The size of Alaska, Xinjiang is home to about 16 million Uighurs, a Turkic ethnic group, distinct from the Han Chinese.
Most recent disputes between the groups date from 1949 when Mao Tse- tung invited the Uighur and Kazakh leaders of the self-styled East Turkestan to a meeting in Peking to discuss autonomy. Their plane disappeared and many believed it was a deliberate ploy to wipe out the independence movement's leadership.
In recent years that movement has gathered pace and since the 1980s there have been a number of bomb attacks and disturbances. Muslim Uighur nationalists want to establish an independent "East Turkestan". To counter that, Peking has flooded the region's cities with soldiers and armed police. Campaigners say local people are often harassed.
Equally sinister is the decision by Peking to prompt Han Chinese to migrate to the area to in effect begin to "ethnically cleanse" Xinjiang. There are reports of hundreds of Chinese arriving every day, lured by housing and job incentives. Han Chinese make up 38 per cent of the population, Uighurs 47 per cent. The remainder are other ethnic groups.Reuse content