Tensions have arisen between Uyghurs and the Han, the predominant ethnic group in China, who have migrated to Xinjiang in large numbers over the past 60 years.
A 2011 report by the US Congressional-Executive Commission on China said that Han workers have taken most of the new jobs and unemployment among Uyghurs is high. Activists say China has been taking measures to undermine the Uyghur language, culture and religious practices including restrictions on observing Ramadan.
In a response to a question on whether the Chinese government was seeking to repress the Muslim faith in Xinjiang, Lu Kang, China’s foreign ministry spokesman said on Wednesday that “the objective fact is that the people of all ethnicities in Xinjiang, just like the people living in other regions of China, are enjoying better lives, working conditions and brighter prospect for development.”
“We oppose the approach of linking terrorism with a certain ethnicity or a certain religion,” he added.
Leibold said the government has been slowly increasing measures since July 2009, when some 200 people were killed in ethnic riots that were prompted by long-simmering resentment many Uyghurs have for the Han.