In China’s latest effort to control movement inside the perpetually restive region of Xinjiang, residents of one prefecture are being commanded to install a government-developed GPS tracking system in their vehicles.
By June 30th, all drivers in Bayingolin Mongolian Autonomous Prefecture must have the Beidou Navigation Satellite System installed in their vehicles, local authorities said on Monday, explaining that the order was aimed at “safeguarding stability.”
“All vehicles must install the system, so that they can be tracked wherever they go. It also helps car owners to find their cars quickly if it’s been stolen or taken [by terrorists],” explained one Bayingol Public Security Bureau staffer.
To help enforce the rule, gas stations will only serve cars that have the GPS system installed once the grace period has ended. While the installation is free, vehicle owners will be charged 90 yuan a year for the service’s internet fees.
With an area of 462,700 square kilometers, Bayingol is China’s largest prefecture, even larger than neighboring Gansu province. The sprawling area is home to many Uighur Muslims who the government has blamed for problems in the region which have escalated again recently.
Earlier this month, three knife-wielding assailants were shot dead by police following an attack that killed five people and injured another five in Hotan prefecture, to the west of Bayingol.
In response, China recently staged mass “anti-terror rallies” with thousands of armed security officers parading through the streets of Urumqi and other major cities in the region shouting out pledges to defeat terror.
China has blamed Uighur separatist groups for regular episodes of violence in the region, sometimes cracking down on militants with deadly force. However, in recent years, rather than contain the conflict, China’s efforts seem to have caused the movement to spread outside of the region’s borders to Beijing, Kunming, Bangkok and Kyrgyzstan.
Meanwhile, international observers have laid the blame for unrest at the feet of the government itself. In recent years, Uighurs have complained about a number of measures that they say discriminate against their religion by cracking down on religious holidays, customs, and even long beards. In 2015, Uighur shopkeepers were urged to sell alcohol and cigarettes, or else be shut down.
Last November, the government even went so far as to demand that all residents of Xinjiang hand in their passports to local police stations for “examination and management,” in an attempt to prevent more Uighur militants from fleeing the country.
We wonder what comes next.
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