China staged anti-terrorism mock drills with neighboring Tajikistan and Kyrgyzstan in a region of Western Xinjiang suspected by the Chinese government of harboring separatists. This one-day drill was held by the Shanghai Cooperation Organization. From the Associated Press:
Security forces from China and two Central Asian neighbors practiced hunting down violent separatists in a counterterrorism drill along a border area where ethnic Muslim rebels have staged attacks against Beijing’s rule, the government said Saturday.
Friday’s one-day exercise involved forces from Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan as well as China and took place along their borders in the western Chinese region of Xinjiang, the government and media reports said.
The scenario called on the three countries to coordinate a manhunt for anti-China separatists who had set up a training camp on the Chinese side of the border, the China News Service said. Flushed out, the rebels hijacked a tourist bus that television footage showed black-suited tactical units storming, shattering the windows to get inside.
Hardly far-fetched, the drill contained situations Chinese security forces have previously encountered in trying to quash the sporadically violent, decades-long rebellion by largely Muslim Uighurs seeking independence for Xinjiang, or what they call East Turkestan.
The Chinese government is trying to link its efforts to fight the Xinjiang separatist movement as a part of the broader narrative of international counter-terrorism. China has asked for international cooperation with its efforts. From Voice of America:
Jiang says there are terrorists who are actively trying to split China and who seriously threaten the country’s national security. She said the fight against terrorist forces in East Turkestan is an important part of the international counterterrorism campaign, and that the global community should step up cooperation against terrorism.
East Turkestan is another name for the Uighur Muslim minority region of Xinjiang, in far northwestern China. The U.S. government previously had put the East Turkestan Islamic Movement on its list of foreign terrorist organizations, although the group’s name does not appear on an official list that appeared in November.
Uighur scholar Ilham Tohti, who accuses Chinese media of “kidnapping” the Uighur issue by connecting it to bin Laden and al Qaida.
He acknowledges there are some Uighurs with more extreme views, but says it does not mean that they are involved with al Qaida.
He says people should be smart enough to “just shut their mouths” instead of trying to link bin Laden to the Uighurs.
However, the group Human Rights in China (HRIC) charges that China and other countries often use the language of terrorism as an excuse to repress its internal population. From the HRIC whitepaper titled Counter-Terrorism and Human Rights: The Impact of the Shanghai Cooperation Organization:
SCO member states for their part have quite deliberately used this opportunity to advance their respective agendas on the international stage, under cover of the regional framework. Doing so has allowed them to deflect critical scrutiny of the serious human rights problems identified by international human rights monitoring bodies and thus avoid the need to account for them. These problems include crackdowns and abuses related to individual exercise of fundamental rights and freedoms, and systemic issues such as torture, inhumane prison conditions, extra-legal detention, corruption, lack of an independent judiciary and of effective remedies, discrimination against and targeting of ethnic and other vulnerable groups, and trafficking of and violence against women and children.
This whitepaper argues that the international community, and the UN in particular as it deepens and expands its engagement with the SCO, must urgently address the human rights risks posed by each SCO member state and by the collective SCO framework, policies, and practices. The SCO approach to counter-terrorism, modeled on China’s Three Evils doctrine, and highlighting principles of territorial integrity, non-interference in internal affairs, and social stability, contributes to supporting repressive regimes at the expense of national, regional, and global human rights. The ongoing failure to demand accountability from regional frameworks such as the SCO also undermines the effectiveness and integrity of the international system in countering terrorism and advancing rule of law, peace, and security.