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23-07-09, 17:37
FRANK CHING
China tarring Uighurs with the al-Qaeda brush

2009/07/23

http://www.nst.com.my/Current_News/NST/articles/17out/Article/index_html

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

The China Daily, an official newspaper, published an article on July 16 headlined "Urumqi riots part of plan to help al-Qaeda".

The article asserted: "Evidence shows Uighur separatists who orchestrated the July 5 riots in Urumqi, capital of the Xinjiang Uygur autonomous region, have close relations with the Afghanistan-based al-Qaeda."

The People's Daily online reported on Monday 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 supporting 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 ulama have criticised the government for remaining silent on events affecting Muslims in Xinjiang. Former president Ali Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani, in a sermon on Friday, condemned China for its crackdown in Xinjiang, after which many of those present shouted "Death to China".

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", 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, which is headed by Rebiya Kadeer, a Uighur businesswoman now living in exile in Washington.

It has also linked 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.

Hitherto, there has been little discernible connection between Etim and al-Qaeda, which has not made direct threats against China. There seems little reason why the terrorist organisation would want to take on China, in addition to the US. However, if Beijing continues to tar Uighurs with the al-Qaeda brush, this 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 border areas of Pakistan for more than six years.

In fact, Washington has been soliciting greater Chinese cooperation in its efforts, 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 what role 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, it may well feel that it and the US are up against the same enemy.

But the two countries will not see eye-to-eye on all issues. The US 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.

frank.ching@gmail.com