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East Asia

The Uighur issue

Giancarlo Elia Valori

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The autonomous region of Xinjiang, in the People’s Republic of China – with a relative majority of Turkmen Muslim people (45%) and the Han Chinese who since 1949 have risen from 6% to 41% of the population – is an issue not only for China, but also a relevant geopolitical issue for Eurasia as a whole.

A total number of 22 million inhabitants, a soil rich in oil, gas and minerals, as well as strong tensions between the minority Turkmen region and the Han one – even taking the form of jihadist terrorism – and finally the spreading of Uighur terrorist actions in the rest of the Chinese territory and elsewhere.

According to reliable Chinese sources, from 1990 until 2001 the East Turkestan Islamic Movement (ETIM) – the Uighurs’ military arm – carried out over 200 terrorist attacks in China and inside Xinjiang.

Its political arm, the East Turkestan Liberation Oragnization (ETLO), was founded in Turkey in 1990 to explicitly fight against the Chinese government in Xinjiang.

It is already serious that a NATO country ventures to carry out so important operations without the Alliance’s evident support – and, if NATO were still a vital structure – this fact alone would be an issue on which to assess Turkey’s presence or not in the Atlantic Alliance.

Nevertheless, why Turkey – a NATO member State and its second armed force – supports the political and military fight of the Uighur separatists?

For two main reasons: Turkey pursues its own Panturanic project stretching from Anatolia to the whole Central Asia up to Xinjiang, the point of arrival of the Turkmen ethnic colonization.

Furthermore, the Turkish regime plans to capitalize on the “small jihad” of Central Asia to play a role of “Sunni Islamic protector”, which would bring Turkey back to a sort of neo-Ottoman Empire. This is President Erdogan’s true delirium.

Does NATO probably want to follow the Macbeth-style dreams of the Turkish AKP, the Party already banned in its components by the Turkish Constitutional Court, in Central Asia? And with which forces?

It is not known to what extent these projects – widely known to all international decision-makers – are consistent with the Turkish presence within NATO, but we know that the Atlantic Alliance has not said a single word on this new Turkish strategic posture.

Is NATO probably becoming obsolete, not after the end, but after the transformation of Cold War?

However, let us revert to the Uighur issue.

The East Turkestan Liberation Organization wants to unite – against China – also the Kazakhs in Xinjiang – and, indeed, Kazakhstan has long defined this group as “terrorist organization”.

It is worth recalling that, in the most acute phase of the Taliban jihad in Afghanistan against the ISAF forces, an entire brigade made up of Uighurs only and organized by Al Qaeda, with Chechen units, operated there, while some leaders of the Uighur jihad ran – on behalf of the Bin Laden “rank and file” – even the area of the Pakistani FATAs.

Hence the Uighur Islamist-jihadist movement is now a danger also for the Russian Federation, considering the link between the East Turkestan Islamic Movement and the Chechen jihadist separatism, with many exchanges of militant-terrorists and, probably, strong financial and logistical support.

Obviously this is a danger for the stability of the People’s Republic of China, which cannot afford a jihad area in such a neuralgic position for its defense and its peaceful land and maritime expansion, as anticipated by Xi Jinping.

In the near future this will be the starting point of the jihadist guerrilla warfare – the line of the Belt and Road Initiative defined in 2013.

It is a severe danger also for India, considering the perviousness of the Islamic areas in the Central-Northern part of the Indian Federation, which cannot certainly tolerate a jihadist fire in its Koranic religion areas.

Finally it is a danger also for the United States which – owing to economic and financial reasons – cannot afford a People Republic of China with a jihad active in a strategic area for China’s economic expansion and political stability.

Do the United States probably want to destabilize the country which is still the main holder of US bonds?

Unless the United States, dominated by Turkey in Syria, do not want to accept the Turkish geopolitics also in the whole Central Asia, with a view to “surrounding China” and possibly threatening the Russian Federation from the East and from the South, as they are doing along the new borders between Europe-28 and Russia.

It would be a huge strategic suicide, albeit not unlikely considering the current ineffectiveness of the US foreign policy at global level.

Let us leave aside the European Union, which counts nothing and is blackmailed even by Turkey for the migrant issue.

Nevertheless there are significant personal cases in relation to the Uighur issue: Dolkun Isa’s is a case in point.

Dolkun was a leader of the movement of “East Turkestan” in Xinjiiang. He escaped from China in 1997 and arrived in the easy paradise of the new jihad, namely Europe, where he became German citizen in 2006.

Currently he is the Secretary of the World Uighur Congress, an international organization of exiled Uighurs which, however, operates both inside and outside Xinjiang.

This “Congress”, partially funded by the US National Endowment for Democracy, was founded mid-April in Munich, a city near the German intelligence headquarters – and currently we cannot perceive the explicit relations, which implicitly exist, between the WUC and the military groups of the jihadist insurgency in the Xinjiang.

China has issued an Interpol “red notice” against it, namely an international arrest warrant which, however, has not been followed up by Germany, the other European countries or the United States. The same holds true for Italy itself where Dolkun Isa travelled and carried out political activity, as well as covert activities to cover up the actions of the military wing of the Uighur jihadist movement.

In Italy Dolkun operated also through the Radical Party.

Moreover there is an organizational connection between the networks of the Tibet insurgency and the Uighur ones, which tend to use a distorted description of the situation in Tibet so as to justify the Chinese “repression” of the Uighurs that, in fact, regards only an anti-jihadist fight.

In 2009 Dolkun Isa was denied access to South Korea, while he succeeded in paying a visit to India on April 22, 2016, with a clear anti-Chinese goal in mind.

Briefly, the Uighur political-military network is gaining support from all the countries, which have potential regional contrasts with the People’s Republic of China.

This easily points to the Uighur network as a future tool for a series of proxy wars between China and its Asian competitors.

Why, however, does Germany openly support Dolkun Isa and the other leaders of the Uighur network present in the country?

We can think of a domestic interest, considering that the diaspora Uighurs can easily connect themselves with the very wide Turkish network traditionally present in Germany. We can also assume that Germany intends to favour the reckless and ill-advised Turkish action in the Middle East , so as to “overthrow the (so-called) tyrants” but, indeed, to reach Turkey’s hegemony over the current and future failed states in the region, up to Xinjiang.

From which every European country, regardless of its being NATO member, will be fiercely excluded.

A strongly irrational strategic choice which I believe has much to do with the Turkish blackmail through the mass of refugees of the war created by Turkey and the United States, namely the destruction of Syria, which will be followed by other “operations” to “bring democracy”.

The WUC President is Rebiya Kadeer, a rich business woman operating between China and Russia, as well as a US citizen, which shows that the United States use the Uighur “Congress” as a tool to destabilize China in the future, according to the now evident ill-fated model of the “orange revolutions”.

Is this the real US interest? We doubt it and we really hope so.

The Honorary President – now passed away – is the Turkish citizen Riza Bekin Pascià.

The WUC chief advisor is the German citizen Erkin Alptekin, the son of a Uighur leader who, when the Chinese arrived in Xinjiang, escaped to Jammu and Kashmir, as well as to Srinagar. Later he studied journalism in Istanbul and long worked for Radio Free Europe.

The vice-Presidents are Seyit Tumturk, a Turkish citizen dealing with the reception of many Uighur fugitives in Turkey, through Thailand and India, as well as Khariman Hojamberdiyev, a Kazakh autonomist leader – and it is worth recalling that over 250,000 Uighurs live in Kazakhstan, another pole of the Turkish Panturanic project.

The third vice-President is Omen Khanat, resident in the United States.

The other two vice-Presidents are Asgar Khan, another German citizen, and Semet Abia, resident in Norway.

The Secretary-General is the above mentioned Dolkun Isa. The vice-Secretaries General are the Turkish Erkin Emet, the Kazakh Abdulrashid Turdiyev and Tuyghun Abduweli, resident in Canada. Two likely Turkey’s friends.

The spokesmen are Dishad Reshit, resident in Sweden, and Alim Seytoff, who lives in the United States.

There is also a “Youth Party” linked to the WUC, which operates from the United States.

The WUC funds are manifold: in addition to the funds raised directly in Xinjiang, every year the National Endowment for International Peace grants 215.000 US dollars to the Uighur movement, over and above the funds from the German, Swedish and Norwegian governments.

Briefly there is the essential need to put an end to the WUC network outside China and, particularly, to the network of the jihadist military separatism in Xinjiang. Two networks which are closely interwoven.

This is the real interest of all global players, including the United States.

This is the reason why we propose to hold an International Conference on Xinjiang, attended by the Russian Federation, the People’s Republic of China, India, the United States and the other Central Asian countries, recognizing the Turkmen-Uighur jihad as a primary danger for their society and the strategic stability of the whole Asia.

If this did not happen, Central Asia could easily collapse and China could focus on the reaction to the Uighur jihad. Most of the land choke-points along the border between Russia and China – which is ever more important today – could take fire so as to weaken both countries. This is in nobody’s interest.

Advisory Board Co-chair Honoris Causa Professor Giancarlo Elia Valori is an eminent Italian economist and businessman. He holds prestigious academic distinctions and national orders. Mr Valori has lectured on international affairs and economics at the world’s leading universities such as Peking University, the Hebrew University of Jerusalem and the Yeshiva University in New York. He currently chairs "La Centrale Finanziaria Generale Spa", he is also the honorary president of Huawei Italy, economic adviser to the Chinese giant HNA Group and member of the Ayan-Holding Board. In 1992 he was appointed Officier de la Légion d'Honneur de la République Francaise, with this motivation: "A man who can see across borders to understand the world” and in 2002 he received the title of "Honorable" of the Académie des Sciences de l'Institut de France

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East Asia

China’s soft power and its Lunar New Year’s Culture

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Authors: Liu Hui & Humprey A. Russell*

As a common practice, China has celebrated its annual Lunar new year since 1984 when the leaders of the day decided to open mysterious country in a more confident and transparent way. So far, the lunar new year gala has become a part of Chinese cultural life and beyond. The question then arises why China or its people have been so thrilled to exhibit themselves to the world, as its economy has already impressed the world by its rapid pace and tremendous capacity.

As it is well-known, in international relations, peoples from different cultural and ethnical backgrounds need to enhance their understanding which eventually leads to mutual respect and tolerance as the key to the world peace and stability. China is well-aware of this norm. As a rising power with 1.3 billion people, it is necessary for China to introduce its culture and notion of the peaceful rise to the audiences globally. Joseph Nye, Jr., the founder of the concept of the soft power, has argued: “The currency of soft power is culture, political values, and foreign policies. During the information age, credibility is the scarcest resource.”In light of this, China has been steadily involved in cultural promotions abroad.

China is an ancient civilization but diplomatically it is a new global player in terms of its modern involvement into the world affairs, particularly in terms of reform and openness. Yet, since China has aspired to rejuvenate itself as one of the leading powers globally, it is natural for the world en bloc to assume Beijing’s intention and approach to the power transition between the rising power like itself and the ruling powers such as the United States and the G-7 club. Consider this, China has exerted all efforts to project but not propagate its image to the world. Here culture is bound to play the vital role in convincing the countries concerned that “culturally China has no the gene of being a threat to other peoples,” as Chinese President Xi has assured. The annual lunar gala is evidently a useful instrument to demonstrate Chinese people, culture and policies as well.

Culturally speaking, the Chinese New Year celebrations can be seen as follows. In a general sense, similar themes run through all the galas with the local cultural and ethnical ingredients, for instance, Chinese opera, crosstalk and acrobatics, as well as the lion-dancing or the dragon-dancing from time to time. Yes, the galas play the role of promoting the Chinese communities over the world to identify themselves with the Chinese culture which surely strengthen the cultural bonds among the Chinese, in particular the younger generations. Moreover, the dimension of the Chinese culture can be found beyond the country since its neighbors like Japan, Vietnam, South Korea and Malaysia, as well as Chinese communities in many other areas also perform those arts at the holiday seasons. The message here is clear that China, although it is a rising great power, has never abandoned its cultural tradition which has emphasized the harmony among the different races and ethnics.

Recently, the lunar new year celebrations across China have invited professional and amateur artists from all over the world. Those foreign guest artists and many overseas students studying in China have been able to offer their talents in either Chinese or their mother tongues. No doubt, this is a two-way to learn from each other because Chinese performers are benefited from the contacts with their counterparts globally. In terms of public diplomacy, Beijing aims to send a powerful and sincere message to the world: China can’t be in isolation from the world because it has aspired to be a great and inclusive country as well. To that end, the rise of China is not going to challenge the status quo, but will act as one of the stakeholders.

As usual, realists have difficulties and even cultural bias to accept the rhetoric from a country like China since it has been regarded by the ruling powers of the world as an ambitious, assertive and communist-ruled country with its unique culture. To that challenge, the Chinese government and the people have done a great deal of works to successfully illustrate Chinese practice of harmony at the societal level idealized by Confucius’ doctrines. This social harmony is made possible only by the realization of the Taoist ideal of harmony with nature – in this case, harmony between humans and nature. This explains why panda and many other rare animals are now viewed as new national symbol of China. Although they are unnecessarily an indispensable part of the lunar new year gala, the viewpoint is that the rise of China would not be completed at the cost of the ecological environment like many other countries did in history.

Practically speaking, the lunar new year celebrations are being conducted in a rich variety of ways such as concerts, cuisines, folk entertainments and even forums and receptions around the world. Major global commercial centers have also served to create a Chinese holiday atmosphere, adapt to the needs of Chinese tourists, attract active participation from local residents, and provide such diversities of cultural and social events. What is worth mentioning is that some Chinese-North American non-profit, non-partisan organizations are beginning to celebrate Chinese lunar gala in partnership with other local counterparts. For instance, the Chinese Inter-cultural Association based in California, recently hosted a Chinese New Year party in a Persian restaurant in partnership with a local non-profit, non-partisan organization called the Orange County Toastmaster Club, part of Toastmaster International. Also, in another Chinese New Year celebration that was open to people of all races in Pasadena, two Americans played the guitar and sang songs in fluent Chinese! Both galas were attended by people of all racial backgrounds around the world. Given this, it is fair to say that China’s soft power supported by its annual lunar new year festival is on the rise globally with a view to promoting mutual respect and friendship among the peoples of various cultural, ethnical and racial origins.

Yet, though the impressive feats are achieved, it has noted that China still has a long way to go in terms of its twin-centennial dreams. First, as a developing country with its unique culture, it is necessary for China to promote its great ancient culture abroad, but it is also imperative to avoid “introducing” China rashly into the globe. Essentially, soft power is more the ability to attract and co-opt than to use force or give money as a means of persuasion. Thereby, it is the very ability to shape the preferences of others through appeal and attraction. As cross-cultural communication is a long process, Nye admitted a few years ago, in public affairs, “the best propaganda is not propaganda.”

This is the key to all the countries. In 2014,President Xi formally stated, “China should increase its soft power, give a good Chinese narrative, and better communicate its messages to the world.” In light of this, Chinese lunar new year gala surely acts as soft power to project the image of China internationally.

* Humprey A. Russell (Indonesia), PhD candidate in international affairs, SIPA, Jilin University.

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East Asia

China’s step into the maelstrom of the Middle East

Dr. James M. Dorsey

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The Middle East has a knack for sucking external powers into its conflicts. China’s ventures into the region have shown how difficult it is to maintain its principle of non-interference in the internal affairs of other states.

China’s abandonment of non-interference is manifested by its (largely ineffective) efforts to mediate conflicts in South Sudan, Syria and Afghanistan as well as between Israel and Palestine and even between Saudi Arabia and Iran. It is even more evident in China’s trashing of its vow not to establish foreign military bases, which became apparent when it established a naval base in Djibouti and when reports surfaced that it intends to use Pakistan’s deep sea port of Gwadar as a military facility.

This contradiction between China’s policy on the ground and its long-standing non-interventionist foreign policy principles means that Beijing often struggles to meet the expectations of Middle Eastern states. It also means that China risks tying itself up in political knots in countries such as Pakistan, which is home to the crown jewel of its Belt and Road Initiative — the China–Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC).

Middle Eastern autocrats have tried to embrace the Chinese model of economic liberalism coupled with tight political control. They see China’s declared principle of non-interference in the affairs of others for what it is: support for authoritarian rule. The principle of this policy is in effect the same as the decades-old US policy of opting for stability over democracy in the Middle East.

It is now a risky policy for the United States and China to engage in given the region’s post-Arab Spring history with brutal and often violent transitions. If anything, instead of having been ‘stabilised’ by US and Chinese policies, the region is still at the beginning of a transition process that could take up to a quarter of a century to resolve. There is no guarantee that autocrats will emerge as the winners.

China currently appears to have the upper hand against the United States for influence across the greater Middle East, but Chinese policies threaten to make that advantage short-term at best.

Belt and Road Initiative-related projects funded by China have proven to be a double-edged sword. Concerns are mounting in countries like Pakistan that massive Chinese investment could prove to be a debt trap similar to Sri Lanka’s experience.

Chinese back-peddling on several Pakistani infrastructure projects suggests that China is tweaking its approach to the US$50 billion China–Pakistan Economic Corridor. The Chinese rethink was sparked by political volatility caused by Pakistan’s self-serving politics and continued political violence — particularly in the Balochistan province, which is at the heart of CPEC.

China decided to redevelop its criteria for the funding of CPEC’s infrastructure projects in November 2017. This move seemingly amounted to an effort to enhance the Pakistani military’s stake in the country’s economy at a time when they were flexing their muscles in response to political volatility. The decision suggests that China is not averse to shaping the political environment of key countries in its own authoritarian mould.

Similarly, China has been willing to manipulate Pakistan against its adversaries for its own gain. China continues to shield Masoud Azhar (who is believed to have close ties to Pakistani intelligence agencies and military forces) from UN designation as a global terrorist. China does so while Pakistan cracks down on militants in response to a US suspension of aid and a UN Security Council monitoring visit.

Pakistan’s use of militants in its dispute with India over Kashmir serves China’s interest in keeping India off balance — a goal which Beijing sees as worthy despite the fact that Chinese personnel and assets have been the targets of a low-level insurgency in Balochistan. Saudi Arabia is also considering the use of Balochistan as a launching pad to destabilise Iran. By stirring ethnic unrest in Iran, Saudi Arabia will inevitably suck China into the Saudi–Iranian rivalry and sharpen its competition with the United States. Washington backs the Indian-supported port of Chabahar in Iran — a mere 70 kilometres from Gwadar.

China is discovering that it will prove impossible to avoid the pitfalls of the greater Middle East. This is despite the fact that US President Donald Trump and Saudi Arabia’s powerful Crown Prince Mohammad bin Salman seem singularly focussed on countering Iran and Islamic militants.

As it navigates the region’s numerous landmines, China is likely to find itself at odds with both the United States and Saudi Arabia. It will at least have a common interest in pursuing political stability at the expense of political change — however much this may violate its stated commitment to non-interference.

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East Asia

Chinese extradition request puts crackdown on Uyghurs in the spotlight

Dr. James M. Dorsey

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A Chinese demand for the extradition of 11 Uyghurs from Malaysia puts the spotlight on China’s roll-out of one of the world’s most intrusive surveillance systems, military moves to prevent Uyghur foreign fighters from returning to Xinjiang, and initial steps to export its security approach to countries like Pakistan.

The 11 were among 25 Uyghurs who escaped from a Thai detention centre in November through a hole in the wall, using blankets to climb to the ground.

The extradition request follows similar deportations of Uyghurs from Thailand and Egypt often with no due process and no immediate evidence that they were militants.

The escapees were among more than 200 Uighurs detained in Thailand in 2014. The Uyghurs claimed they were Turkish nationals and demanded that they be returned to Turkey. Thailand, despite international condemnation, forcibly extradited to China some 100 of the group in July 2015.

Tens of Uyghurs, who were unable to flee to Turkey in time, were detained in Egypt in July and are believed to have also been returned to China. Many of the Uyghurs were students at Al Azhar, one of the foremost institutions of Islamic learning.

China, increasingly concerned that Uyghurs fighters in Syria and Iraq will seek to return to Xinjiang or establish bases across the border in Afghanistan and Tajikistan in the wake of the territorial demise of the Islamic State, has brutally cracked down on the ethnic minority in its strategic north-western province, extended its long arm to the Uyghur Diaspora, and is mulling the establishment of its first land rather than naval foreign military base.

The crackdown appears, at least for now, to put a lid on intermittent attacks in Xinjiang itself. Chinese nationals have instead been targeted in Pakistan, the $50 billion plus crown jewel in China’s Belt and Road initiative that seeks to link Eurasia to the People’s Republic through infrastructure.

The attacks are believed to have been carried out by either Baloch nationalists or militants of the East Turkestan Independence Movement (ETIM), a Uighur separatist group that has aligned itself with the Islamic State.

Various other groups, including the Pakistani Taliban, Al Qaeda and the Islamic State have threatened to attack Chinese nationals in response to the alleged repression of Uyghurs in Xinjiang.

ETIM militants were believed to have been responsible for the bombing in August 2015 of Bangkok’s Erawan shrine that killed 20 people as retaliation for the forced repatriation of Uighurs a month earlier.

The Chinese embassy in Islamabad warned in December of possible attacks targeting “Chinese-invested organizations and Chinese citizens” in Pakistan

China’s ambassador, Yao Jing, advised the Pakistani interior ministry two months earlier that Abdul Wali, an alleged ETIM assassin, had entered the country and was likely to attack Chinese targets

China has refused to recognize ethnic aspirations of Uyghurs, a Turkic group, and approached it as a problem of Islamic militancy. Thousands of Uyghurs are believed to have joined militants in Syria, while hundreds or thousands more have sought to make their way through Southeast Asia to Turkey.

To counter ethnic and religious aspirations, China has introduced what must be the world’s most intrusive surveillance system using algorithms. Streets in Xinjiang’s cities and villages are pockmarked by cameras; police stations every 500 metres dot roads in major cities; public buildings resemble fortresses; and authorities use facial recognition and body scanners at highway checkpoints.

The government, in what has the makings of a re-education program, has opened boarding schools “for local children to spend their entire week in a Chinese-speaking environment, and then only going home to parents on the weekends,” according to China scholar David Brophy. Adult Uyghurs, who have stuck to their Turkic language, have been ordered to study Chinese at night schools.

Nightly television programs feature oath-swearing ceremonies,” in which participants pledge to root out “two-faced people,” the term used for Uyghur Communist Party members who are believed to be not fully devoted to Chinese policy.

The measures in Xinjiang go beyond an Orwellian citizen scoring system that is being introduced that scores a person’s political trustworthiness. The system would determine what benefits a citizen is entitled to, including access to credit, high speed internet service and fast-tracked visas for travel based on data garnered from social media and online shopping data as well as scanning of irises and content on mobile phones at random police checks.

Elements of the system are poised for export. A long-term Chinese plan for China’s investment in Pakistan, dubbed the China Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC), envisioned creating a system of monitoring and surveillance in Pakistani cities to ensure law and order.

The system envisions deployment of explosive detectors and scanners to “cover major roads, case-prone areas and crowded places…in urban areas to conduct real-time monitoring and 24-hour video recording.”

A national fibre optic backbone would be built for internet traffic as well as the terrestrial distribution of broadcast media. Pakistani media would cooperate with their Chinese counterparts in the “dissemination of Chinese culture.”

The plan described the backbone as a “cultural transmission carrier” that would serve to “further enhance mutual understanding between the two peoples and the traditional friendship between the two countries.”

The measures were designed to address the risks to CPEC that the plan identified as “Pakistani politics, such as competing parties, religion, tribes, terrorists, and Western intervention” as well as security. “The security situation is the worst in recent years,” the plan said.

At the same time, China, despite official denials, is building, according to Afghan security officials, a military base for the Afghan military that would give the People’s Republic a presence in Badakhshan, the remote panhandle of Afghanistan that borders China and Tajikistan.

Chinese military personnel have reportedly been in the mountainous Wakhan Corridor, a narrow strip of territory in north-eastern Afghanistan that extends to China and separates Tajikistan from Pakistan since March last year.

The importance China attributes to protecting itself against Uyghur militancy and extending its protective shield beyond its borders was reflected in the recent appointment as its ambassador to Afghanistan, Liu Jinsong, who was raised in Xinjiang and served as a director of the Belt and Road initiative’s $15 billion Silk Road Fund.

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