Two weeks ago, on March 1, 34 people were killed and 130 injured in a mass stabbing attack at the Kunming railway station in Yunnan, China. Reports said as many as 10 black-clad assailants wielding knives and machetes attacked people at random. The event caused shock in China and around the world with many referring to it as the “Chinese 9/11.” Just days before, an Al Qaeda-affiliated group released a video threatening China. And this week, that video gained much greater significance, when Malaysian Airlines flight MH370 from Kuala Lumpur to Beijing disappeared without a trace.
The Chinese government officially placed the blame for the attack on Xinjiang separatists. Xinjiang, China’s largest province, traded hands repeatedly over centuries before becoming part of the People’s Republic of China in 1949. The enormous region borders Russia, Mongolia, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, Afghanistan, Pakistan and India and sits atop huge reserves of oil and gas, making it very important to China. The province is predominantly Muslim and foremost among its many ethnic groups are the Uyghurs, 10 million of whom make up 46 percent of the population.