A Rare First-Hand Report of Police Force in China

Peter Foster, journalist of the Daily Telegraph, wrote his first-hand report of China’s police force in the Xinjiang riot. It is a quite rare report from the “free media” that shows the true professionalism of a journalist.

“For the first time since Sunday’s violence a sense of normality is returning to the streets here.

I went out this morning at 8am immediately after curfew was lifted and things were definitely feeling more relaxed – many more cars on the roads, people doing their tai-ji in the parks, women returning from the vegetable markets laden with fresh produce, even a few dog-walkers.

There is still a very visible police presence – helicopters circling overhead and massive convoys of armoured personnel carriers, water canons and trucks carrying paramilitary police winding slowly through the city as a constant reminder that the forces of law and order are ready to act at a moment’s notice.

A note on the performance of the Chinese police during this crisis: from what I’ve seen they have been highly disciplined and professional under extremely challenging circumstances and deserve real praise for this.

On the one hand, it could be argued that the police failed in the first instance. Certainly that is the view of many Han people we’ve spoken too who are deeply angry that Sunday’s killing was allowed to take place at all.

It seems that the police were taken completely by surprise. Having broken up the original demonstration around the People’s Square and the South Gate on Sunday night between 6pm and 8pm, they failed to anticipate the extreme violence that was unfolded along the side-streets after about 10.30pm.

Perhaps this was because Urumqi, unlike Kashgar, is generally felt to be a stable – I hesitate to use the ‘H’ word (harmonious) – city where relations between Uighur and Han are nothing like as tense as in other parts of Xinjiang.

Then on Tuesday, the police appeared to get caught out a second time when, having focussed on locking down the Uighur areas, they seemed unprepared for the huge number of Han who took to the streets with their clubs and other weapons to show their anger over what they say was effectively an anti-Han pogrom carried out by thuggish Uighur elements on Sunday night.

These are fair criticisms, but equally the Chinese police and paramilitaries must be given huge credit for handling the situations that did arise.

On Tuesday they walked a fine line between confronting the Han protesters – keeping them separate from the Uighur community at a time when there was a real sense of blood lust in the air – and allowing them they chance to vent their legitimate anger and frustration.

In the event, the Han crowds on Tuesday effectively were allowed to go round and round in circles, exhausting themselves in the hot sun while never actually being allowed to reach the objects of their anger. To my mind, this was very smart policing.

Then on Wednesday, after an overwhelming show of force, the police made sure that the Han protestors largely stayed off the streets.

Similarly on Tuesday when a crowd of Uighur women and children of the Sai Ma Chang (Racetrack) district led a protest against the arrest of their men, the police contained the protest – showing force, but judiciously withdrawing a few hundred metres just at the moment when it looked as if things might get nasty.

I don’t claim to be an expert in riot control, but I have reported on mass protests in many different cities around the world – in the UK (football riots in London), in Africa (Harare and Lagos), in Pakistan (Lahore, Karachi, Peshawar) and in several cities in India – and I’m happy to say that China’s police have showed far greater professionalism, discipline and restraint than I’ve observed in many of those places.

Riots are feverish and unpredictable things and it only takes one nervous recruit to lash out (and if you look behind the visors, many of the Chinese police are pretty young) and suddenly a controlled situation can turn very nasty indeed.

All credit to the Chinese foot-soldiers, therefore, who have shown great professionalism and must be applauded for preventing any major further bloodshed after Sunday night.

They are neatly turned out, quiet and orderly when off-duty – for example, they don’t leave a trail of litter after chow-time like India’s police always did. These are small things but they do matter, since they set the tone.

If there is any criticism to be made, as outlined in the two points above, it should be directed at the commanders and officials who failed to anticipate events.

The next test for the police is how they handle the cases of the 1,400 arrested people, mostly Uighurs. The innocent must be returned unharmed to their families, while the guilty must be punished. Both sides, Uighur and Han, need to be satisfied by this process. It won’t be easy.

On that note, I shall shortly be departing for London on a summer break, but my colleague Malcolm Moore will be keeping you up date on China news with tweets and blogs from Shanghai and beyond.

For now, it’s ‘zaijian’ from me.”


1 Comment

Filed under China, Media Watch

One response to “A Rare First-Hand Report of Police Force in China

  1. Pingback: Al-Qaeda Group Vows to Avenge Uighur Deaths in China « The New Voice

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