Zero Tolerance: Repression and Political Violence on China’s New Silk Road, Phillip B.K. Potter and Chen Wang

Reviewed by Stefanie Kam

Most debates on the motivations for terrorism and political violence center on two explanations: the lack of effective representation and the absence of nonviolent outlets for grievances. In their book, Potter and Wang find both factors at play. China’s policies in Xinjiang are driven by the realities of political violence, as well as insecurities about regime stability and legitimacy, despite mounting costs associated with harsh repression there. Potter and Wang add methodological rigor and empirical substance to a familiar argument: that violence and repression in Xinjiang are underpinned by a spiral of action, projection, and repression by the state, followed by political violence, which then fuels further securitization by the state, in a vicious feedback loop.

Government sensitivities to instability in Xinjiang are rooted in China’s longstanding policy prioritization of domestic stability, as revealed in the book’s analysis of China’s cautious and risk-avoidant approach in media coverage of political violence. Potter and Wang show that beyond media policy, the imperative for social stability has been a key part of Xinjiang policy since the Tiananmen Square protests. Although public security expenditures in Xinjiang did not catch up with the national average until 2014, when a series of deadly attacks and strike-hard campaigns were l

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