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Unregistered
23-07-09, 18:25
Published July 24, 2009

US won't back China ethnic policy - terror link or not

By FRANK CHING


http://www.businesstimes.com.sg/sub/views/story/0,4574,343116,00.html?

TWO weeks after the outbreak of ethnic violence in Xinjiang, Chinese authorities are working hard to convince the international public that those responsible were not only Uighur 'separatists' who want the region to gain independence from Beijing, but were also terrorists, part of the Al-Qaeda network.

The China Daily, an official newspaper, published an article on July 16 titled 'Urumqi riots part of plan to help Al-Qaeda'. The article asserted: 'Evidence shows that the Uighur separatists who orchestrated the July 5 riots in Urumqi, capital of the Xinjiang Uighur autonomous region, have close relations with the Afghanistan-based Al-Qaeda.'

The People's Daily online reported that 'terrorism is the real driving force behind the deadly killing' on July 5, when close to 200 people, mostly Han Chinese, were killed as a result of the violence.

China has appealed to Muslim countries to see its side of the story and is working hard to maintain its position in the Islamic world. A Chinese foreign ministry spokesman, Qin Gang, appealed for understanding from the Muslim world.

'We hope that the Islamic countries and our Muslim brothers could see the truth of July 5 incident in Urumqi,' he said. 'China and the Islamic countries have long been respecting and supportive of each other, and the Chinese government and people always firmly support the just cause of the Islamic countries to pursue national independence and safeguard state sovereignty.'



So far, Turkey has been the country most outspoken in condemning China, with its prime minister labelling as 'genocide' China's activities in Xinjiang. While Muslim governments have been muted, their people have been more outspoken.

In Indonesia, for example, demonstrators clashed with guards outside the Chinese embassy in Jakarta and called for a jihad, or holy war, in support of the Uighurs. Similarly, in Kazakhstan, where there is a sizeable Uighur population, a rally was held on Sunday to protest against a crackdown against the Uighurs in Xinjiang.

And in Iran, prominent clerics have criticised the government for remaining silent on events affecting Muslims in Xinjiang. Former president Ali Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani, in a sermon last Friday, condemned China for its crackdown in Xinjiang.

There is little doubt that China will have to pay a price for its policy in Xinjiang. Even more worrying from Beijing's standpoint was a call for vengeance against Chinese people issued by a North African organisation known as Al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM), an offshoot of the well-known terrorist organisation. Many thousands of Chinese live and work in North Africa and could become targets.

China has alleged that the violence in Xinjiang was masterminded by the World Uighur Congress (WUC), which is headed by Rebiya Kadeer, a Uighur businesswoman now living in exile in Washington.

It has also linked the WUC to the East Turkestan Islamic Movement (ETIM), a group that seeks independence for Xinjiang and that has been labelled a terrorist organisation by the United States, largely on the strength of evidence provided by China.

There has been little discernible connection between ETIM and Al-Qaeda, which has not made direct threats against China. There seems little reason for the terrorist organisation to take on China, in addition to the United States. However, if Beijing continues to tar Uighurs with the Al-Qaeda brush, the situation may change.

If Al-Qaeda does target Chinese interests in Africa or elsewhere, it is likely to push Beijing closer to Washington, which has been fighting insurgents in Afghanistan and in the border areas of Pakistan for more than half a dozen years.

In fact, Washington has been soliciting for greater Chinese cooperation in its efforts, by suggesting, for example, that Beijing could permit the Afghan government to buy food and fuel in western China, which adjoins Afghanistan. Beijing appears to have an open mind regarding the role that it can play, although it understandably does not want to become directly involved in the war in South Asia.

However, if it sees Muslim fundamentalists as a threat, then it may well feel that it and the United States are up against the same enemy.

But the two countries will not see eye to eye on all issues. The United States will no doubt continue to insist on viewing the struggle with international terrorists as being separate from attempts by Uighurs - and Tibetans - in China for greater autonomy and religious freedom.

It is inconceivable that Washington would support Beijing's domestic policy towards ethnic minorities.

The writer is a Hong Kong-based journalist and commentator

Unregistered
23-07-09, 18:27
Brothers in arms

Arun Kumar Singh

July.24 : Between 1973 and 1986, I had the chance to visit and live in what was then the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics (USSR). Despite visiting various cities and regions across the length and breadth of this massive land (the USSR was seven times larger than India, and today Russia is five times larger), I was extremely surprised at the sudden break-up of the USSR into 15 constituents in 1991. The break-up was even more surprising since the present day Central Asian Republics (CAR) were really not keen to part ways because they received a lot of help and sustenance from Moscow. When I mentioned this to a few Russians in 1992, they replied, "We Russians are Europeans, and we don’t want to bear the burden of these people who are totally different from us".

After a decade of trying to woo the West and being rejected, and with the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation (Nato) on its doorstep, Russia today calls itself a "Euro-Asian power" and has close ties with India, China and the CAR. But many Russians now regret the break-up of the former USSR and feel that only the three tiny "European" former republics of Estonia, Lithuania and Latvia were really "different and keen to break away".

When I first visited Shanghai in 2000, I interacted with the top naval and bureaucratic leadership in that bustling city. My first impressions were of China being a USSR clone, but richer and, perhaps, a lot wiser from the experience of the collapse of European communism. Like most Indians, I expected to hear about the Chinese obsession with Taiwan from my hosts. Well, Taiwan was mentioned, but only in passing and as "a province of China". The top priority, even higher than economic resurgence and military modernisation, were the "primary threats of terrorism, separatism and religious extremism". We saw this threat being acted out in the 2008 pre-Beijing Olympic clashes in Tibet and Xinjiang, followed this year by the recent clashes in Urumqi (capital of Xinjiang) which left over 186 protesters (mostly Muslim Uighurs) dead.

Keenly conscious that dissent, once it gets out of control inevitably snowballs into a massive peoples’ movement, may lead to not just the breakaway of Tibet, inner Mongolia and Xinjiang, but also the collapse of Communist rule in China, Beijing in 2000 adopted a "strike hard" policy against all those they considered "terrorists". On the diplomatic front it moved quickly to set up the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation (SCO) in 2001 with the primary aim of having stability in the energy-rich CAR. Then in 2003, when Nato entered Afghanistan, China began to support the "global war on terror", blockaded its border with Afghanistan and set up by 2004 a 2,000-strong elite counter-terrorism force similar to America’s Delta Force. Indeed, in 2009, it added one more corps (over 20,000 men) to its Rapid Reaction Force which is meant specifically to deal rapidly with terrorists, uprisings or dissent.

Incidentally, Xinjiang in Chinese means "old frontier returns to China". The Xinjiang province is strategically located in the northwest of China, not far from Ladakh. It has minerals, gas, oil and an oil pipeline transporting its oil (which contributes to 60 per cent of its economy) to Shanghai. Xinjiang also falls on all the routes planned for various other expensive oil and gas pipelines that China wishes to build, to transport its energy requirements from CAR and Iran. With an area of 1.8 million sq km, this province is half the size of India. In 1949, its population was over 90 per cent Muslim Uighurs of Turkish origin and other Muslim tribes, and only six per cent Han Chinese. Today, the 20 million population reflects a changed demography with about 41 per cent Han Chinese, 46 per cent Muslim Uighurs and 13 per cent other Muslims. In addition, there are numerous Chinese military, paramilitary, police and "non-registered" Han Chinese workers who have effectively reduced the original inhabitants to a minority. This Chinese policy of deliberately changing the demography is likely to continue till the Uighurs are reduced to a small minority.

History records that the Turkish-speaking people of Xinjiang were first conquered by the Chinese Qing dynasty in the 17th century, then occupied by the USSR in 1941 and eventually returned to China in 1949.

China expert, Professor Srikanth Kondapalli, in his recent seminar paper "China’s role in Central Asia", mentions that "during the America-backed war against the Soviet-occupation of Afghanistan, China, from 1979 to 1989, provided small arms to the Mujahideen against the Soviets.

When the Soviets and Americans left Afghanistan, many Al Qaeda terrorists began to enter Xinjiang, after receiving training in Afghan and Pakistani terror camps. The Chinese Deputy Chief of General Staff, Gen. Xiong Guangkai, has estimated that over 1,000 such terrorists entered Xinjiang then". Another well-known strategic expert, Mohan Guruswamy, has estimated that the Pakistani Lashkar-e-Tayyaba and Jamaat-ud-Dawa have trained 4,000 Uighurs.

China today faces problems similar to India. Both countries need about four decades of peace to enable their economies to rise and lift their billions out of poverty. The existing border tensions between the two countries are further aggravated when the factor of global terror is added. The time has, perhaps, come for China to stop its military and strategic nuclear weapons assistance to its close "anti-India ally" Pakistan which today is the source of global terror. India has raised its concerns about Pakistani terror camps and US secretary of state Hillary Clinton, during her recent India visit, mentioned the "syndicate of terror" in Pakistan.

China will shortly overtake the United States to become India’s largest trading partner. Will it also show the wisdom to join India in tackling terror in the common Indo-China backyard before it’s too late?

Vice-Admiral Arun Kumar Singh retired as Flag Officer Commanding-in-Chief of the Eastern Naval Command, Visakhapatnam

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