EXECUTIVE SUMMARY: The assumption that economic investment aimed at increasing modernization and raising standards of living will weaken ethnic identity and strengthen a minority’s sense of belonging has been disproven in the case of the Xinjiang Autonomous Region (XUAR) in western China. Uyghur nationalism is increasing despite significant economic investment by the Chinese government, raising questions about the effectiveness of economic development programs designed to close gaps and diminish polarization between different groups.
In 2017, security measures in Xinjiang reached a new level with the recruitment of 100,000 new police officers, widespread installations of police stations, and new surveillance regulations on the Uyghur population (a Sunni Muslim minority numbering around 10 million citizens). These actions were part of a series of measures put in place following the uprising of July 2009, when some of the worst ethnic riots in Xinjiang in decades erupted in the capital of the province, Urumqi. They were sparked by demonstrations organized by the Uyghur to protest economic and ethnic discrimination. After the government used force to disperse the demonstrations, the protest turned into a series of violent acts against Chinese businesses and civilians.