China has appointed its first counter-terrorism chief, state media said Monday, as it wages a controversial campaign to stamp out ethnic violence linked to the western Xinjiang region.

Liu Yuejin was appointed the commissioner of counter-terrorism, the China Daily reported.

Liu Yuejin. Photo: QQ.

He previously served as an assistant minister of public security and has worked on the country’s anti-narcotics efforts since the 1980s, the paper said.

Xinjiang, the homeland of the mostly Muslim Uighur ethnic minority, has been plagued by unrest in recent years, provoking China to launch a police crackdown on separatist “terrorists” it says are behind the violence.

With the rise of the Islamic State group, Beijing has increasingly attributed the attacks to foreign influence, while some experts see them as a reaction to discrimination and controls over the Uighurs’ culture and religion.

Uighur attacks on civilians have claimed hundreds of lives and injured many more.

A September knife attack at a colliery in Aksu left more than 50 people dead, according to reports by Radio Free Asia.

But the government’s response has been equally brutal, according to critics.

In April AFP reported that police ruthlessly suppressed an anti-government protest in the Uighur town of Elishku, where villagers claim hundreds disappeared following the incident. State media labelled the incident a “terror attack”.

China’s war on narcotics, too, has been criticised for its often heavy-handed approach to dealing with criminals which has done little to stem the rising tide of drug usage.

In 2013, Liu told Chinese newspaper the Global Times that Beijing had considered carrying out a drone strike against a drug lord in Myanmar who had been linked to the 2011 murder of 13 Chinese sailors.

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