Security situation in Xinjiang - leave your thoughts

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steven
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Security situation in Xinjiang - leave your thoughts

Postby steven » Tue Nov 28, 2017 10:38 am

We collect travel info regarding the surveillance apparatus in Xinjiang at Travel in Xinjiang

Please leave your thoughts on travel in Xinjiang below. Is it still worth it, or is the constant harassment of police becoming too much of a burden to enjoy the place as a traveler?

Below some excerpts from a mail I got from a recent visitor.

********

it's not just that every single village is swarming with police; there are multiple check points in even the tiniest villages and check points at every single traffic intersection in the cities; you have to show your ID and give fingerprints to even turn down a new street. it's kind of hard to explain, but there are these sophisticated, high-tech checkpoints on the roads/highways leading to every single city and town AND then within the cities, there are multiple checkpoints (dozens and dozens in some cities).

I went through probably 200 check points in 12 days traveling around the region, and was detained and subjected to stern questioning probably 50 times. the worst though was getting interrogated by state security officials from Beijing. I got the full-on Stasi treatment; they questioned me aggressively for 2 hours.

it's completely phucked now, a new governor was appointed last December and he is a major hardliner...everything has changed, it's appalling...I literally saw tens of thousands of heavily armed security personel, XJ looks like the West Bank now...and every city holds daily military parades with columns of hundreds of goose-stepping troops and dozens of armoured personel carriers (APCs)...the population has been militarized as well, every shop keeper has to keep a bullet proof vest and helmet on hand as well as these crazy spiked bats and metal lances; every day there is a "counter-terror" drill, where an air raid siren goes off and the shop keepers quickly put on their vest and helmet, grab their spiked bat or lance and run out into the street and start thrusting their weapons into the air in a choreographed manner will shouting at the top of their lungs....its completely astonishing.


I cant stress enough how oppressive the security situation is now...it isnt just the hassle of going through check point after check point and getting questioned constantly, its more about just seeing security forces EVERYWHERE and in such large numbers; hundreds even, thousands of them in a single day in some places....and witnessing the treatment of the locals...I saw some disturbing stuff, phones being checked, but not only checked, the police use a program to download and scan the entire contents of a person's phone...didnt happen to me (thank god) but I witnessed it...

we also saw a young ethnic Kazakh woman (Chinese ID cards list your ethnicity) get humiliated when she tried to check into a hotel in XJ; the receptionist looked at her ID and then called the police to ask if she was allowed to stay at the hotel... we saw stuff like that every single day...just humilitating, degrading treatment...the ENTIRE population is treated as suspect...everyone is just contantly going through check points, when both travelling between AND WITHIN cities, towns and villages; showing ur ID, being questioned about your movements, getting frisked, even babies are frisked, i dont know how they can bare it; its just relentless, over and over...

it's not just massively inconvenient and annoying, it becomes soul crushing after a certain point, both to experience as a foreign traveller and to witness it happening to the locals... and its beyond just a "surge", this is the "new normal", it will probably be like this for years, if not decades; the checkpoints are not temporary, they are massive, fortified structures with full body magnetic imaging scanners (like at major US airports)...in only the past year the govt has plowed billions of dollars into super charging the security presense, the amount of money they are spending is stupendous, but they will spend any amount to pacify the region... China will never again loosen its grip on XJ...

Also: full finger prints (all fingers) at Urumqi airport for international arrivals AND retina scan.

Urumqi isn't as bad as the south in terms of checkpoints, but still plenty.
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Re: Security situation in Xinjiang - leave your thoughts

Postby Antonio » Tue Nov 28, 2017 2:28 pm

The Syrian war is about to finish, in a year or so, the rebels in the Idlib pocket will be crushed, and some of the Uyghurs living there will survive and will come back to the PRC to start trouble. I guess this surge is a reaction of what they are expecting.

Next year I want to go there and finish my Silk Road adventure, but it is looking increasingly unlikely with my Turkish stamps. Even if I get the visa, the situation around Kashgar might be not too pleasant. Getting to Xian through Urumqi by skipping Irkeshtam seems a little lame, but we will see.
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Re: Security situation in Xinjiang - leave your thoughts

Postby laurent_rio » Thu Nov 30, 2017 7:33 am

Now i am thinking twice my plan to XJ, recently here in Jakarta , if embassy of China see that you have Iran visa (and many people go to Iran now due to very cheap Air Asia ticket from KL to Tehran) , they will ask special interview.

Steven, how about in Kashgar , is the security situation worse than in Urumqi ?
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Re: Security situation in Xinjiang - leave your thoughts

Postby olmo » Thu Nov 30, 2017 8:58 am

We came from Pakistan/Khunjerab and cycled Tashkurgan to Kashgar and then on to Irkeshtam (well, Ulugqat from where one must take the taxi) in June 2017.

Once through the PK/CN border crossing hassle we were only once stopped for a passport check - there are some checkpoints but we got always waved through. Last one just before Ulugqat was only annoying as we were a bit in a hurry and they took forever, apparently not finding some book, then sending us to the main road checkpoint with line waiting there, but otherwise totally fine. Plenty of police and some checkpoints on random roads in Kashgar, but from our observation anyone looking Han or foreign doesn't get stopped.

We wild camped three times, twice between Tashkurgan and Kashgar hiding under highway bridges (not so bad as it also gives some shelter in the open landscape) and then some 20k before Ulugqat just off the road around some trees. We did take a bit more care than usual to have no one see us while getting off the road, as we'd heard from other cyclists this year getting picked up by police and escorted to a hotel. We met quite a few Chinese cyclists and most of them would camp (between Kashgar and Tashkurgan there isn't really any other option anyways), and it is becoming ever more popular, so maybe they may relax about the camping? We did hear there are lots "spies" among the locals, and people aren't allowed to host foreigners, so it would be difficult to stay in or near any villages, plus there is always the chance you'd get locals in trouble for inviting you!

The environment with the bazillion of cameras (lots of them brand new or just being installed), the immense police presence (including locals doing drills with sticks etc as described above), checkpoints and security scanners and petrol station barriers and whatnot all give a very eerie oppressive feeling. I'd say the idea is just to intimidate, to make sure anyone understands there is no chance for dissent and better follow the rules of harmony. We noticed lots of police were actually Uighur, not Han, and supposedly not few are happy with this kind of safe, secure jobs, even policing "their own" people.

Anyways, these are just our western, non-Chinese-speaking observations from a tiny part of Xinjang. Should not stop you from going and in any case, maybe an argument for some to fight the environment of fear and surveillance that some of our western governments are just too happy to import from the Chinese. Biggest annoyance for the individual traveler without their own transport will probably be the fact that you may only stay in licensed hotels, which are not everywhere, not always easy to find and generally not the cheapest. We stayed at the YHA Hostel in Tashkurgan, a pretty relaxed place and with 35,- CNY for the bed cheap for the area. Kashgar was a bit more, think we bargained down to 90 CNY for a room.

For the locals, of course, it's very different. They can't just leave when they feel it all becomes too much ...
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Re: Security situation in Xinjiang - leave your thoughts

Postby luketao » Fri Dec 01, 2017 9:03 pm

Southwestern Xinjiang, Kashgar, Hotan and Aksu border Afghanistan, Pakistan and the Fergana Valley, and are dominantly Uygur, more than 90% in Kashgar and Hotan, more than 70% in Aksu. There were many attacks in the past and you would expect the same treatment as if you were roaming in Israel or Occupied Palestine. Northern and Eastern Xinjiang, Urumqi, Yining, Tacheng, Altay, Turpan, Hami, Korla, should be better.

Also, foreigners are required to register with the local police within 24 hours after entering China. This rule applies to any place in the mainland. Hotels that can host foreigners will automatically register for you. This is also why some small hotels do not accept foreigners since they don't want to bother. If you do homestay, AirB&B or camp in the wild, you would theoretically need to register yourself. Like in Uzbekistan, this rule is not strictly enforced for most of the time and in most places in China. However, in Xinjiang, the authorities may pick on it.

I would say that the landscape, the sights and the experience are still worth the trip. Even in Xinjiang, you should be safer than if you were in Paris, Barcelona, London, or Istanbul. However, you should lower your expectations since Xinjiang could be seen as the Middle East in the Orient.
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Re: Security situation in Xinjiang - leave your thoughts

Postby bwv812 » Fri Dec 01, 2017 10:34 pm

luketao wrote:Southwestern Xinjiang, Kashgar, Hotan and Aksu border Afghanistan, Pakistan and the Fergana Valley, and are dominantly Uygur, more than 90% in Kashgar and Hotan, more than 70% in Aksu. There were many attacks in the past and you would expect the same treatment as if you were roaming in Israel or Occupied Palestine.


In 1998 Hotan was only about 83% Uyghur, and I suspect this number has decreased somewhat since then.
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hotan#Demographics

That's a bit besides the point, though: I don't believe there have been "many" attacks in the past (certainly nowhere near the extent of in Israel), and the situation that people are describing here doesn't actually seem the same as you see in Israel. And even if it is, many would find it problematic if the best you can say is that Israel does the same.
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Re: Security situation in Xinjiang - leave your thoughts

Postby steven » Sat Dec 02, 2017 2:44 pm

luketao wrote: Even in Xinjiang, you should be safer than if you were in Paris, Barcelona, London, or Istanbul.


The thread is not about the security risk in Xinjiang, which is low. It is more about the oppressive regime and Apartheid system similar to that in Palestine - is it worth going through constant checks, interviews and questioning?

Obviously, though, the repressive regime will increase the risk of terrorist attacks in the years to come as the Uyghur population is driven to hate and extremism - Israel being the example here.
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Re: Security situation in Xinjiang - leave your thoughts

Postby luketao » Sun Dec 03, 2017 1:37 am

bwv812 wrote:In 1998 Hotan was only about 83% Uyghur, and I suspect this number has decreased somewhat since then.
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hotan#Demographics

That's a bit besides the point, though: I don't believe there have been "many" attacks in the past (certainly nowhere near the extent of in Israel), and the situation that people are describing here doesn't actually seem the same as you see in Israel. And even if it is, many would find it problematic if the best you can say is that Israel does the same.


I think you are referring to the urban area of Hotan city. I was referring to the entire Hotan prefecture that also includes rural area and small towns.
The analogy is that the level of security checks that people go through can be compared to the level of security checks when you roam around in Israel/Occupied Palestine. If visitors can put their expectations on that level and they are fine with that, then they should go. Otherwise, it is probably not recommended.
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Re: Security situation in Xinjiang - leave your thoughts

Postby luketao » Sun Dec 03, 2017 2:05 am

steven wrote:The thread is not about the security risk in Xinjiang, which is low. It is more about the oppressive regime and Apartheid system similar to that in Palestine - is it worth going through constant checks, interviews and questioning?

Obviously, though, the repressive regime will increase the risk of terrorist attacks in the years to come as the Uyghur population is driven to hate and extremism - Israel being the example here.


It is probably not news that China is under an oppressive regime. I am just suggesting potential visitors to put their expectations on the correct level. If they are fine with security checks like those in Israel border or near Bethlehem/Jerusalem/Golan Heights, they can go. Otherwise, there are plenty of other choices.

I personally think it is still worth it, but I am sort of an adventure seeking tourist. I was told by local "spies" and got detained and questioned in eastern Turkey. I "toured" US-Mexico border fence and was followed and intercepted by three CBP jeeps with barking drug sniffing dogs. Security checks are, in my opinion, almost standard experience when visiting a police state or sensitive areas, and YES, DPRK is high on my list.
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Re: Security situation in Xinjiang - leave your thoughts

Postby bwv812 » Sun Dec 03, 2017 6:34 am

luketao wrote:The analogy is that the level of security checks that people go through can be compared to the level of security checks when you roam around in Israel/Occupied Palestine. If visitors can put their expectations on that level and they are fine with that, then they should go. Otherwise, it is probably not recommended.


I think the reason you're seeing pushback is because of the impression that you were rationalizing the Chinese response as proportional to the threat of Uyghur terrorism and somehow in keeping with accepted Western standards. If you're simply saying that there is heightened scrutiny but that the experience is worth it, then that's something else entirely (though I would say again that the situation as described in this thread does not seem at all similar to normal roaming around Israel).
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