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China’s Policy on the DPRK’s Nuclear Issue: Cooperation and Disagreements with the US and Russia

Mher D. Sahakyan

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The main aims of this article are to investigate and explain China’s policy, cooperation and disagreements with Washington and Moscow on the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea’s (DPRK or North Korea) nuclear issue.

As a permanent member of the UNSC and an important player in international relations, China has the capability and authority to address and solve internationally important problems. In turn, international society is also interested in Beijing continuing its active involvement in the improvements in world security․

China plays a decisive and important role in the negotiations regarding the DPRK’s nuclear issue. The de facto withdrawal from the Treaty of the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons (NPT) by the DPRK led to a new political situation in the international community. The DPRK’s nuclear weapons may trigger a decision by other Far East countries to acquire nuclear arsenals. The balance between the DPRK and the Republic of Korea (ROK or South Korea) has already been violated in favor of the former. Whether the ROK will continue to rely on the American nuclear umbrella or develop its own nuclear weapons depends on the final results of negotiations. Japan has previously announced that the DPRK’s nuclear arsenal is a threat to its national security, which means that Japan may consider a possible substitute for the American nuclear guarantee. Tensions regarding the DPRK’s nuclear issues threaten the entire political and economic stability of the Far East. China is the second-largest economy in the world, and Japan and the ROK are extremely well developed economies. The Association of South East Asian Nations (ASEAN) and Indian economies continue to grow rapidly. Tension or military actions in the Korean Peninsula can harm economic development throughout the entire region. However, after missiles and nuclear tests, the DPRK seems to be playing its own game, as it has not accepted UNSC resolutions. Officially, Pyongyang announced its withdrawal from the NPT and rejects international norms; this behavior discredits the effectiveness and authority of the UN, as well. In a broader sense, the DPRK continues to attempt to solve its national security problems by developing missile systems and nuclear weapons. However, these projects harm the DPRK’s political relations with the international community, including with allies such as China. When the DPRK began nuclear tests, China was initially surprised and attempted to punish the DPRK for its actions by voting for sanctions against the nation.

The following question therefore arises: Which action is more useful for a state? Developing nuclear weapons would give the opportunity to deter any offensive activity, whereas having allies and expanding economic relations would deter any possible revolutions or economic collapse. Recent world history offers a cogent example. The Soviet Union was one of the most powerful states in the world, but history has nevertheless shown that it is difficult to maintain sovereignty without a modern economy, free trade and open economic relations with the international community. Moreover, if a state’s economy collapses, no nuclear weapon can help. The next hypothesis is that the DPRK’s government understands that the ROK’s economy develops quickly and that they are far from the ROK’s level of economic development. However, they want to show their domestic audience that they are building a modern and strong state. Although the Strategic Offensive Reduction Treaty and New Start

treaties between Russia and the US might encourage other countries to reduce their nuclear capabilities, the DPRK’s nuclear tests can lead to a new nuclear arms race.

View from Beijing on the DPRK’s Nuclear Issue

In response to the DPRK’s nuclear tests, the UNSC chose sanctions as the appropriate way

of halting the proliferation of Weapons of Mass destruction (WMDs) in the Far East. UNSC sanctions on the DPRK primarily targeted the military, financial and nuclear sectors of this country. China condemned the DPRK’s nuclear test and voted affirmatively for Resolutions․

With these steps, China sent a message to its partners in Pyongyang, stating that Beijing is not interested in a nuclear arms race in the Far East. Chinese decision makers sent another message to Western colleagues stating that they are ready to cooperate within the framework of negotiations and would not accept any attempt to solve the DPRK’s nuclear issue militarily.

Contributions of the Chinese researchers show that the opinions of China’s researchers are divided on this issue. One segment of Chinese researchers believes that the DPRK is not China’s friend and that its behavior and nuclear arsenal is a threat to Chinese security. The second segment of Chinese researchers believes that the DPRK is a buffer between China and Japan and between Chinese and US troops that are based in Japan and the ROK and that China must help the DPRK for this reason.

In turn, the second segment of Chinese researchers can be further divided into two groups. The first group believes that China should help the people of the DPRK because of the longstanding Sino-Korean relationship, but representatives of this group like to add that the Chinese do not like the Kim dynasty. The second group of this segment of Chinese researchers believes that the DPRK is China’s strategic partner, as evidenced by the Sino-

North Korean Treaty of Friendship, Cooperation and Mutual Assistance of 1961, and that China must continue to help the DPRK maintain its political system.

If we consider, that the DPRK is still China’s ally due to the Treaty of Friendship, Cooperation, Mutual Assistance, that was signed by China and DPRK in 1961, which  obligated each party to come to the aid of the other if attacked, so the following question arises: Why did China accept sanctions against its so-called ally?

China is disappointed by the fact that nuclear weapons technology is being spread to neighboring states, which may be a reason for the possible nuclear arms race in the Far East.

Thus, if the international community could not find the ways to urge the DPRK’s government to completely, verifiably, irreversibly dismantle its nuclear arsenal, it is possible that other countries in the region such as Japan and ROK, which have the capability to build nuclear weapons, would strive to repair the balance and would start their own nuclear programs. They can announce that the DPRK’s nuclear weapons threaten their security and that they need to build their own to deter the DPRK. It is worth mentioning, that before the first nuclear test of the DPRK, China was the only legal owner of nuclear weapons among its eastern neighbors. Nuclear weapons give China an advantage against its perpetual opponent, Japan. This fact provided an impetus to China to stop the proliferation of nuclear weapons in NEA.

The Chinese nuclear arsenal deters Japan, but what will happen if Japan creates nuclear weapons as well?

China would lose its coercive deterrent against its historical opponent.

I believe that China will continue to press the DPRK and urge it to dismantle its nuclear arsenal, but Beijing will never entirely turn to the US and leave the DPRK in complete isolation. It appears that if China agrees with the US’s wishes to isolate the DPRK that such an event would mean the beginning of the collapse of the DPRK. I believe that after this step, the US would reach a separate agreement with Pyongyang. The history of international relations features several examples designed and implemented by the US as follows: the first event was when the US improved its ties with China without discussing this step with Japan, and the second event was when the US improved its relations with Vietnam – a country that the US had struggled with in the past. Currently, the US serves as a reliable patron for the guarantee of security in Vietnam. The US-Vietnam strategic partnership is surely in opposition to China’s interests. From my point of view, China would continue to support the DPRK in building its economy, which would give Beijing a chance to maintain its influence over the DPRK. Further, Beijing will continue to improve its ties with the ROK, as the ROK is the third-leading economic partner of China. China will attempt to find ways to demilitarize and denuclearize the Korean Peninsula with the ROK. From Beijing’s perspective, these steps will provide an opportunity to reduce the US’s influence in the Far East. We can conclude that from China’s perspective, “no problems in the region will eliminate US interference in regional affairs.” In sum, during the negotiations for preventing further nuclear proliferation in the Korean Peninsula, China is in the most difficult position because it attempts to push the DPRK to continue the negotiation process and to stop developing new nuclear weapons. China also makes an effort to ease sanctions on the whole. Beijing cannot allow an unstable situation in the DPRK, which would cause thousands of refugees to flee from the DPRK to China; thus, China is interested in the DPRK’s stability. Additionally, the government of China believes that if a communist regime is maintained in Pyongyang, China would be able to use the DPRK’s massive army in a possible “West-East” confrontation.

China-US Disagreements and Cooperation on the DPRK’s Nuclear Issue

China-US competition for political influence on the Korean Peninsula began following the Second World War and escalated during the Korean War, as China was struggling with the DPRK against the US and its allies. The DPRK’s nuclear arsenal and tense relations between the DPRK and the ROK remain threats to the security and stability of the entire Far East. The conflicting parties have powerful military allies. On July 11, 1961, China and the DPRK signed the Treaty on Friendship, Cooperation and Mutual Assistance, and in 1953, the ROK and US signed Mutual Defense Treaty. Due to this treaty, the US maintains troops in the Korean peninsula.

In fact, the US has a military presence near China’s eastern borders (in Japan and in the ROK), and the DPRK’s nuclear issue has given the US an excuse to relocate more troops to the region and to relocate its Terminal High Altitude Area Defense (THAAD) advance missile defense system to deter the DPRK.

From Beijing’s perspective, a concentration of US troops or relocation of the US missile defense system near its borders are also a real threat to China. China helps maintain Pyongyang’s regime so that its army can keep away and deter US ground troops from Beijing and Eastern China, which are located south of the Korean Peninsula.

From previous experience, the Chinese people also know that the No.1 US ally in the Far East, Japan, might attack China if it strengthened its position in the Korean Peninsula.

In sum, China and the US have different visions for the future political development of the Korean Peninsula. China would like to maintain the DPRK’s stability, whereas the US attempts to weaken it by sanctions. If it finally crashes, the US wishes to change the regime and unite it with the ROK. By contrast, China attempts to limit its disagreements with the US and maintain peace in the Korean peninsula; however, China’s strategy is also to develop high-level political and economic relations with the ROK, connect the ROK’s economy with China’s economy and, as a result, weaken the US in the Korean Peninsula. This strategy may yield results, but the main obstacle is that the DPRK periodically takes provocative actions, including nuclear tests and ballistic missile launches. Thus, ROK leaders continue to see the US as the main guarantor of ROK security. As a result, the US maintains a military base in the Korean peninsula.

However, China and the US also have one common goal: to remove nuclear weapons from the Korean Peninsula and prevent a possible nuclear arms race in the Far East. The main reason for cooperation between the US and China is that the two superpowers oppose nuclear proliferation in the Korean Peninsula.

China-Russia Cooperation Regarding the DPRK’s Nuclear Issue

 In a broader sense, in the UNSC, Russian diplomacy regarding the DPRK’s nuclear issue entails finding solutions with China and subsequently negotiating with other partners. Russia attempts to use its influence on the DPRK to support the negotiation process. The main positions of Russia and China on the Korean nuclear issue match as both sides want to see the Korean Peninsula without nuclear weapons and the peaceful development of the DPRK.

The following question arises: What is uniting Beijing’s and Moscow’s positions on the DPRK nuclear issue in the UNSC?

  1. China and Russia are responsible powers that are interested in dismantling the DPRK’s nuclear arsenal. China is not interested in seeing its neighbors become new members of the “nuclear club”. Russia is also interested in maintaining the balance of power in the Korean Peninsula and Far East.
  2. The second reason for the Russian-Chinese united resistance against the DPRK’s nuclear tests is that that after the DPRK’s nuclear tests and missile launches, the US increased its military involvement in the Far East, arguing that it must protect the ROK and Japan from the DPRK threat, but in fact it is against China and Russia as well. The ROK and Japan subsequently began increasing their military potential in the Far East.

III. China and Russia are against the rhetoric of US politicians who emphasize the importance of changing the DPRK’s political regime. Any type of political instability in the Korean peninsula would deepen – not solve – the political crisis in the Far East. Russian and Chinese decision makers understand that if the US leads political changes in the DPRK, it would completely change the direction of Pyongyang’s foreign policy and that the country would move into the Western camp. These types of possible developments in the DPRK would limit Russia’s and China’s ability to maneuver in the Far East.

  1. In the UNSC, China and Russia have attempted to maintain stability and the balance of power in the Korean Peninsula. Concurrently, along with the other main players of the international community that were involved in the negotiations on the DPRK’s nuclear issue, they continue to press the DPRK to return to the negotiating table to discuss dismantling its nuclear arsenal. In the UNSC, Moscow and Beijing maintain pressure on the DPRK but only to the extent that its economic and political systems do not collapse.
  2. China and Russia continue to develop their economic relations with the DPRK, given the limitations of the UNSC sanctions. These economic relations provide an opportunity for the DPRK regime to maintain its political and economic systems. China’s investments and economic aid are the DPRK’s main guaranties of stability. As developments have shown, China and Russia can exert influence on the DPRK; however, regarding its nuclear policy, the DPRK has independently chosen its steps and listened to neither Beijing nor Moscow.
  3. China and Russia cooperate regarding the DPRK’s nuclear issue and do not let the US and its allies isolate and destroy the DPRK; on the other hand, when the Russian bear returned to Korean Peninsula, a hidden struggle would develop between Russia and China for influence in the DPRK. This would provide more room for the DPRK’s diplomats to maneuver between Russian and Chinese disagreements, as was the case during the Cold War, when the DPRK’s leaders were playing on disagreements between China and Russia.

VII. China and Russia are against US and ROK’s use of the DPRK actions as an excuse for deploying the THAAD missile defense system, as it could become a real security threat for both China and Russia.

Conclusion

From my perspective, the DPRK’s nuclear issue can be solved if the US, China, Russia, the ROK, and Japan can come to a united conclusion.

What type of policies do these 5 countries have?

The US has long attempted to find ways to change the DPRK’s political system or to disrupt the DPRK’s weak economy and receive concessions from Pyongyang. Japan, with some exceptions, has attempted to follow US policies. The ROK has tried to maintain economic relations with the DPRK, but at a low level. China, by contrast, continues its economic relations with the DPRK, given the limitations of the UNSC sanctions. Beijing has urged the DPRK leaders to implement Chinese-style economic reforms and continues to provide the DPRK with food aid. China therefore attempts to maintain influence in the DPRK to prevent unpredictable or dangerous steps by Pyongyang, but as past developments have shown, the

DPRK tries to play its own chess game and make decisions by itself. Russia has attempted to reestablish its influence in the DPRK, which was lost when the USSR collapsed. For this reason, Moscow wrote off the DPRK’s debt. Therefore, we have 5 players+ the DPRK, and every player attempts to play its own game. I believe that the DPRK also tries to gain from the disagreements of the above-mentioned global and regional powers (China, Russia, the US, the ROK and Japan). I believe these powers can agree from their side that nobody should separately or secretly sign an agreement with the DPRK. The powers can offer the DPRK support for developing its north regions, which border China, to prevent further immigration to China from the DPRK’s poorest regions. The 5 powers must announce that they have no intentions of changing the DPRK’s political system so that the DPRK does not need nuclear bombs to prevent such developments. I believe it is important to maintain an arms embargo and control the import and export of nuclear dual-use materials to the DPRK, but it is nonetheless possible to suspend heavy economic sanctions. These steps will provide the opportunity to build confidence among the negotiating parties and improve the DPRK’s economic situation, which in turn will give added impetus to stop the immigration of the DPRK’s citizens into China, which Beijing would like to prevent. The 5 powers can offer the DPRK a new roadmap for a final solution to its nuclear issue. The main idea can apply to that if the 5 powers help the DPRK join the global economic order, as a result it will be much easier to urge the DPRK’s decision makers to dismantle their nuclear arsenal. In this hypothetical scenario, the DPRK would have something to lose.


(*)Mher D. Sahakyan- Ph.D. 2016 (International Relations), School of International Studies, Nanjing University, China. Director of the “‘China-Eurasia’ Council for Political and Strategic Research” Foundation, Armenia and the author of the article CHINA’S POLICY ON THE DPRK’S NUCLEAR ISSUE: COOPERATION AND DISAGREEMENTS WITH THE US AND RUSSIA, (Moscow University Bulletin. Series 13. Oriental Studies, No. 1, 2017, pp. 39-55), from which this essay is adapted. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

Mher Sahakyan- Ph.D. (Nanjing University), Research Fellow, National Defence Research University, MoD, Armenia, Director, “‘China-Eurasia’ Council for Political and Strategic Research” Foundation, Armenia

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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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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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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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