promote social stability and harmony”, as stated on the Bayingolin Government website.

On February 19, officials in Bayingolin Mongol Autonomous Prefecture convened to discuss policies as part of the Government’s nationwide stability maintenance programme. This is the latest in a series of hard-line surveillance measures, after years of violent episodes across Xinjiang, which the Government blames on “Islamic militants”. Rights groups and international observers, however, insist that the blame for the violence and unrest should be laid at the Government’s feet itself. In recent years, Uyghur Muslims have complained about discriminatory measures against their religion and culture, including night-time police raids on Uyghur households, restrictions against Islamic practices, such as fasting during Ramadan and even forbidding them to keep beards. Moreover, in 2015 Uyghur shopkeepers were urged to sell alcohol and cigarettes, or face being shut down.

Dr James Leibold, a Xinjiang expert at La Trobe University in Melbourne, has described this as an increasing transformation of the region into a police state.

The new policy orders all drivers to install Beidou – a satellite navigation system developed in China, at a cost to them of 90RMB annually (approximately £10), and they have until June 30 to comply. Anyone who fails to comply by the end of June will be turned away from petrol stations, and will also be unable to sell their car on the second-hand market.

The official justification given by the state-run Global Times newspaper is that this programme will be able to help car owners locate their vehicles quickly if they are stolen by terrorists. The Bayingolin Government’s Weibo channel said that the order stems from the reality that cars are the primary mode of transport for terrorists, as well as a “frequently chosen tool to conduct terrorist attacks”.

This new measure is planned to be rolled out across the whole of Xinjiang, starting with Bayingolin Mongol Autonomous Prefecture, home to approximately 1.2million people. Despite the name implying that Mongolians comprise a significant proportion, they are in fact only 3% of the population, with 59% of them Han and approximately 35% Uyghur, according to official statistics.

The Bayingolin Prefecture said the aim was “comprehensive supervision” of all of the one to two million vehicles in the region, and that the aim was “to prevent theft, but also primarily to maintain stability”. A police official was quoted saying that it was so that drivers “can be tracked wherever they go”.

Chen Quanguo who previously oversaw the Tibetan Autonomous Region, which also suffers from ongoing issues relating to ethnic tensions, was appointed as the new party chief for Xinjiang last year, and he has attempted to initiate many of the more hard-line policies since his appointment. Last year saw a 30,000 increase in the number of police officers in Xinjiang; in June, Xinjiang residents were ordered to provide samples of their DNA when applying for travel documents, and authorities have also been investing in facial recognition technology to monitor citizens’ movements.

In the second half of February, Chinese security forces staged large-scale rallies in cities with significant Uyghur populations, such as Hotan, as well as Xinjiang’s capital – Urumqi, as demonstrations of force. Thousands of paramilitary units and police offers were paraded through city streets, as well as dozens of armoured vehicles. One rally in Urumqi involved at least 10,000 security officers and hundreds of vehicles.

Mr Bequelin, the East Asia Director for Amnesty International, said that the Beidou installation policy was an “indiscriminate, quasi-totalitarian” measure that would generate a deep resentment and in turn become “a real time bomb for China”.


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