China is moving on multiple fronts to pre-empt in the short-term Uighur foreign fighters fleeing Syria and Iraq from reasserting themselves in Central Asia and longer term prevent the emergence of an ever more vocal Diaspora like what Tibetans have achieved.
The multi-pronged Chinese approach involves weaving Afghanistan more firmly into the fabric of China’s Belt and Road initiative, potentially establishing China’s first land-locked foreign military base, forcing repatriation of Uighurs abroad and preventing Uighur residents of Xinjiang from travelling abroad without first having been re-educated.
Already Afghanistan’s largest investor with a $3 billion, 30-year lease of a copper mine, China is seeking to link the country to its $50 billion plus investment in the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) in a bid to stabilize the Central Asian nation and stop Uighur fighters from regrouping in the Wakhan Corridor, a narrow strip on Afghanistan’s 76-klimoetre long border with China.
Estimates of the number of Uyghurs in Syria and Iraq, who earned a reputation on par with that of their battle-hardened Chechen counterparts, range from five to ten thousand. Many paid thousands of dollars to smugglers who helped them make their way to the Middle East. They came in all shades, some deeply religious, others more nationalistic, all embittered by repression in Xinjiang and what they saw as an effort to erase their Uighur identity at whatever price.
A majority saw their participation in battles far from home as a training for the struggle they really cared about: China’s strategic Xinjiang province.
“We didn’t care how the fighting went or who Assad was. We just wanted to learn how to use the weapons and then go back to China,” a Uighur fighter told a reporter last month.
US officials have been tracking a trek of Islamic State fighters into north and eastern Afghanistan, believed by Afghan officials to number 3,000. US and Afghan concerns were boosted by a recent report by the Institute for the Study of War that Afghanistan had again emerged as ”a safe haven for terrorist plots.” It isn’t clear how many Uighurs may be among those that made their way to Central Asia.
A video released last month by the Turkistan Islamic Party, a group affiliated with Al Qaeda that played a key role in the 2015 capture of the Syrian province of Idlib, showed Uighur and Taliban fighters overrunning remote Afghan military outposts in mountainous terrain, killing or capturing Afghan troops, and using seized US-made Humvees.
China has denied reports by Afghan officials that it was helping build a military facility in Wakhan that could be used by Chinese forces. Local residents, nonetheless, reported having seen joint Afghan-Chinese patrols in the area while China affirms that it has provided Afghanistan $70 million in military aid in the last three years and is helping the country with capacity-building.
China appeared in December to have persuaded Pakistan and Afghanistan to engage in a wide-ranging dialogue designed to reduce differences between them and facilitate Afghanistan’s closer affiliation with CPEC and the Belt and Road. However, three months later, little progress appears to have been achieved.
Meanwhile, Chinese has sought to physically reduce the Uighur Diaspora by persuading countries like Egypt, Thailand and Vietnam to either detain or forcibly return overseas Uighurs. Malaysia has been mulling for months a Chinese demand for the extradition of 11 Uyghurs who made their way to the southeast Asian nation after escaping from a Thai detention centre.
In France, Chinese police have demanded that Uighurs hand over personal information, photos, and identity documents — and in some cases, the personal information of their French spouses. The police contacted Uighurs directly via phone or WeChat, a Chinese messaging app, or have paid visits to their family members in China, asking relatives to convey their demands.
Uighurs in the United States, Turkey, Australia, and Egypt who failed to respond to demands like those made of French Uighurs have been ordered to return to China. Some, who returned, often to avoid repercussions for their families, have been arrested. Others are reported to have disappeared.
Major political parties and business organizations in Gilgit-Baltistan have threatened to shut down the Pakistan-China border if Beijing does not release some 50 Uighur women married to Pakistani men from the region, who have been detained in Xinjiang. The province’s legislative assembly unanimously called on the government in Islamabad to take up the issue.
The women, many of whom are practicing Muslims and don religious attire, are believed to have been detained in re-education camps for the past year.
Hundreds, if not thousands of Uighurs in Xinjiang itself have been forced into re-education camps without due process as part of the rollout in Xinjiang of the world’s most intrusive and repressive public surveillance system.
The system involves cameras on streets equipped with facial recognition software and a DNA database that ultimately will include all residents. The database categorizes them as safe or unsafe. ID readers at bus stops, train stations, and shopping malls were being installed to ensure that those deemed unsafe are barred entry.
Authorities in at least one autonomous prefecture in Xinjiang have added ‘interest in travel abroad’ to the list of reasons for detaining Uighurs and dispatching them to re-education camps.
The Chinese campaign to squash the emergence of a more effective Uighur Diaspora is partly driven by a desire not to allow Uighurs to follow the example of exile Tibetans who aided by the voice of the Dalai Lama have created a vocal opposition-in-exile.
It is also fuelled by the fact that many of those who initially fled Xinjiang to escape repression and marginalization and build a better life elsewhere were aided once they left China by militants who steered them towards the Middle East and Islamic militancy.
Said a Chinese official: “You can’t uproot all the weeds hidden among the crops in the field one by one—you need to spray chemicals to kill them all. Re-educating these people is like spraying chemicals on the crops. That is why it is a general re-education, not limited to a few people.”
The Xinjiang-Uyghur issue
In late March the United States, Canada, the UK and the EU took a concerted action to announce sanctions over human rights violations against the Uyghurs and other ethnic minorities in Xinjiang-Uyghur by the Chinese government.
This is the first time since the Tiananmen Square incident in 1989 that the EU and the UK have imposed sanctions on China over human rights issues.
Furthermore, Australia and New Zealand also issued statements expressing support for joint U.S. and EU sanctions against China. U.S. Secretary of State Tony Blinken stated: “The joint transatlantic operation sends a strong signal to those who violate or trample on international human rights”.
This joint operation is clearly part of a concerted U.S. effort to work with its Western allies against China through diplomatic actions.
After gruelling wars in Korea and Vietnam and later in the Balkans, Afghanistan, Iraq, Libya and Syria,we wonder:
1) why do we want to open another front to export democracy with bombs?
2) Why has the Xinjiang-Uyghur issue become a deadly matter that brings the United States and its allies together to impose sanctions on China, while ignoring the barbaric behaviours codified by the backward-looking, but allied Gulf monarchies?
3) Why is the Xinjiang-Uyghur issue attracting increasing attention from the international community?
4) Why does the United States use the Xinjiang-Uyghur human rights issues to shape a diplomatic action with Western allies against China and forget about the black people being murdered on the streets at home?
Let us try to better understand the situation.
The strategic importance of Xinjiang-Uyhgur for China is similar to Tibet’s (Xizang). The Xinjiang-Uyghur Autonomous Region is the largest provincial unit in China. It covers one-sixth of China’s territory and borders on Mongolia, Russia, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, Afghanistan, Pakistan and India. It can be used as a base by China to influence its neighbours. However, Xinjiang-Uygur can be used as a bridgehead by external powers to threaten China’s territorial integrity.
Like Tibet (Xizang), Xinjiang-Uyghur also has immense economic value in terms of oil and gas resources, and it can also be used as a channel to import energy from Kazakhstan. It is also a site for Chinese nuclear weapons and missile tests.
This area has traditionally been under the influence of various forces that have been claiming these territories. For thousands of years, the deserts and mountains of Xinjiang-Uygur were crossed by merchants. Peoples and armies passed through it continuously, sometimes forming alliances with the Middle Empire, sometimes to free themselves from the Emperor’s influence, only to fall into worse hands.
The Chinese who started to travel there before the 19th century met Persians and Muslims, most of whom were Turkish-speaking. It is not for nothing that the other name of the territory is East Turkestan.
The region was not fully incorporated into the Chinese administrative system until 1884, when it was divided into province and called Xinjiang, meaning “new frontier”. China’s control, however, was fragile and, when China’s presence was still at a minimum in 1944, the local population announced the establishment of a short-lived republic called East Turkestan, backed by the Soviet Union led by Stalin, who – like the United States today – wanted it to fall within his sphere of influence.
However, as Stalin was a great statesman and not just a parvenu, with the birth of the People’s Republic of China, the Georgian leader agreed that the territory be reintegrated into the Middle Empire as the Xinjiang-Uyghur Autonomous Region.
With a view to strengthening administrative and political control in the autonomous region, the People’s Republic of China used the same methods in other surrounding areas: immigration development, trade, cultural assimilation, administrative integration and international isolation.
As early as the mid-18th century, the Qing government had created a national industry near the capital Ürümqi. In the 19th century, Chinese merchants arrived in large numbers. After 1949, the People’s Republic of China placed the autonomous region under a national plan designed to orient and direct local trade towards China’s internal economy, banning border trade and people movements that were widespread in the past between borders that at the time were undefined and misgoverned.
In 1954 China established the Xinjiang-Uyghur Semi-Military Production and Construction Corps to transfer demobilised officers and soldiers, as well as other Chinese immigrants, to industries, mines and enterprises. During the Cultural Revolution in the 1960s, thousands of middle school graduates were delegated to perform tasks in Xinjiang-Uyghur from various cities in China, especially Shanghai, and most of them lived in farms. I remember the great enthusiasm of some major European parties at this news: the same parties that, having changed their names, are today shedding “the bitter tears of Petra von Kant” along with Biden.
In the 2010 census – according to official statistics – out of 21,815,815 inhabitants, 45.4% were Uyghurs and 40.48% Chinese, although the real number could be even higher. The many officially recognised ethnic minorities included Kazakhs and Muslims of Chinese ethnicity.
In the decades prior to 1980, Xinjiang-Uygur developed slowly because of its bordering on the then hostile post-1960 Soviet Union, and because of its rugged and considerable distance from other parts of China. However, when Deng Xiaoping implemented reforms in the 1980s, China’s development policy created demand for Xinjiang-Uyghur’s coal, oil and gas resources, thus making the local area one of China’s largest producers of fossil fuels.
In the 1990s, China began building oil pipelines to transport oil from the far West to the mainland market. In 2001, China announced a “Western development” policy to fully exploit Xinjiang-Uyghur’s resources. The central government invested billions of dollars to build infrastructure and create political incentives to attract national and foreign companies.
This has meant that the country has increased its per capita GDP, as well as raised the education level. China has also modernised its society and this has made it unpopular with those fundamentalist Muslims who, boiling with terrorist rage, are now calling for help from those who initially funded ISIS to bring the secular Syrian government down, under the slogan “the enemy of my enemy is my friend”.
For most of the Maoist era, the Uyghurs, as well as the less numerous Kazakhs, Kyrgyz and other ethnic minorities, were forced to give up Islam, learn Chinese and relinquish their traditional customs and habits. All this much to the delight of the then epicurean and atheist West, which has always despised faith: a further element of contrast that later materialized on the part of fundamentalists.
As in Tibet (Xizang), the most traditionalist Uyghurs believe that their land has been invaded by Chinese immigrants and their lives are overwhelmed by a “Western” style imposed authoritatively from outside: a pretext that President Erdoğan has been the first to exploit, not failing to include it in his Panturanist conception.
In fact, after the implosion of the Soviet Union in 1991, the Turkic and immigrant Uyghur communities in the three new neighbouring States of Central Asia, namely Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan and Uzbekistan, experienced a cultural and religious revival, thus creating a new sense of hope and power among the Uyghurs in Xinjiang-Uyghur.
From the 1980s to 2001, demonstrations, riots, occasional murders and terrorist attacks occurred with increasing frequency. The Chinese government claims that the criminals’ goal is 1) to separate Xinjiang-Uyghur from China, and 2) that the Uyghur separatists are terrorists connected to al-Qaeda.
All these accusations are controversial, because most Uyghurs – either secular or moderate Sunni Muslims – have not created a resistance movement at all, as the Uyghur society is not integrated around specific Islamist parameters.
Many incidents seem to have various and sometimes personal causes, and often result in casualties. But, in any case, the authorities have launched a series of strict public order campaigns, fearing that even the slightest sign of dissent, such as a demonstration, a parade, a march, a gunfight with the police, will be amplified by the usual media to pave the way for a bloody local civil conflict, which – unlike the Syrian one – could turn into the Third and Last World War.
All this would certainly not be triggered to protect some fundamentalist Muslims in defence of human rights. The causes are always the same.
Chinese Foreign Policy in a Global Perspective
Foreign policy plays a fundamental role in state security and government’s decision-making. It is the pivotal factor for political stability of a nation, its economic affairs as well as the relations with other states. It is necessary for the development of a nation or a region to resolve the disputes with their neighbors. International disputes have frequently been given a fair chance with dialogue between the warring parties. Different states can coexist with friendly neighbor resulting in greater benefit for the people of the country. It brings peace and stability in the region as a byproduct. For the progress of humanity, peace is an essential element. To avoid war and hostility, an element of understanding and mutual survival should be established among the states. Hence, the concerned states will learn to co-exist peacefully.
Since its independence, China has pursued a focused approach towards attaining financial progress. Diplomatic policy of China has been directed towards its economic prosperity and political independence of the Chinese nation. Initially it was an isolated nation with introspective policies. Its national policy characteristics included peaceful co-existence between nations, mutual interdependence, regional supremacy, autonomy, national safety and avoidance of conflicts with other states and nations. Hence China developed regional influence and stability and developed good relations internationally and globally. China wanted to protect its territorial autonomy and sovereignty of other regional nations as well. Hence it soon emerged as a powerful nation both militarily and economically.
China continued working on a deliberate path of stable and good relations with other countries globally. The role of leaders and government in the foreign affairs under Xi-Jinping’s leadership catapulted the Chinese national and foreign policy to new heights. This charismatic leadership brought constructive changes in the internal governance and matters of foreign involvement with other nations. He emphasized the importance of military and during his governance astounding improvement in foreign and regional stability was observed. The internal stability of Chinese national policy was soon reflected on the international podium. Its economic prosperity increased astronomically under the vigilant governance of the leader of China’s political party. China rose peacefully and gained regional, economic, and political stability. China is today considered as a world-wide power because of its stable national policy. It has observed a radical development in geo-politics. Why has the significance of Chinese nation increased in the international community?
China and Pakistan have enjoyed friendly relations with each other for decades. Gwadar port will become a doorway for business, commerce, collaboration, coordination and development between these two neighbours. It does not only affect China and Pakistan’s economic prosperity but the prosperity of South Asia and beyond. China has achieved worldwide recognition as an economic might with powerful impact on economy, geography and strategy of the region. The port has worldwide implications, whether related to economy, trade or commercial activities.
The dimension of foreign policy has evolved with the pace of time. The relations between China and United States of America are complicated. Both nations have difference of opinion regarding vital concerns of the state, political practices, administration, diplomatic policies and commercial productivity. Both nations consider different notions regarding the concept of civil rights. President Donald Trump has recognized China as an adversary for the United States of America. According to his beliefs, China abhors the ethics and principles of America causing a destabilizing effect in South-China Sea region.
China has undertaken military action in the South China Sea and has carried naval exercises in the area. However, United States the opponent of China says that economic prosperity could be affected because of the Chinese presence in the region. Under international regulations, overseas armed forces are not able to control surveillance activities including inspection and scrutiny of the vessels, in its industrial zone. However, China remains unsuccessful to resolve this clash by diplomatic ways. This would result in de-stabilizing the South-China Sea region. Conflict between Philippines and China may rise as a consequence of American backing. To further its economical and safety concerns, United States has laid down bold claims regarding China’s occupation of territory and land in the South China Sea. On the other hand, Japan has sold naval ships to Philippines and Vietnam to enhance their naval protection and discourage Chinese hostility.The relationship between India and China is of worldwide significance. India is a prospering nation in the South Asian region. India perceives China as a militant anathema. China can hamper India’s progress in economical prosperity and can shackle India’s image internationally. Another challenge for India is the Pakistan-China relations. China’s influence can be spread globally which could be inimical to India’s scrutiny. China’s dominance, geographical vicinity and strategies depict an image of instability to India’s national and international interests. India cannot protect its interests and has to make crucial strategic decisions. However if India makes United States it will be able to protect its national interests. India has to overcome many challenges and hurdles as China has dominant influence over the South-Asian region and beyond. Asia’s old opponents China and India are now engaging in a race to initiate maritime assets and to gain influence over each other. India’s wants China to behave according to international regulations. To respect territorial righteousness, and thoughtfulness for all nations irrespective of their magnitude. Both China and India will continue to hustle over the South Asian region, its territory and resources.
Exploring China’s National Salvation in the 1911 Revolution
When the First Opium War broke out in 1840, China became a semi-colonial and semi-feudal nation ruled by foreign powers. The final years of the Qing Dynasty (1644-1911), which saw the demise of the imperial regime, were marked by degradation and incompetence; the people were thrown into disorder, and the Chinese nation was plunged into a pit of misery.
During those dark ages, it became clear that the Chinese people would have to overturn feudal autocratic rule and undergo profound social reform in order to gain national freedom. More than a century ago, Revolutionary Party members led by Sun Yat-sen launched the 1911 Revolution, shocking the world and causing unprecedented social change in China.
While living in exile in Honolulu in November 1894, Sun Yat-sen, the father of the Modern China, founded the Xingzhonghui (Society for China’s Regeneration), clearly proposing the first program for a Chinese democratic revolution. Between 1895 and 1911, the Xingzhonghui and Tongmenghui (Chinese Revolutionary League) launched ten uprisings. The Restoration Society also instigated several uprisings across China, sowing the seeds of revolution.
Sun Yat-sen proposed a political program based on the Three People’s Principles: nationalism, democracy, and people’s livehood. A large number of revolutionaries and patriots gathered under his leadership to revitalize China and spread revolutionary ideas. This active progressive wave provided a significant impetus to the formation trends.
On October 10, 1911, gunfire signaled the start of the Revolution of 1911 in Wuchang, Central China, which became known as the “Wuchang Uprising”; other provinces responded, and within a month, 15 had declared their independence. The Republic of China was formally established on January 1, 1912, ending a monarchy that had existed in China for over 2,000 years.
The 1911 Revolution, which overthrew the Qing Dynasty, lasted more than 260 years. It was also a democratic revolution that occurred against the backdrop of an increasingly decaying Qing Dynasty, deepening imperialist aggression, and the early rise of Chinese nationalism. Its goal was to overthrow the Qing Dynasty’s despotic rule, save the nation from danger, and strive for national independence, democracy, and prosperity.
With its new politics and ideology, the 1911 Revolution provided a liberation mechanism for the Chinese people that should not be underestimated. It instilled in people a strong sense of democracy and republicanism. Anti-imperialist and anti-feudal struggles intensified, with the 1911 Revolution serving as a new starting point. By overthrowing the Qing Dynasty, it spread the concept of democracy and promoted social changes in modern China by leveraging its massive shock power and profound influence.
However, due to the constraints imposed by historical processes and social conditions, it was unable to change the social nature of semi-colonialism and people’s miserable situation, nor achieve national independence and people’s liberation. It did, however, pioneer a full-fledged national democratic revolution, vigorously promoted the ideological emancipation of the Chinese nation, laid the groundwork for China’s progress, and explored the path for its future development.
Sun Yat-sen had a charismatic personality, a singular commitment to power, and a knowledge of the West unparalleled by any of his political rivals, which distinguished him and made him an icon of Chinese modernization. He was appropriately dubbed a “revolutionary pioneer” by the Chinese Communists.
This is a great historical process of exploring and realizing national independence, as well as the great rejuvenation of the Chinese nation, which has emerged after many ups and downs and various vicissitudes.
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