A prefecture in China’s restive Xinjiang region has ordered all vehicles to be equipped with GPS-like tracking software, police and media reports said Tuesday, as authorities step up an “anti-terrorism” campaign.
All drivers in the Bayingol Mongolian Autonomous Prefecture must install a China-developed satellite navigation system called Beidou “to prevent theft, but also primarily to maintain stability”, an officer at the prefectural police headquarters told AFP by phone.
China’s Global Times newspaper quoted a police official as saying the policy was needed so that drivers “can be tracked wherever they go” and residents had until June 30 to comply.
Xinjiang is the homeland of the Uighurs — a Turkic, traditionally Muslim, ethnic minority, many of whom complain of Chinese cultural and religious repression and discrimination.
The region has been racked for years by a series of violent attacks which Beijing blames on exiled Uighur separatist groups whom it says are aligned with foreign terrorist networks.
“Cars are the major means of transportation for terrorists, and also a frequently chosen tool for terrorist attacks, so it’s necessary to use the Beidou system and electronic vehicle identification to enhance the management of vehicles,” a statement posted to the official social media account of the Bayingol traffic police said earlier this month.
Drivers must pay an annual 90 yuan ($13) fee for the system, the statement said.
Thirty-five percent of Bayingol’s more than 1.2 million people are Uighur, according to official 2015 figures.
There were no indications yet that the new policy would be adopted more widely across Xinjiang, a vast resource-rich region near Central Asia.
Tensions are simmering after anti-terrorism military rallies were held last week in three cities, including the regional capital Urumqi.
Under the ralling cry of “Display power to intimidate”, 10,000 security personnel paraded through Urumqi, accompanied by hundreds of police and military vehicles, the regional government’s official Tianshan website said.
It quoted the Xinjiang Communist Party committee deputy secretary Zhu Hailun as saying such displays were necessary to “build a wall as strong as iron” and that the forces of separatism, extremism and terrorism would be destroyed “with crushing blows”.
Last week eight people were killed in a knife attack on a crowd near the city of Hotan, including three attackers who were gunned down by police.
Police last month killed three “rioters” in the same county following a hunt for suspected members of a “violent terror group” linked to a 2015 attack there, according to the regional government’s official website.
Uighurs in Urumqi staged bloody anti-Chinese riots in July 2009 that left nearly 200 people dead, according to official estimates, and prompted a massive region-wide security clampdown.