Many Uighurs,a Turkic-speaking Muslim people who live in energy-rich Xinjiang,chafe at Chinese restrictions on their culture,language and religion,and the region is frequently the scene of deadly ethnic violence.
Last month,21 people were killed in clashes in the heavily ethnic Uighur part of Xinjiang near the old Silk Road city of Kashgar,the deadliest unrest since July 2009,when nearly 200 people were killed in riots in the Xinjiang capital of Urumqi.
China says it offers broad freedoms in Xinjiang,though few Chinese officials make the effort to learn the Uighur language or understand much about Islam in what is officially an atheist country.
Speaking to reporters in Beijing,deputy Xinjiang governor Shi Dagang said he had worked in southern Xinjiang for more than a decade and never had to carry a gun or have a police escort.
This was the common experience of government officials who are members of the majority Han Chinese ethnicity,many of whom work in areas heavily populated by minorities,he said.
“There is mutual respect by Han cadres and ethnic minorities,and we are friends. When we go into their houses as guests we are treated to meat and wine,with song and dance,” Shi said.
“The ethnic minorities are simple-hearted and honest,very kind and unaffected. They love guests,” he added. “I hope people don’t have misapprehensions and go to Xinjiang and see for themselves.”
China dismisses accusations its policies are connected to unrest,saying armed Uighur groups have links to Central Asian and Pakistani Islamist militants,and of carrying out attacks to establish an independent state they call East Turkistan.
“Those minority of people,the violent terrorists,ethnic splittists and religions extremists who want to cause trouble,their organisations are all outside the country,as are their backers behind the scenes,” Shi said.
“How could we let this minority of people split Xinjiang off from the rest of the country and destroy this peaceful and harmonious society? It’s impossible.”
Many rights groups say China has long overplayed the threat posed to justify its tough controls in Xinjiang,which lies strategically on the borders of Central Asia,India and Pakistan.