There are still a lot of question marks surrounding the violence in Xinjiang. Two things, though, seem obvious. First, this is the sort of deferred maintenance China will be facing for quite a while with regards to transforming its inchoate territory into a truly coherent nation. (Tibet is the other obvious flashpoint.) The costs will remain significant in terms of power investsed, both hard (domestically, in terms of security forces) and soft (abroad, in terms of pushing back against international pressure). And it points to the degree to which the risk of violent conflict involved in China’s rise will manifest itself within China itself, rather than outside its borders, as is usually emphasized.
Second, I suspect this will increase the urgency Beijing feels regarding the stabilization of Afghanistan and the Pakistani tribal regions. While the violence this week seems to be the result of ethnic animosity, rather than extremist militancy, the two go hand in hand in terms of China’s perception of and approach to the region. I’ve already read that China has begun to put more pressure on Islamabad to address both the presence and training of Uighurs among the Pakistani Taliban, as well as the spillover contagion effect. China is also taking a more active business stake in Afghanistan. So this could drive some buy-in from Beijing for the so-called “regional approach” advocated by the Obama administration. Whether Beijing’s priorities will dovetail or compete with Washington’s remains to be seen.