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Considerations on the East Turkestan – Xinjiang issue

Giancarlo Elia Valori

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[yt_dropcap type=”square” font=”” size=”14″ color=”#000″ background=”#fff” ] X [/yt_dropcap]injiang’s demographic and anthropic complexion is more complex than we tend to currently believe: according to China’s 2000 census-taking, 40% of the population of East Turkestan-Xinjiang is Han Chinese, while the remaining 60% is Uyghur, Kazakh, Kyrgyz or Oirat.

The latter are an ethnic group originating from the Altai Mountains, Mongolia; in the Russian Federation, they are called kalmik.

Hence, it is not a relationship between Han Chinese and Turkish-origin Uyghurs, but a complex network of alliances and tensions between various Islamic or non-Islamic ethnic minorities.

Obviously, the Uyghur issue is mostly political and strategic, rather than ethnic or religious, since everybody knows that the Uyghurs profess the Islamic faith.

For the East Turkestan’s population, the Sunni Islam has never been a strictly religious factor, but rather an ethnic-cultural and identity one.

Moreover, according to the latest scientific sources, the Uyghurs living in the Xinjiang region are estimated at approximately 10 million people, but they are present in all the 31 Chinese provinces – hence not just traditionally in Xinjiang.

This explains the perception of the danger caused by the extremist Islamization of the Uyghur Islam and, hence, operating in China.

Since 2001, the Turkestan Islamic Party (TIP) has been affiliated to Al Qaeda while, in 2013, it was integrated into the Syrian-Iraqi “Caliphate”, with two other Uzbek-origin Islamist groups, thus soon swelling the ranks of the Jabhat al-Nusra Front – namely the Syrian faction of the organization founded by Osama bin Laden, which has been currently renamed as Jabhat Fath al Sham.

According to Arab sources, the Uyghur militants operating in Syria are estimated at approximately 2,000 and they communicate via a Telegram channel organized by TIP’s information and propaganda centre, known as Islam Awazi, which spreads a large number of strongly anti-Chinese   – and obviously anti-Western – videos and texts.

On the other hand, TIP has already operated with terrorist attacks in China: in 2013 and 2014 in Tiananmen Square, and later in Urumqi, the capital city of Xinjiang – not to mention the massacre of the Han Chinese in Kunming and Guangzhou, again in 2014.

A massacre perpetrated with knives and machetes – hence it not surprising that, today, the sources of the World Uyghur Congress (WUC), the organization led by Rabiya Kader, note – with some shock – that the Chinese authorities force the owners of sharp blades to be registered with a special list.

Furthermore, TIP and the other Uyghur Islamist autonomist movements have always been secretly funded and supported by the Turkish intelligence services, on the basis of an ethnic-religious brotherhood, but also of a strategic project, which sees Turkey projecting onto Central Asia, thus uniting – under its geopolitical project – the Islam of the region and the many Turkish-origin minorities living in those areas.

Has NATO nothing to say in this regard? Can tension be created in Central Asia and in the Middle East, which could trigger the solidarity mechanism pursuant to Article 5 of the Treaty establishing the Atlantic Alliance?

In this case, China’s response has been economic: the State-owned oil company Sinopec has recently invested considerable funds in the oil fields and gas deposits in the Iraqi Kurdish areas – a clear instrument of geopolitical pressure against Turkey.

Obviously, it also becomes essential to defame China, accused of brutal repression of the whole Islamic and Uyghur population in China.

This leads to some Chinese weakness in the relations with the anti-terrorist and anti-jihadist fight of the West and of the Russian Federation, in particular.

Furthermore, Uyghurs’ bilingualism is largely prevailing in Northern Xinjiang.

In the urban areas of the region, only 20% of the population is Uyghur, while in rural areas the Uyghurs account for up to 80%.

Moreover, Islam penetrated Xinjiang as from the tenth century from the Turkish colonies in the Tarim region, and the Islamic religion spread equally between Kazakhs, Kyrgyz and Uyghurs.

Hence, it is somehow a stretch to equate and relate Islam only to Xinjiang’s Uyghur issue, but it is certainly not by mere coincidence that only the Uyghurs, and not the other ethnic groups, operate permanently against the Chinese government and interests.

As the most reliable sources report, there are continuing clashes. They are often Uyghurs’ operations against Han Chinese, although, there is obviously a clear level of pressure put by the Chinese authorities.

On July 24, 2014, Uyghur militants killed 37 civilians and injured 13 others in Shache-Yarkand.

There was also the harsh reaction of the Chinese police.

Hence spreading the idea that the Uyghurs are a peaceful people tortured by a Han Chinese minority is groundless.

We must wonder whether and how the other Islamic minorities do not radicalize so much as, on the contrary, happens to the Uyghur population of whom, however, strong religiousness has never been noted.

All international sources have always underlined that Islamic orthodoxy applies only to a minority of the Uyghur population or of other local ethnic groups professing the Islamic faith.

Hence, the political Islam is a way to radicalize a people and does not belong to the religious and ethnic history of the Uyghurs living in Xinjiang.

From this viewpoint, it is fully rational for the Chinese government to fear the effects of Islamic radicalism – which, as already noted, characterizes only the Uyghurs and not the other Islam-faith minorities such as the Hui – combining with the Islamic radicalism, which has long been present in Central Asia and the Middle East.

Another reasonable and understandable Chinese fear is that the Uyghurs’ Islamic movement radicalizes also other ethnic and religious minorities against China.

This regards also the governments of Xinjiang’s neighbouring countries, which also host Uyghur minorities and fear the Islamist-jihadist radicalization of these groups.

Therefore, it is reprehensible to see how many European democratic parliamentarians, championing democratic and liberal ideas, accept – without ever raising objections – the propaganda of the Uyghur organizations in the West, often disguised or covered by the Tibetan world which usually organizes anti-Chinese activities in Europe and the United States.

At geopolitical level, it is not clear what China could or should do differently: Tibet has a top-level autonomous military command and a highly-efficient intelligence network, namely SIGINT (SIGnal INTtelligence), as well as some nuclear and missile sites.

Should it possibly leave everything and leave undefended its most sensitive border, namely the Tibetan-Turkestan one?

Who would benefit from this situation? The Americans, maybe? Not at all. It would be the beginning of the end for all Central Asia.

Hence it is strange that, in the West, the Uyghur issue is dealt with by taking for granted that there is only China’s “crackdown”.

Moreover, the network of Uyghur organizations is complex and requires huge funds.

We have already talked about this issue in other articles, but it is strange that, for example, some leaders of the World Uyghur Congress have multiple passports and move freely in Europe and in the rest of the world.

If they create yet another ill-omened and unfortunate “Uyghur spring”, like the previous ones, they will generate a final jihad in China, with currently unimaginable damage and dangers, even in Europe.

Finally, if anyone thought of a structural weakening and a strategic downgrading of the Chinese government, the whole Asia would collapse with China and there would be no Western economy capable of absorbing the terrible asymmetric shock created by these strategic follies.

Therefore, the situation is much more complex and the “sword jihad” has everything to do with it.

Westerners, however, have now fallen asleep and believe that the jihadist Islam is a matter of little consequence, an internal dispute within the Islam faith, a regional conflict.

Not at all. It is the first problem of our time – and, certainly, it cannot be solved with nice words or with the “seductions” of freedom or mass democracy.

This is proved by the failure of the psychological warfare operations known as “Arab springs”.

Hence the Uyghur issue must be dealt with very carefully, without demonizing the reaction of China which, however, is investing huge funds precisely in Xinjiang and without even thinking – as data and statistics demonstrate – that the whole Uyghur population can be hegemonized and dominated by its Islamist-jihadist or autonomist minorities.  

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 “International World Group”, he is also the honorary president of Huawei Italy, economic adviser to the Chinese giant HNA Group. 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 “Honorable” of the Académie des Sciences de l’Institut de France. “

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East Asia

Nepal-China Boundary Treaty: An example of peaceful Himalayan frontiers

Birat Anupam

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image source: Chinese Embassy in Nepal

Chairman Mao: How is everything with Your Excellency? Have all the problems been solved?

King Mahendra: Everything is settled.

Chairman Mao: Fair and reasonable?

King Mahendra: Yes. We all agree.

Chairman Mao: It is good that we agree. There is goodwill on both sides. We hope that will get along well, and you hope we shall get along well too. We do not want to harm you, nor do you want to harm us.

King Mahendra: We fully understand.

Chairman Mao: We are equals; we cannot say one country is superior or inferior to the other.

King Mahendra: We very much appreciate the way of speaking.

This was a snippet of the candid conversation between founding father of People’s Republic of China Mao Zedong and Nepal’s the then king Mahendra on the historic Nepal-China Border Treaty day of 5 October 1961. A book titled ‘MAO ZEDUNG ON DIPLOMACY’ has detailed this conversation. The conversation is mentioned under the topic of ”Talk with Nepal’s king Mahendra Bir Bikram Shah Deva and the queen’ (page 366 and 367) in the book.

This famous diplomatic book of Mao was compiled by The Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the People’s Republic of China and the Party Literature Research Center under the Central Committee of the Communist Party of China and was published by Foreign Languages Press Beijing on 1998.

This conversation, from the verbatim records, speaks volumes about the level of trust and the height of friendship between two neighbors Nepal and China.

Nepal-China boundary: An example of speedy settlement

Nepal and China boundary settlement has reached 59 years of its signing ceremony at Beijing. It is an extraordinary example of speedy settlement. Nepal and China formally established diplomatic relationship on 1 August 1955.

Few years later on 21 March 1960, Nepal and China signed Boundary Agreement. Nepal’s first democratically elected Prime Minister Bishweshwar Prashad Koirala signed it during the official China visit. The friendly diplomatic dialogue of Koirala and Mao is also included in the book ”MAO ZEDUNG ON DIPLOMACY’ under the topic of ”The Sino-Nepal Border Must be Peaceful and Friendly Forever.”  

On 5 October 1961, Nepal and China signed Boundary Treaty at Beijing during the state visit of the then king Mahendra. The 1414-kilometer-long border treaty protocol was finally inscribed on 20 January 1963.

The adjustment was made on equal footing by land-swapping with Nepal gaining more land than it gave. According to a working paper presented at ”International Cross-Border Conference on Border Regions in Transition (BRIT)-XII Fukuoka (Japan)-Busan (South Korea) 13-16 November 2012” by Nepal’s former Director General of Survey Department and the author of the book titled ‘Boundary of Nepal’, China had given 302.75 square kilometer more land to Nepal.

The paper says, ”the adjustment was made on the basis of ‘give’ and ‘take’ and the inclusion of some pasture land within Nepalese territory. With this principle, Nepal had given 1,836.25 square kilometer of land to China and Nepal had taken 2,139.00 square kilometer, as it has been added 302.75 square kilometer of Chinese territory into Nepal.”

Nepal-China border settlement is an excellent example of speedy border settlement compared to Nepal’s southern neighbor India. Since the formal diplomatic engagement of 1955, it just took around eight years to ink full-fledged technical border adjustment between Nepal and China.

Tragically, Nepal and India are at odds over the border demarked by 204-year-old Treaty of Sugauli. The recent issue of Lipulekh, Kalapani and Limpiyadhura and new political map of Nepal unanimously approved by lower and upper houses of the federal parliament point to the long-pending friendly border settlements between Nepal and India.

Media myths on China’s encroachment of Nepal’s territory

Nepal and India has not resolved much of their border tensions since long. Lately, there are some media reports, mainly from India, about so-called Chinese ‘encroachment’ of Nepal’s territory. There was report about missed pillar number 11. However, it came out to be untrue with the finding of the pillar.  After field inspection and technical studies, Chief District Officer of Humla district, Chiranjibi Giri, made it clear that the rumored border encroachment from China was not the fact.

Similar incident was reported few weeks ago when Nepal’s leading daily Kantipur claimed China’s encroachment of Nepal’s territory citing unverified Ministry of Agriculture, the ministry that has nothing to do with border issues. However, after formal clarification from Nepal Government, the report was found to be false and the biggest daily of the nation apologized.

There is a section in Nepal that desperately wants to draw parallel between factual Nepal-India border tensions with fictitious Nepal-China border rows. However, so far, this mission has proven wrong at times.

Nepal does not have any serious border tension with China. The only concern Nepal has it about China-India agreement to ‘boost border trade at Quiangla/Lipu-Lekh Pass’ as said in the 28th point of the  joint communiqué issued by visiting Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi and his Chinese counterpart Li Keqiang on 15 May 2015.

Nepal has diplomatically protested about this agreement by two countries as Lipulekh falls in Nepali territory not only based on the Treaty of Sugauli of 1816 but also the Nepal-China Boundary Treaty of 5 October 1961. Given China’s generosity and friendliness towards Nepal, it is not a big issue to address. Nepalese citizens are optimistic on China’s support on Nepal’s sovereignty over Lipulekh.

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Why doesn’t China take India seriously?

Shalabh Chopra

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India needs to formulate a long-term strategy on China, lest it be lurching from one crisis to another.

Amid rising anti-China sentiment in the aftermath of the bloody border clash with China, India has announced a slew of measures to curtail Chinese presence in the Indian economy. Building on previously imposed restrictions on foreign direct investment (FDI) from China, the latest round of regulations constitute banning over 200 Chinese apps and clamping down on Chinese investments in Indian startups. These measures, while drawing applause from Western governments such as the US and helping massage the nationalistic ego, have seemingly failed to irk the Chinese administration as much as India would have intended, let alone compel the PLA to pull back from the disputed areas along the long and undemarcated Indo-China border. In previous instances as well, India’s signalling to China of allying more closely with the United States in response to China’s aggressive posture on the border has failed to yield desirable results. This begs the question: why does not China take India seriously? The answer may lie in India’s China policy which can be described as reactive at best and incoherent at worst.

India’s Policy Conundrum

Although its geopolitical rise has been significant – next only to China, India still finds itself bereft of a world order concept or a guiding foreign policy framework. The lack of which, when it comes to dealing with China, has translated into a foreign policy muddle. Mohan Malik, for instance, points out that there are three schools of thought in India’s policy-making with regards to China – pragmatism, hyperrealism, and appeasement. Pragmatists maintain that India should balance China both internally (increasing its economic and military strength w.r.t. China) and externally (by forging alliances and enhancing interstate cooperation with other powers) while mitigating differences through economic and diplomatic engagement. Hyperrealists decry pragmatists’ optimism that increased trade and economic engagement can win over a territorially unsatiated China and instead argue for an unabashed encirclement strategy towards it with other China-wary powers. Appeasers posit that China is a benign and friendly power, meaning no harm to India and that it should be enthusiastically engaged. In trying to accommodate such plethora of views in dealing with China, successive Indian governments have found themselves muddling through one approach to another.

Current Government and Policy Flip-Flops

Following the Galwan clash, India appears to be hinting at a change of tack as evinced by India’s External Affairs Minister S. Jaishankar’s repeated assertions that realism should shape India’s China policy and that peace and tranquillity on the border cannot be separated from the overall architecture of bilateral ties. India’s slashing of Chinese presence in the Indian economy suggests a move in that direction. China’s rather staid response to India’s manoeuvres stems from a general under appreciation of Indian resolve to follow through on such a policy initiative. China’s belief in Indian irresoluteness is not without basis either. The new dispensation led by Narendra Modi started off by trying to bring the “pragmatic” element more into play in India’s dealings with China. To this end, it resorted to a two-pronged strategy of bolstering strategic ties with other regional partners alarmed by China’s newfound boldness such as Vietnam, Japan, Indonesia, Australia among others and spurred up defense and strategic ties with the US, while simultaneously trying to improve relations with China by enhancing bilateral trade (which was already heavily-tilted in China’s favour). However, relations nosedived with the Doklam standoff in June 2017 which lasted for over three months. Cognizant of its power differential with China, and therefore not keen on antagonizing it any further, India broached the idea of organizing an informal summit between Chinese President Xi Jinping and India’s PM Narendra Modi. As the two leaders met in picturesque Wuhan, India had by then made up its mind to drop the “pragmatic” yet somewhat “confrontational” approach and decided in favour of going full throttle with appeasement vis-à-vis China. Following the summit, the Indian government scaled down its contact with the Tibet’s India-based government-in-exile and refused to back Australia’s bid to participate in the annual Malabar exercise. What exactly did India hope to achieve with such tactics is anyone’s guess as China continued to brazenly oppose India’s membership to the Nuclear Suppliers Group (NSG) and block India’s efforts to get Pakistan-based terrorist Masood Azhar admitted to the UN Sanctions list – eventually relenting on the latter (courtesy of US pressure) while continuing to hyphenate India’s cause with Pakistan’s in the case of former.

A Long History of Fluctuating China Policy

As a matter of fact, the blame for such a vacillating policy cannot be squarely put at Modi’s doorsteps. Historical precedents abound where previous Indian governments too have struggled to come up with a comprehensive and coherent strategy on China. Notable examples include Jawaharlal Nehru’s flip-flops on China threat which not only cost India loss of territory but also resulted in a personal loss of face for Nehru. Some twenty-five years later, Rajiv Gandhi who showed remarkable courage in standing up to the Chinese challenge in a serious military provocation along the eastern flank of the LAC let go of the chance to articulate India’s long-term strategy vis-à-vis China and instead sought a quick return to normalcy in bilateral ties following his visit to Beijing in 1988. A decade later, AB Vajpayee, after having justified India’s nuclear tests as a response to Chinese nuclear weapons, ended up describing China as a “good neighbour” in his address at the Peking University only a couple of years later. Indeed, India’s foreign policy history is riddled with complacency on the part of successive Indian governments in dealing with its largest neighbour, and a continual cause of strategic concern.

It is clear that unless India does away with policy ad-hocism and sticks with a clear, long-term China policy,it would not be able to effect a change in China’s attitude towards itself. In this regard, Jaishankar’s recoupling of economic and trade ties with the larger border question is a welcome move, but a lot would depend on how determined India is to persevere through the demanding nature of realpolitik.

Notes:

  1. Mohan Malik’s article on three schools of thought on India’s China policy: accessible at: https://apps.dtic.mil/dtic/tr/fulltext/u2/a591916.pdf

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East Asia

India-China Relations: A Turbulent Future?

Leoni Connah

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On the 10th May 2020, Indian and Chinese troops engaged in a cross-border dispute in Sikkim. After built up tensions, a month later another clash began in The Galwan Valley. By September, shots had been fired for the first time in over 40 years. Such confrontations are the worst India and China have seen in recent years. Although face-offs between the two sides are not uncommon, border disputes do pose a challenge for Indian and Chinese security. Also, their economic relationship could be strained if the two rising giants do not resolve their territorial dispute. Therefore, this article looks at the recent tensions between the two states and considers what this means for the future of their bilateral relationship.

Where did it Begin?

The Sino-Indian war took place in 1962, when Indian and Chinese troops fought over the Himalayan territory of Aksai Chin. Aksai Chin is located between Tibet, Xinjiang and Ladakh and territory was the primary cause of the war, as well as other issues including sporadic violence. China had gradually exerted its influence over Aksai Chin for four years before the war. At the time, India placed its forces along the border, but China’s strategy was to launch a full-blown attack. China’s standpoint was that the territory they were fighting over was deemed the Line of Actual Control (LAC) and they should have sovereignty over it. As India’s strategy was one of defence, they were outnumbered and lacked sufficient weaponry. Therefore, they suffered heavy casualties with many of the army killed, wounded, missing and captured. The war lasted until China announced a unilateral ceasefire on 21stNovember 1962.India was left defeated and humiliated as it was never prepared for a war with China. Until 1962, India had always focused on the security threat posed by Pakistan and had the upper hand militarily.

Cross-border Disputes

Since the 1962 war there have occurred numerous infrequent stand-offs between Indian armed forces and Chinese armed forces along the disputed territory. There is a competitive nature between the two states whereby these stand-offs become an opportunity to militarily flex their muscles. Episodes occurred in Northern Ladakh in 2013 and Eastern Ladakh in 2014. In 2017, the situation escalated when China attempted to form a road that would extend its border into India. India opposed this and feared that if the road was built, China would have increased access to the Siliguri Corridor, also known as the ‘chicken’s neck’. This is a highly contentious area for India as they believe it is a strategic asset to them because it connects the North Eastern states to the mainland. The high-altitude stand-off lasted for over a month. In September 2019, another violent clash took place near the Pangong Tso (lake), an area that China has control over two thirds of. The most recent disputes involved pushing, shoving, fists, wooden clubs, and stone throwing. The skirmish in May resulted in 11 injured in total, 4 Indian forces and 7 Chinese forces. It was resolved by local brigadier-level sector commanders who were able to discuss the tensions and come to a resolution. However, the clash in June saw 20 Indian soldiers dead and up to 40 Chinese casualties. In late July, it was believed that troops were withdrawing from the border region. However, this remained incomplete and throughout August and September, Indian troops were continuing to deploy along the LAC. For over 40 years, no bullets were fired in these skirmishes because of the de facto border code that prohibits the use of firearms. However, this changed in September when the first shots were fired. The most recent disputes are believed to have been triggered by a disagreement over the location of Chinese observation towers and tents. It seems, tensions have been building since India’s revocation of Article 370 in 2019 and China’s resistance against India’s infrastructure plans in the borderlands.

A Turbulent Future?

In 2018, PM Modi and President Jinping agreed to maintain peace along the border at the Wuhan summit. India and China’s collective economies make up over 17% of the entire global economy. Also, China is India’s primary trading partner with annual trade worth $92 billion. They have attempted to increase cooperation and build confidence measures by undertaking joint projects including a training program for Afghan diplomats and reviving the Bangladesh-China-India-Myanmar (BCIM) corridor. However, these efforts are undermined by the pervasive feeling of distrust between the two states and the echoes of Cold War history. Also, the summits and efforts of cooperation have not stopped the outbreaks of violence, nor have they solved any of the underlying issues. Underlying issues that strain the Sino-Indian relationship include nuclear weapons, China’s support for Pakistan, the situation in Tibet and India’s sheltering of the Dalai Lama, the Chinese navy making an appearance in Indian waters and Indian foreign policy. The Covid-19 pandemic has added pressure to Sino-Indian relations as the Indian general public blame China for the outbreak thus causing an anti-China sentiment. Both states have downplayed the recent stand-off’s as short-term and temporary incidents. However, if relations continue to sour over territorial boundaries and the border remains unresolved, this could compromise their economic relationship. To prevent prolonged crisis, China would need to withdraw its aggressive position voluntarily through peaceful negotiations with India. India could attempt a forceful removal of Chinese forces, but that would lead to increased escalation. Further, India should tread with caution as neighbouring countries including Sri Lanka and Nepal are becoming increasingly supportive of China. In other words, unless India and China find a way to trust each other, it is highly likely that they will be pushed to the brink of war once again.

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