Two persons were killed and 14 others injured early on the morning of July 21,2008, when there were two explosions within an interval of 55 minutes in two buses of the public transport system of Kunming, the capital of the Yunnan province of China. Both the explosions took place on two buses bearing No.54 plying on the same route. The first explosion, which took place at 7-10 AM, killed one person and injured 10. The second, which took place at 8-05 AM, killed one person and injured four. All the injured are stated to be out of danger, but the hearing of many of them has reportedly been affected.
2.The local police has characterized the two blasts as deliberate acts of sabotage and announced rewards for any clues regarding the identities of the perpetrators. Security has been stepped up in Yunnan and along its border with Burma to prevent the perpetrators from fleeing into Burma.
3. According to reports carried by the state-controlled media, ammonium nitrate is believed to have been used in both the explosions. The improvised explosive devices (IED) used were not of a sophisticated kind. The first IED had been kept in the front of the bus and the second in the rear. It is not yet clear whether there were two perpetrators or whether the two blasts were the work of the same person.
4. There was a similar explosion in a public transport bus in Shanghai two months ago. The Shanghai police have not indicated the progress of the investigation so far.
5. The two blasts in Kunming, coming in the wake of the earlier Shanghai blast, have added to the concerns of the Chinese authorities, who are responsible for the security of the forthcoming Olympics from August 8,2008. While most of the items will be staged in Beijing, the football matches will be in Shanghai, the equitation items in Hong Kong and the rowing in the Shadong province.
6. While the preparations for the games have been going ahead smoothly and most foreign dignitaries, including President George Bush, have confirmed their acceptance of the Chinese invitation to attend the inaugural function, the Chinese have been disappointed by the lack of enthusiasm by international tourists to witness the games. Hotel bookings by intending games tourists have so far been below expectations. One reported reason for this is nervousness over the effectiveness of the security arrangements made by the Chinese authorities. The nervousness has increased after the violent incidents in Tibet and other Tibetan-inhabited areas in March,2008, and after reports of the rounding-up of alleged jihadi terrorists in the Muslim-majority Xinjiang province bordering Pakistan. Reports of fresh recruitment of Uighurs from the Uighur diaspora in Turkey by Al Qaeda and pro-Al Qaeda organizations such as the Islamic Jihad Union, an Uzbek organization, and their training in Pakistan’s tribal belt are a source of additional concern.
7. While the Chinese threat perceptions have been mainly focused on the Uighur and Tibetan organizations, Al Qaeda and pro-Al Qaeda organizations, the earlier blast in Shanghai and the blasts of July 21,2008, in Kunming have confused the Chinese. None of these organizations is known to have any presence in these places, though Kunming has a small Tibetan population.
8. Were the blasts of July 21 intended to cause more nervousness among intending foreign visitors or were they merely expressions of local anger against the Chinese authorities unrelated to the Olympics?
9. While the evidence available so far does not permit a definitive answer to these questions, two factors need to be noted. Firstly, the perpetrators of the two blasts did not want many casualties. This would be evident from the fact (confirmed by the local authorities) that two hours before the blasts many local residents having Internet access had reportedly received anonymous messages advising them not to travel by buses on this route.
10. Secondly, there have been many local grievances among the non-Han tribal population of Yunnan, many of whom are Christians—mainly Baptists with some Roman Catholics. Before the Communists captured power in China, Yunnan, then known as China’s Baptist belt, used to have the largest concentration of Baptists in China among the local tribals who are spread out along both sides of the Sino-Burmese border. Many American Baptist missionaries used to work among these tribals. After the People’s Liberation Army (PLA) entered Yunnan, these missionaries fled to the Kachin State of North Burma and from there to India. They then proceeded to Chiangmai in Northern Thailand from where their successors, many of them Lishus of Yunnan and Burma, have been looking after the spiritual needs of the tribals of Burma and Yunnan.
11. There have been allegations of the suppression of the human rights of the Christians. Just as the Chinese do not allow the construction of new mosques in Xinjiang, they allegedly do not allow the construction of new churches in Yunnan. To circumvent these restrictions, the Uighurs have been holding their community prayers in their houses by turn. The Chinese have declared many of these houses as illegal mosques and forcibly closed them.
12. Similarly, the Baptists and the Roman Catholics have been holding their prayers jointly in the houses of members of the community. Since last year, the Chinese have allegedly declared these houses as illegal churches and acted against their tenants.
13. In January last, China Aid, an organization, which monitors the human rights of the Christians in China, had disseminated the following report: “On December 5, 2007 at 2:00pm, policemen and members of the Bureau of Ethnic and Religious Affairs disrupted the house church meeting in Kunming, and detained several members. After searching the building, police seized several hundred Christian books including Bibles and note-pads, and proceeded to burn them outside of the residence. Police also destroyed the identification cards of three of the church members and instructed the landlord of the building to cease rental agreements with the congregation. Chinese law requires officials to issue certificates documenting items taken during seizures. The church members have requested documentation of the items several times, but have been turned away by police officials every time. Any Government which displays such blatant disregard for human rights and religious freedom demands to be held accountable. Government officials have now resorted to the burning of Bibles in order to hinder the growth of the House Church in China. We urge the international community to demand an accounting of these officials for the egregious acts committed against the house church members in Yunan Province. Members of a House Church in Yunan Province were severely beaten by police officials on the morning of January 23, 2008. The incident occurred after two church members walked into the Xishan District’s Public Security Bureau office to request an account of the items, including Bibles, that were taken from the church and burned by police officials in early December of 2007. After ignoring the members’ request, officials proceeded to violently remove them from the office. One female church member 54-year-old Ms. Liang Guihua was thrown into a wall and rendered unconscious for more than 10 minutes.”
14. According to Western news agency reports, the Kunming blasts came two days after the Yunnan police opened fire and killed two rubber farmers in the province’s Menglian county in a clash that also saw 41 police officers injured. The clash occurred when police tried to arrest five people in Menglian for allegedly attacking a local rubber company in a long-running dispute between farmers and the private firm, state media said.
15. It has been reported that the Chinese authorities in Beijing have issued instructions to all provincial Governments to be more sympathetic to local grievances and to redress them so that they do not lead to violent incidents damaging the image of China at the time of the Olympics. As one has been seeing in Tibet, Xinjiang and Yunnan, these instructions are not being followed by the local authorities, who continue to conduct themselves like Red Guards. (22-7-08)
(The writer, Mr.B.Raman, is Additional Secretary (retd), Cabinet Secretariat, Govt. of India,New Delhi, and, presently, Director, Institute For Topical Studies, Chennai. He is also associated with the Chennai Centre For China Studies. E-mail: email@example.com )