Archive for December, 2012

Another op-ed in the Chinese press, this time in 中文 for the Oriental Morning Post (东方早报). Looks at the question of Chinese-European cooperation on Central Asia. More detail on this topic coming soon. As usual, Chinese on top, English submission below.

中欧在中亚的合作前景

吉尔吉斯斯坦首都比什凯克最近有点忙。就在短短几周里,欧盟与中亚部长级会议和上海合作组织总理会议先后在此召开。虽然两者并无联系,但两大高层会议在吉尔吉斯斯坦召开不但显示了中亚的重要性,也体现了这一区域作为中欧之间桥梁的潜在作用。

目前中国在中亚是一支崛起力量。与日俱增的投资、对于天然资源的兴趣和区域制度的发展都在让这一区域重新转向中国。最近上合组织总理会议上,温家宝总理鼓励中亚各国充分利用中国提供的100亿美元贷款来建设这一地区的基础设施,即充分体现了这点。中国希望这一区域的经济能够腾飞,而更为重要的是能同时带动新疆的发展。

欧盟的部长级会议并没有这样远大的目标,而是再次强调了发展中亚对于欧盟的重要性。除土库曼斯坦首都阿什哈巴德之外,欧盟外长凯瑟琳·阿什顿访问了其他各国首都,并且利用这次部长会议机会强调“可能进一步发展我们之间的能源、贸易和经济关系”。欧洲在中亚的投资目前非常有限,这主要是因为缺乏机会,投资环境也非常不佳。但是毫无疑问,欧盟具有发展双方联系的意图和希望。

2007年,欧盟公布了中亚战略,内容范围非常雄心勃勃,意图为整个欧洲在中亚打造一份新计划。这一战略以欧盟的“欧洲伙伴政策”为表述,旨在增强欧盟对中亚的重心。在德国担任欧盟轮值主席国期间,作为历史上长期对中亚充满兴趣的国家,一手推动了这一战略。欧洲非常希望这能发展出一条更为实在的路径,通向这些长期来被他们忽略的中亚国家。

然而事与愿违,距这份战略公布至今已有五年时间,但并未见到任何实质性的发展。欧盟在中亚投入了大量资源,这非常显而易见,如果你驾车在中亚地区,会看到学校和开发项目工地上挂着欧盟的旗帜。除此之外,欧盟也通过一项叫做“中亚边界管理”的合作来帮助中亚各国进行边界控制,为落后的边境管理提供现代化训练和管理办法。但是,欧洲在此留下的足迹依然停留在非常表面的层次,绝大多数中亚国家并不会把欧盟当作这一区域的主要角色。如纳布科天然气输气管工程这样的大规模能源项目依然在无穷无尽的讨论谈判之中。

相比之下,中国在中亚的力量迅速崛起。过去一年里每个中亚国家我至少都去了一次以上,而在每个国家的官员、民众和分析家都告诉我中国是那里的新力量。有趣的是,虽然他们看到的是中国为这一区域带来的变化,但他们都宣称更想成为欧洲国家。欧盟模式许诺的稳定繁荣和国家发展是他们都希望能逐步达成的前景,而且他们强调自己愿意同欧洲做生意。照此看来,欧盟在中亚赢得了软权力。

但是,欧盟和中国在中亚取得的成就也突出了中欧间通过中亚进行结盟的潜在可能。中国对这一区域产生兴趣的本质是发展新疆战略。今年早些时候在乌鲁木齐举办的中国亚欧博览会上,温家宝总理说计划要把新疆发展成“亚欧的门户”。其想法是建立通过中亚、最终到达欧洲的联系。这将为新疆带来经济繁荣和发展,产生如当年“丝绸之路”那样将欧洲和亚洲相连的效应。

这对于各种有关方都是个非常具有吸引力的计划。这不仅仅将帮助达成中国区域发展的目标,还能为中亚带去繁荣,以及增强中国和欧洲之间直接贸易联系,这一切都将对经济发展产生重要作用。

当然,需要克服的障碍也不少。尽管中亚人民经常强调中国是这一区域的崛起大国,但他们也经常告诉我中国控制带来所谓的危险。吉尔吉斯斯坦和哈萨克斯坦的人们说中国公司给工人待遇过低,不够公平,塔吉克斯坦人则一直对中国男人娶走了他们的女人表示不满。显然,中国在中亚的软实力建设还有待提高。但是,中国公司可以向欧洲同仁学习一件事情:雇佣当地工人,为他们提供好的工作条件,改善他们的社会,这些都是中国在中非投资时能够用来改善自己形象的方法。同欧洲公司进行接触也许可以帮助中国投资者学习一下他们使用的战略。

这一切都将是个长期游戏。欧洲对中亚重燃兴趣,但这需要有更具体的行动跟进。但是如果中国愿意表达同欧洲作为伙伴在中亚共同发展的兴趣,那么这一定会引来欧洲更大的关注。虽然讨论“新丝绸之路”未免有些过时,但通过中亚铺开中欧之间的道路将会最终带来两方战略合作的果实。

(李鸣燕 译)

Europe in Central Asia

Bishkek, Kyrgyzstan has had a busy few weeks. In the space of a few weeks it has hosted a EU-Central Asia Ministerial meeting and then the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO) Prime Minister’s Summit. Whilst unconnected, the two high level meetings in Kyrgyzstan show Central Asia’s importance, but also the potential for the region to act as a link between China and Europe.

Currently, China is the rising power in Central Asia. Its growing investment, appetite for natural resources and development of regional institutions are reorienting the region towards China. The recent SCO Prime Ministerial Summit in Bishkek highlighted all of this as Premier Wen Jiabao encouraged Central Asian powers to take advantage of the $10 billion loan that China was extending through the SCO to encourage regional infrastructure investment. The hope for China is that the region would develop economically, and more importantly, that it would develop in a way that would help encourage development in Xinjiang.

Europe’s Ministerial meeting was far less ambitious, but highlighted once again the importance that the EU attaches to developing Central Asia. Visiting all of the regional capitals except Ashgabat, Turkmenistan, European foreign minister Catherine Ashton used the opportunity of the Ministerial meeting in Bishkek to emphasize the ‘potential to further develop our energy, trade and economic relations.’ European investment in Central Asia is currently quite limited, trapped between a lack of opportunities and a very challenging investment climate. But clearly the hope and intention is there to try to develop this connection.

Back in 2007, the EU launched a strategy for Central Asia. The paper was ambitious in its scope, and aimed to lay out a new plan for Europe to engage with Central Asia. Phrased as being an expansion of the EU’s ‘European Neighbourhood Policy’ the strategy aimed to increase and target’s the EU’s focus towards Central Asia. Nurtured and launched under a German Presidency of the EU – a member state that has always had a keen historical interest in the region – there was a great hope that it might finally help develop a more practical approach towards a set of states the EU had long overlooked.

Unfortunately, in the five years since the strategy was launched, very little has tangibly been achieved. The EU has spent considerable resources in Central Asia – something that is visible on the ground as you drive around with European Union flags on schools and development projects around the region. It has also helped try to develop border controls across the region through a special Border’s Management Program that has tried to bring modern training and methods to Central Asia’s underdeveloped border guards. But its regional footprint is still very light, with most Central Asian countries not considering the EU one of the region’s major players. Large-scale energy projects like the Nabucco pipeline have yet to get going and are trapped in endless discussion rounds.

In contrast, they increasingly see China as a major player. Over the past year, I have been to all of the Central Asian countries at least once. And in each one, officials, citizens and analysts all told me that China was the rising power in the region. What is interesting is that while they all see the growing consequence of China in the region, they all aspire to be like European states. The model offered by the EU of stable prosperity and a developed state is something that they would all like to achieve eventually and they were eager to emphasize that they would like to do business with Europe. The EU, it seems, is winning the soft power conversation on the ground in Central Asia.

But these parallel achievements by the EU and China in the region highlight the potential for a great alliance between the EU and China through Central Asia. China’s interest in the region is in essence an extension of its strategy to develop Xinjiang. The underlying plan laid out during the China Eurasia Expo is to develop Xinjiang into becoming a ‘gateway for Eurasia’ as Premier Wen Jiabao put it in Urumqi earlier this year. The idea is to develop links through Central Asia and ultimately through to Europe. This would bring prosperity and economic development to a part of the country that has thus far suffered from underinvestment and under-development. It would also finally have the effect of rebuilding the Silk Road that used to bring Europe and Asia together.

This is a plan that has great appeal to all involved. It would not only help China’s goals for regional development, but also help bring prosperity to Central Asia, and finally, help improve direct trade links between China and Europe. All of which would have the net effect of improving prosperity.

Of course, there are a number of obstacles to overcome. While people in Central Asia were often eager to highlight that China was the rising power regionally, they were equally eager to tell me stories of the dangers of Chinese domination. People in Kyrgyzstan and Kazakhstan told stories of Chinese companies paying badly and treating workers unfairly, while Tajiks would repeatedly talk of Chinese men marrying their women. China has a great deal of soft power work to do in the region. But here is something that Chinese firms regionally could learn from their European counterparts. Hiring local staff, offering them good working conditions and establishing ways to help improve the societies in which they are working are methods that the Chinese investors in Central Asia might be able to help improve their image. Making contact with European companies regionally might be a way to try to learn some strategies they have deployed.

All of this is a very long-term game. Europe’s renewed interest in Central Asia needs to be followed up with more concerted action. But an expression of interest from China that Europe is a partner with which China would like to work with in helping regional development in Central Asia is something that could help spur greater European attention on the region. While it is cliché to talk about the New Silk Road, repaving the link between China and Europe through Central Asia could help finally bring the EU-China strategic partnership to fruition.

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Another op-ed on Central Asia for the Global Times, one of China’s English dailies. This time focused on looking beyond Great Games in Central Asia.

Local needs matter more than imaginary struggles in Central Asia

Global Times | 2012-12-17 19:25:05

By Raffaello Pantucci

Last month, Russia was reportedly ready to provide weapons worth $1.1 billion to Kyrgyzstan and $200 million to Tajikistan along with a further $200 million in petroleum products. In early June, China offered $10 billion through the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO) to Central Asia. India has been focusing on developing a strategic partnership with Tajikistan since September, while the US always develops a stronger relationship with Uzbekistan.

There is a sense that we are returning to the “Great Game” in Central Asia. But this focus on abstract theories misses hard realities on the ground. Outside powers invest in Central Asia to advance their individual national interests, not out of a strategy directed against other powers.

Russia has long been a primary supplier of military equipment to Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan: The money that Russia is providing will buy Russian arms and will help bolster an industry at home. And Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan have long been the weak regional security links, providing a path into the Commonwealth of Independent States directly from Afghanistan. Drugs from Afghanistan can flow along the porous Tajik-Afghan border and from there into Kyrgyzstan, Central Asia and ultimately Russia.

Similarly, were the security situation in neighboring Afghanistan to deteriorate, then other threats could use this path. This is why Russia is willing to spend money to help strengthen the Kyrgyz and Tajik militaries. Certainly, a desire to keep American bases out of its backyard plays into the decision, but direct security considerations are the priority.

China has taken a different approach to Central Asia, one that is focused on economic and trade relations. For China, the main focus is to develop the region’s links with the Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region to help the underdeveloped Chinese region grow and become a hub for Eurasian trade. The result is a strategy focused on building roads and rail links, infrastructure to support local development, as well as investing in exploiting the region’s rich natural resources.

While China has expressed concern in security threats emanating from the region, it remains a timid security power in Central Asia with some participation at SCO exercises, bilateral interaction about specific security concerns and training missions in Afghanistan.

For the US, the major interest at the moment is developing a stronger relationship with Uzbekistan, something that is largely built around the 2014 exit strategy from Afghanistan. The US and Europe have little direct interest in Central Asia beyond a useful route in and out of Afghanistan.

India, Iran, Japan, South Korea, Pakistan and Turkey all express an interest in the region, but have less to work with. Each one sees Central Asia through a slightly different lens, but all are ultimately interested in trying to strengthen their economic relations with the region.

And all of this discussion of outside powers forgets that Central Asians too have a seat at this table. As relatively poor countries that are still in a development phase, they frankly welcome the outside attention bringing them investment that they desperately need.

This is particularly true of Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan, which unlike their other Central Asian partners lack abundant natural resources.

So when Russia comes and offers them substantial assistance, they are going to take it, in much the same way that regional leaders signaled their support for China’s policy toward the region when they attended September’s China-Eurasia Expo in Urumqi. Their hope was to be seen supporting China’s push to develop Xinjiang into the gateway for Eurasia and to see how they could also do well out of this approach.

Focusing single mindedly on the struggle between great powers in Central Asia often misses important details. Doubtless, regional geostrategy plays to some degree into Moscow’s considerations when providing weapons to Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan, but there are equally immediate security concerns at play.

China’s rising profile in the region may make it look like the increasingly dominant power, but this is something that is taking place as a result of an intensive focus from China on the “develop the west” strategy.

The “Great Game” in Central Asia should be left in the past as we focus on the very real problems that exist in the region.

The author is a visiting scholar at the Shanghai Academy of Social Sciences. opinion@globaltimes.com.cn

An op-ed for China’s Global Times today, this one with Alex as part of our bigger project looking at China in Central Asia. The article was actually a response to Pan Zhiping’s piece in the newspaper which took cause with some of our conclusions in our longer National Interest piece.

China rapidly becoming primary player in post-war Central Asia

Global Times | December 04, 2012 20:10

Illustration: Liu Rui

Illustration: Liu Rui from here

By Raffaello Pantucci and Alexandros Petersen

China is on its way to becoming the most consequential actor in Central Asia. This isn’t a critical or a negative statement, but rather a reflection of a reality on the ground.

The heavy investments in Central Asian infrastructure and natural resources, the push to develop the Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region, and China’s focus on developing the Shanghai Cooperation Organization into an economic player are slowly reorienting Central Asia toward China. None of this means that China is aiming to become a regional hegemon, but unless it is willing to write off considerable regional investment, it is going to find itself needing to engage in regional affairs in a more focused manner.

And these actions are likely to be interpreted regionally as hegemonic. A potentially very prosperous corner of the world, Central Asia, is in an early stage of development that could easily be pushed by instability in a wrong direction. China needs to prepare herself to step in and help resolve matters.

First among the potential storm clouds on the horizon is 2014 and the Western withdrawal from Afghanistan. The forces left behind will have a very limited and focused mandate. Their duty will be to protect diplomatic and aid communities and to focus on ensuring that groups like Al Qaeda cannot reform in Afghanistan and pose a threat to US or European interests. Their focus will not be on what the Taliban are doing in general or the instability that they might foster regionally. After over a decade of war, the Western public is tired of Afghanistan and has little appetite for war.

This casts a question over what is going to happen in Afghanistan post-2014, right on China’s border. China played a limited role in Afghanistan in the early years after the US invasion, but it has now invested considerable resources into the country that it will have to protect. It is also likely that instability in Afghanistan will have a knock-on effect into Central Asia, where China has even more investments. And all of this will end up having some sort of impact directly on Xinjiang, China’s long underdeveloped border region.

The US is in a very different position. It has security concerns from Central Asia and Afghanistan, but these will be addressed by the forces left behind. Some US companies have investments in Central Asia, but these are nowhere near as crucial as those made by Chinese firms.

As former national security adviser Zbigniew Brzezinski put it, the US is “too distant to be dominant in this part of Eurasia.” The reality is that the Pamir mountains are too high and the steppe too far away for the US to focus on the region.

China’s ascendant investments in Central Asia are something that also stands in contrast to Russia’s declining ones. This is a more complex picture, as Russia, for many of the same reasons as China, has a clear strategic interest in Central Asia. But it is no longer the regional hegemon that it once was.

Russia’s power has been diluted by growing Chinese interest and Western attention paid to the region as a strategic launching pad into Afghanistan.

On the one hand, Russia realizes that it has to do something about security post-2014 and so is investing military loans to Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan. But at the same time, its regional security organization, the Collective Security Treaty Organization, has lost one of its most important members, Uzbekistan.

Even more significant in some ways is the recent statement by Russian energy giant Gazprom that it needed to evaluate its position in Central Asia as it had noticed that the region’s producers were “reorienting themselves toward China.”

And while it is clear that Russia still has influence regionally, it is not Russian firms that are putting up buildings, laying down roads and rail or investing in rebuilding the underdeveloped region.

Russia may still exert considerable diplomatic influence and soft power in the region, but it is clearly not investing a huge amount in the region.

Instead, seen from the ground, the scope and range of Chinese investments is clear, and China is increasingly shaping itself to be the most consequential power in the region.

This reality may be unpalatable to China, but it is something that it cannot avoid.

China is increasingly reshaping Central Asia to becoming its backyard rather than Russia’s and this will bring with it some regional responsibilities that China has not yet figured out how to address. China needs to formulate a proper strategy for Central Asia.

Raffaello Pantucci is a visiting scholar at the Shanghai Academy of Social Sciences and Alexandros Petersen is the author of The World Island: Eurasian Geopolitics and the Fate of the West (Praeger, 2011).opinion@globaltimes.com.cn

A post for Financial Times Beyond Brics on China and Afghanistan, focusing in particular on the experiences of the two biggest Chinese investors there. For more on my work on China in Central Asia more broadly, please be sure to check out mine and Alex’s project site: http://www.chinaincentralasia.com. Thanks to Andrew for reading an early draft of this.

Guest post: China in Afghanistan, a tale of two mines

December 4, 2012 4:00 am by beyondbrics
By Raffaello Pantucci

Facing a heavy domestic agenda and growing foreign policy tensions in the seas to the east, it is unlikely that Afghanistan is going to be a major priority for incoming Chinese leader Xi Jinping.

Unfortunately, this does not mean the problems are going away. The contrasting fates of China’s large extractive projects in Afghanistan highlight a number of growing issues for the new administration in Beijing as the 2014 deadline for American withdrawal imposed by President Obama looms ever closer.

Up in the north, CNPC has started to extract oil from the ground in its project in the Amu Darya basin, while southeast of Kabul at Mes Aynak, the giant copper mine run by Metallurgical Corporation of China (MCC) and Jiangxi Copper has been put on hold while the Chinese firms reassess their ambitious plans for a project described by President Karzai as ‘one of the most important economic projects in Afghan history’.

This state of affairs is quite a contrast to earlier this year, when it emerged that CNPC was facing difficulties on the ground with reports of Chinese engineers being harrassed on site. This was despite the generous terms of the deal for Afghanistan: CNPC is paying 15 per cent royalty on oil, a 20 per cent rate of corporate tax and will give 50-70 per cent of its profits to the government, on top of building a new refinery. CNPC went into the deal with the Karzai family-linked Watan Group as local partner. All in all a very careful approach to investing in a risky country.

So the difficulties at the site and the staff harassment were a setback. In response, President Karzai’s Beijing visit in June included talks with CNPC, and also opened up discussions about developing a new pipeline to get CNPC’s gas out of Turkmenistan. CNPC is keen to develop another route to get gas out of South Yolatan, one of the world’s largest fields, possibly through northern Afghanistan and Tajikistan.

With the news that the field in Afghanistan is now producing, it looks like CNPC has cemented its position as a key investor in Afghanistan. The 25-year contract the company has signed has it extracting 1.5m barrels per year, and it is currently looking to extract 1,950 per day.

In contrast, the news from south east Afghanistan at Mes Aynak in Logar province is not nearly as positive. There, China Metallurgical Group Corporation (MCC) and Jiangxi Copper, the two Chinese state owned enterprises, were recently revealed to have withdrawn some of their operatives from the site. The reason given was security concerns with engineers reportedly spooked by a series of rocket attacks. Two weeks after these stories surfaced in the press, MCC president Shen Heting visited Kabul, meeting with Karzai and Minister of Mines Wahidullah Shahrani. In official read-outs from the meetings, security concerns were high on the agenda.

The picture may, however, be more complex than this. The Chinese companies have been accused of dragging their feet on the project, concerned about what is going to happen to the country after America officially withdraws in 2014. The important Buddist acheological remains at Mes Aynak are the subject of several campaigns, with researchers demanding more time to preserve the remains before mining commences. And the long-awaited rail line seems to be ever more distant.

Compensation for locals displaced by the site and the various ancillary projects alongside it has been slow to materialise. MCC also complained of Afghan partners being corrupt and inefficient, as documented in a US diplomatic cable revealed by Wikileaks.

All in all, it seems as though the Chinese companies were questioning their initial decision to invest. Looking back at the initial bids, it is clear that the Chinese bid high: offering a total investment $2.9bn (a figure that has been reported in fact as being as high as $4bn), $0.5bn more than the next offer. There were generous provisions for the Afghan government: a maximum royalty of 19.5 per cent and a bonus of $808m to the government as a signing bonus (the next closest was $243m).

MCC is concerned, along with others in the mining sector, about new legislation concerning mineral exploitation that is to be ratified by the Afghan government. Beyond Afghanistan, MCC has had other problems – its stock price in Shanghai has fallen from a high of over Rmb6 in 2009 to around Rmb2, and it recorded a net loss of $29m in the first half of 2012.

The contrast with CNPC’s experience in Amu Darya is stark. While CNPC is now producing from its site, the earliest possible production date now reported for Aynak is 2016. Clearly geography is something that has played in CNPC’s favor: northern Afghanistan is a relatively safe area compared to Logar province where Aynak lies.

The bigger question for China’s incoming leaders is how they are going to address Afghanistan once the US and Nato withdraw their primary responsibility for the country in 2014. China is not expected to take on a larger security role in the country: the PLA has little experience in such environments and such an aggressive approach is a world away from China’s non-interference policy.

China’s primary foreign policy tool is investment, mostly in Afghanistan’s natural resources: something it knows how to do very well from years of experience in frontier markets. However, this does not seem to be working in Afghanistan, with the government reportedly asking MCC to stay in Afghanistan. According to the Wikileak cable, Heting told American diplomats in October 2009 that ‘the Chinese government was urging the company to honour its commitments’.

The CNPC project may now be working, but the initial problems show that generous deals are no guarantee of a smooth passage. Beijing clearly has to re-think what it is going to do once 2014 passes. Afghanistan’s proximity to China and the potential knock-on implications in central Asia where China has invested a great deal make it is impossible to ignore.

China may not want to be dragged into Afghanistan’s interminable problems, but it seems impossible to imagine that they are not going to play some role. What this role ends up being is something that the new administration needs to calculate sooner than it wants.

Raffaello Pantucci is visiting scholar at Shanghai Academy of Social Sciences

A new article for Jamestown Foundation’s Terrorism Monitor, this time exploring the Chinese claim that ETIM fighters are showing up in Syria alongside a broader exploration of what the group is up to these days. More on Syria and foreigners coming soon.

China Claims Uyghur Militants Are Seeking a Syrian Battlefield

Publication: Terrorism Monitor Volume: 10 Issue: 22
November 30, 2012 03:02 PM Age: 4 hrs

Screen shot of a TIP video (Source Sawt al-Islam)

Chinese security officials informed reporters in late October that members of the East Turkistan Islamic Party (ETIM, a name used frequently by Chinese officials to refer to the Turkistan Islamic Party – TIP) and the East Turkistan Educational and Solidarity Association (ETESA) had slipped into Syria to join anti-government forces operating there (Global Times [Beijing], October 29). The report came at the end of a month in which the TIP released a number of videos and magazines on jihadist web forums showing their forces training at camps, calling for more support and generally highlighting the group’s ongoing struggle. However, neither the videos nor reports from Syria were supported by any visible action or evidence to support the claims. Questions also continue to be raised about the group’s ability to launch effective attacks in China, Syria or elsewhere.

According to the newspaper, which is owned by the Communist Party of China, the ETIM or ETESA members slipped across the border from Turkey into Syria from May onwards. Officials talking anonymously to the Global Times indicated that people had been recruited amongst those who had fled from the western Chinese province of Xinjiang, had been trained and then re-directed by “al-Qaeda” to the frontlines in Syria. The actual number of recruits was believed to be relatively small. The story was given an official imprimatur the next day when it was mentioned during the regular press briefing at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, where emphasis was placed on the close connection between ETIM and “international terrorist organizations [that] not only seriously harm China’s national security, but also pose a threat to the peace and stability of other countries.” [1] The remarks highlighted the alleged connection between militants belonging to China’s Turkic and Muslim minority and the international terrorist threat of al-Qaeda as it is currently expressing itself in Syria; towards the end of the Global Times report, mention was made of the recent video in which al-Qaeda leader Dr. Ayman al Zawahiri called for fighters to go to Syria.

What was striking about the report was the specific mention of the East Turkistan Educational and Solidarity Association (ETESA). This is the first time Chinese officials have spoken openly about the group, suggesting it is a terrorist organization along the lines of TIP/ETIM. Based in Istanbul, the group’s site proclaims that its intention is “to educate and bring up Turkistani Muslims….meeting their Islamic, social, cultural, spiritual and earthly needs” as well as to “fundamentally end the ignorance in Eastern Turkistan.” [2] The group strenuously denied the claims by the Chinese government, publishing a statement on their site in English and Turkish that rubbished the Chinese claims and accused the Chinese government of casting blame on them in an attempt to distract from Beijing’s support for the Assad regime. [3] The Turkish government also rejected claims that ETIM forces were operating outside Turkish territory and declared that it was “comprehensively” cooperating with the Chinese in handling terrorism threats (Global Times, October 29). Certainly, the broader Sino-Turkish relationship has been going relatively well of late with a successful visit by Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan to Urumqi (provincial capital of Xinjiang) and Beijing in April (Hurriyet, April 9). This was followed in September by a meeting between Turkish Deputy Prime Minister Ali Babacan and former Chinese leader Wen Jiabao in Urumqi on the fringes of the 2nd China-Eurasia Expo (Xinhua, September 2). China has actively encouraged Turkish investment in Xinjiang – the province dissident Uyghurs refer to as East Turkistan – including the establishment of a joint trade park just outside Urumqi. It would therefore seem counter-productive for Turkey to be actively supporting violent groups like the TIP.

What seems more likely is that the ETESA is falling under the same Chinese brush as the World Uyghur Congress (WUC), a U.S.-based dissident group that China has in the past accused of being behind trouble in Xinjiang, including the July 2009 riots in Urumqi that claimed some 200 lives (Xinhua, July 7, 2009). Both the WUC and ETESA use bases abroad to further political efforts to “liberate” Xinjiang. So far there have been no independent links made between ETESA or the WUC and the violent terrorist groups TIP or ETIM.

Far clearer than Beijing’s Syrian-related claims is the continuing presence of fighters claiming affiliation to TIP in the lawless tribal regions of northwest Pakistan along the border with Afghanistan. From this base, the group released from the middle of October onwards a series of videos displaying the group’s ongoing exploits and providing advice for other militant groups. For example, in a video released on October 17 they offered advice to their “Muslim brothers in East Turkistan,” and in an October 21 video they offered advice “for our Muslim brothers in Turkey.” [4]

What is notable is that while these videos demonstrate the group’s ongoing intent and existence, they do not seem to advance the cause in a practical way. While there continue to be sporadic incidents of violence in Xinjiang, the link to the TIP is increasingly underplayed officially and the group itself has not claimed any recent operations. An example of Beijing’s new approach is found in a report published on the fringes of early November’s 18th Party Congress that quoted both Xinjiang Communist Party chief Zhang Chunxian and chairman Nur Bekri that touched upon a number of incidents that have taken place in the province that have elsewhere been linked to the TIP/ETIM, but were cited in the report without reference to either group (China Daily, November 10). There was also no reporting in the mainland Chinese press of an alleged October 23 incident in the Xinjiang city of Korla in which a group of Uyghurs reportedly attacked police or a separate incident in Yecheng County in which a Uyghur man was claimed to have driven his motorcycle into a border post (Radio Free Asia, October 23; October 12). No independent confirmation of what took place is available in either case and neither Chinese officials nor TIP/ETIM chose to acknowledge them. Given the low level of the attacks, however, it seems unlikely that these incidents were directed by the TIP.

It seems clear that the TIP/ETIM continues to exist, that it is a concern to Chinese security officials, and that Xinjiang continues to be an ethnically troubled province that provides a motivating narrative for the group. At the same time, however, the ongoing lack of public evidence of TIP/ETIM attacks in China raises questions about what exactly they are doing. The movement does appear to be active in Waziristan, where their videos are presumably shot and where their cadres are periodically reported to have been killed in drone strikes. So far the movement has not released a video specifically praising the Syrian insurgency or encouraging their units to go there, though given their affiliation with the global jihadist movement, it would not be entirely surprising if some members had elected to join the Syrian jihad. However, in terms of advancing their core agenda of attacking China, the latest round of videos and activity does not seem to provide much evidence that the movement is moving in this direction in any effective way.

Notes:

1. Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the People’s Republic of China, “Foreign Ministry Spokesperson Hong Lei’s Regular Press Conference on October 29, 2012,” October 30, 2012, http://www.fmprc.gov.cn/eng/xwfw/s2510/t983693.htm.

2. ETESA, “Brief Introduction to the Eastern Turkistan Education and Solidarity Association and Its Mission,” 2012, http://maarip.org/en/?p=131#more-131.

3. ETESA, “Statement of ETESA on Fake Chinese Blames,” November 1, 2012,http://maarip.org/en/?p=192.

4. Hizb al-Islami al-Turkistani, “Advice to Our Muslim Brothers in Eastern Turkistan,” Sawt al-Islam, October 17, 2012

https://alfidaa.info/vb/showthread.php?t=49344; Hizb al-Islami al-Turkistani, “Advice to Our Muslim Brothers in Turkey,” Sawt al-Islam, October 21, 2012,http://www.shamikh1.info/vb/showthread.php?t=181814