Also known as Gulja, leafy and friendly Yīníng lies about 390km west of Ürümqi. The centre of the Ili Kazak Autonomous Prefecture, Yīníng is of primary interest as a stopover on the way to Kazakhstan.
Looking at the city today, you’d hardly know it was the scene of violent separatist riots in 1997. Yīníng has since gone the Sinicised way of most frontier towns in Xīnjiāng, and many of the original Kazakh and Uighur inhabitants seem to have been swallowed up without a trace.
Even though the Chinese appear to currently dominate the border regions, there is no doubt that the easily accessible Ili Valley causes them concern. Yīníng itself was occupied by Russian troops between 1872 and 1881, and as recently as 1962 there were major Sino-Soviet clashes along the Ili River (Yīlí Hé).
Běijīng’s major fear now is that separatist elements from the neighbouring Central Asian republics will continue to provide fuel to an ever-restless ‘Uighurstan’.