Xinjiang and the Global Fight Against Terrorism

At the New York Times, Michael Forsythe cites coverage from U.S. government-funded Radio Free Asia on a suicide attack in Hotan Prefecture, Xinjiang that left up to eight people dead and at least seven more injured last week:

A suicide bomber in the volatile Chinese region of killed as many as eight people on Friday when he grabbed a police officer and set off an explosive device attached to his body, according to a report by Radio Free Asia.

[…] The account could not be independently confirmed, and the Chinese state news media had yet to report on the attack.

[…] Radio Free Asia reported that Friday’s attack took place in Guma County, known as Pishan in Chinese. A man who answered the telephone at the Pishan County Public Bureau said he had no information about the attack, and a man at the Pishan County People’s Hospital said, “We’re not allowed to answer your question, sorry.” Neither man would give his name. […] [Source]

To control the media narrative on the sensitive region, Beijing limits journalists access to Xinjiang, and information on violence often first comes from advocacy groups and foreign-funded media. If confirmed, this attack becomes the latest incident of violence in Xinjiang, where authorities recently extended an “ultra-tough” crackdown on terrorism launched last May. Violence has continued in the region, and some rights groups point to increasingly repressive policies targeting the customs and religion of the local Uyghur population as a major cause.

State media continually alleges that escalating violence in Xinjiang is tied to the global jihad movement, and Xinjiang-related security is one motivation for China’s increasing engagement with its Central Asian neighbors. With global concerns about mounting following high-profile attacks in Paris and Copenhagen (not to mention many less-covered incidents), Caixin editor-in-chief published an editorial situating China’s Xinjiang problem into the international fight against terror. In her essay, she identifies international cooperation, equal economic development, and the protection of civil rights as key:

China’s fight against terrorism needs to be viewed against this global background. The country’s anti-terror campaign has its own uniqueness, but outside influence has become an increasingly significant factor. China is not a direct target of al-Qaida or IS, but it is not exempt from their spillover impact. Terrorist attacks by the Eastern Turkistan movement have escalated in recent years, causing incidents including one in front of Tiananmen Square in 2013 and an exceedingly bloody one in Kunming in 2014.

The government has taken a firm hand against terrorist activities, but this has not stopped them from repeatedly occurring in the Xinjiang region. The task faced by the country is similar to those of many others, but it also has its differences.

Chinese leaders have stressed that the country should “simultaneously push forward anti-terrorism work on both domestic and international fronts, and strengthen international cooperation on fighting terrorism.” […]

[…] Fighting terrorism should also follow rule of law. China does not have anti-terror legislation. The Internet has become a platform for terrorists to spread and fuel hatred and abet attacks, and many countries’ governments, including China’s, have made it a priority to monitor such activities. Working in areas like this requires the government to be patient and follow rules, striking a balance between national security and civil liberties.

The fight against terror also needs support from communities and the public. […] [Source]

Human Rights Watch recently criticized China’s new draft counter-terrorism law for its potential to legitimize rights abuses. In Washington today convened the three-day  White House Summit on Countering Violent Extremism. In an essay published in the LA Times ahead of the summit, Barack Obama wrote:

Governments that deny human rights play into the hands of extremists who claim that violence is the only way to achieve change. Efforts to counter violent extremism will only succeed if citizens can address legitimate grievances through the democratic process and express themselves through strong civil societies. Those efforts must be matched by economic, educational and entrepreneurial development so people have hope for a life of dignity. [Source]

have long had difficulty obtaining passports for international travel, and last month Beijing announced that a majority of the 800 people stopped trying to illegally enter Southeast Asia in 2014 were on their way to military training camps in the Middle East. The South China Morning Post reports that four of seven suspected militants currently in detention in Jakarta are believed to be Uyghurs, despite insistence that they are Turkish:

Four foreign suspected militants, who carry Turkish passports but are thought to be members of China’s ethnic Uygur minority, are among seven suspects who would go on trial in within a month, their lawyers said yesterday.

[…] The seven have been charged under an article of the 2003 Antiterrorism Law for “having an intention to join” the Mujahidin Indonesia Timur group led by Santoso, who has been linked in the past to Jemaah Islamiah, a militant group regarded as the Southeast Asian wing of the al-Qaeda terror group.

[…] Although the four foreign suspects possess Turkish passports, police believe they are Uygurs because they do not speak Turkish but use the Uygur language and their passports were fake.

While both the Turkish and Chinese embassies in Jakarta have not recognised their nationality, the four will go on trial as Turks next month at the North Jakarta District Court. [Source]

Last month, ten Turkish nationals were detained in Shanghai for allegedly providing altered Turkish passports to terrorist suspects in Xinjiang. Uyghurs in , where a similar language is spoken and a policy favorable to Uyghur refugees has long existed, cite repressive state policy and continued violence as their motivation to leave China.