Charles Hill, a former U.S. diplomat, is a research fellow at Stanford University’s Hoover Institution, where he is co-director of the Hoover working group on Islamism and International Order. He writes on the Forbes:
For years it’s been a closely held secret: The People’s Republic of China is an empire desperately trying to make the world think it’s a state.
The riots by Uighurs in China’s far northwest are not something new; the place really erupted back about the time of the American Civil War. Clashes between Han Chinese moving into the basin, range and uplands inhabited by the much different ethnic people of the Central Asian heartland began at least 2,000 years ago in the Han Dynasty. Some of the most powerful pieces in Chinese literature, like the Tang Dynasty Ballad of the Army Carts by the eighth-century poet Du Fu, tell of the bitter hardships of lonely soldiers sent to garrison military settlements far to the west of China proper.
… By frustrating legitimate Uighur aspirations, Beijing will provide al-Qaeda-inspired Islamist militants with the means to radicalize the Muslim population of China’s northwest in a jihad. China’s minorities policy recognizes the existence of ethnic nationalities like Uighurs and Tibetans but refuses to recognize religion. This plays into the hands of Muslim extremists. Beijing has already branded the Uighur uprising as “Islamic terrorism.”
The idea of a ”clash of civilizations” may be superseded by a clash of ”spheres of influence,” an old concept in world affairs that has raised its head again. China is extending its de facto power westward to fit its de jure state boundaries. Russia is seeking a sphere of influence over its lost territories in Central Asia; Russia approves what the PRC is doing with the Uighurs because it wants approval for its own ambitions in the area. The U.S. has important interests there as a staging area for its ”Af-Pak” counter-insurgency efforts.
And the rising power Turkey has come on the scene to claim a sphere of influence across all the Turkic ethnic-linguistic Central Asian lands that range well inside China’s borders. The Turkish prime minister has called the situation in Xinjiang a “genocide.” There are layers of complex factors in play here involving power politics, economic exploitation, ethnic rivalries and religion. A new “Great Game” is under way, and the Chinese Revolution is still not over.