Posts Tagged ‘China-Pakistan’

Another short op-ed in between longer pieces of work, this time for Reuters looking at the China-India-Pakistan trilateral relationship and all its complexities. Reflects a number of views I heard on recent trips to all three capitals.

Untangling the web of India, China and Pakistan diplomacy

By Raffaello Pantucci
May 25, 2015

(Any opinions expressed here are those of the author and not necessarily those of Thomson Reuters)

On the eve of Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s visit to China, Xinhua published a rare opinion piece by his Pakistani counterpart Nawaz Sharif. The obvious choreography of the visit and article shows the delicate balance in relations between China, India and Pakistan.

For Beijing, both powers are important if it is to realize its ambitious strategy of trade and economic corridors emanating from the Middle Kingdom under the rubric of the Silk Road Economic Belt. For current governments in Islamabad and New Delhi, Beijing’s economic miracle offers a way of helping develop their economies. Yet we are some way off before this trilateral relationship will be able to live up to its potential as the economic powerhouse at the centre of Asia.

Islamabad reaped substantial benefits from President Xi Jinping’s delayed visit to Pakistan. The formalization of the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) to the tune of $46 billion signalled a major investment by China into Pakistan’s future (even if one takes a skeptical view that the money was repackaged old deals and multiple-year contracts conflated for a public announcement).

The current outline for the CPEC is a multistage strategy starting with the development of Pakistan’s parlous energy infrastructure and the redevelopment of its road, rail and pipeline network. A series of economic zones will be established along the CPEC route in Pakistan to attract industry that is finding itself increasingly priced out of Chinese markets. As envisaged, the corridor will not only open up China’s western regions to the seas through Gwadar Port, but also create a latticework of prosperity across Pakistan.

India has traditionally seen a close China-Pakistan relationship as a source of concern. Seeing it as a relationship that is built on the foundations of anti-Indian sentiment, hawks in New Delhi are concerned by this proximity. But the new government of Narendra Modi has appeared willing to open up a new conversation with Beijing, one that tries to look beyond these historical tensions to build stronger economic ties, resolve long-standing border disputes and helps reshape the global order to the advantage of the two Asian giants. China has also offered a direct link to India in one of the numerous trade corridors it is pushing out from Beijing — in the form of the Bangladesh-China-India-Myanmar (BCIM) Corridor.

But underlying these optimistic perspectives are a number of fundamental problems, the most central of which is regional security. In the context of CPEC, security in Pakistan (in the form of growing sectarianism, terrorism, as well as separatists in Baluchistan) and in neighbouring Afghanistan pose major threats to the route. And while India may be interested in the BCIM as a potential concept, it remains concerned about encirclement by China through the Maritime Silk Road and the network of relationships China is building in the Indian Ocean as well as the ongoing border tensions in Ladakh. India has continued to keep China out of SAARC and Modi’s Project Mausam is a direct pushback to China’s maritime strategy, in contrast to the country’s willingness to engage on the BRICS Bank, AIIB and to work on joint projects in Iran.

And bringing the trilateral complexity of these relationships into focus are incidents like theattack on the Park Palace Hotel in Kabul. While it remains unclear what the ultimate target was, the potential presence of the Indian Ambassador and Indian casualties immediately painted the incident as part of the shadow war between Pakistani intelligence and the Taliban on the one side, and Afghan intelligence and their Indian supporters on the other. Such incidents stoke paranoia on all sides and complicate efforts to try to forge a regional peace and stability.

The China-India-Pakistan trilateral relationship is a complicated one. All three need each other to succeed, but do not believe this to be the case, remaining fiercely independent in their outlooks and jealous when the other two appear to be moving closer together. On the one hand, China has the potential to act as an honest broker, offering economic investment to all while trying to help offer a platform for discussions. But in reality, China wants no part of a situation where it ends being responsible for brokering peace in such a fractious part of the world, and it continues to take advantage of opportunities to assert its dominance over its Asian neighbours. For India and Pakistan, history continues to be stuck in the legacies of partition.

Yet this is a trio of countries that together account for about a third of the world’s population and where future prosperity is likely to come from. The danger at the moment is the assumption that economic development and prosperity will resolve everything and is the goal that needs to be achieved for regional stability. In reality, all three powers need to shed their historical legacies, and find ways of ending the paranoid tensions that underlie their global outlooks. Until this has been achieved, the CPEC, BCIM and any other regional economic framework will be undermined and no long-term stability will be found in the heart of South Asia.

 

Advertisements

A post for a new outlet, Reuters, this one looking at painting a big picture of China’s interests in Central Asia and Pakistan and how they all stitch together. A bigger theme that I am going to be exploring more through my co-edited site: http://www.chinaincentralasia.com

China re-wires it’s West

OCTOBER 4, 2013

By Raffaello Pantucci

(Raffaello Pantucci is a Senior Research Fellow at the Royal United Services Institute, London)

In his seminal article from October 2012 advocating for China’s ‘March Westwards’ Beijing University Dean of International Relations Wang Jisi spoke of a ‘new silk road [that] would extend from China’s eastern ports, through the center of Asia and Europe, to the eastern banks of the Atlantic Ocean and the Mediterranean coastal countries in the west.’ In addition to this route to Europe, ‘A major route from China’s western regions through the Indian Ocean should also be constructed as quickly as possible.’ An ambitious geopolitical sketch of the world seen from Beijing, but one that is being brought to life under President Xi Jinping, whose recent tour of Central Asia provided some definition of what exactly China is aiming for in its western relationships.

There were many significant moments during President Xi’s tour of Central Asia. He planted a tree and opened the CNPC-managed gas field at Galkynysh in Turkmenistan, in Uzbekistan he signed agreements with an aging Islam Karimov, in Kyrgyzstan he attended an SCO Summit and deals worth $3 billion (a small sum compared to investments in neighbors, but nonetheless a substantial amount for Kyrgyzstan whose 2012 GDP $6.5 billion), and in Kazakhstan he presided over the signing of deals worth $30 billion and gave a keynote speech at Nazarbayev University. In many ways, it was this speech that provided the clearest insight into China’s strategy towards Central Asia, outlining a ‘silk road economic belt’ that would ‘open up the transportation channel from the Pacific to the Baltic Sea.’

Five days after President Xi gave this keynote address in Kazakhstan, the Chinese Ambassador to Pakistan, Sun Weidong, gave an equally ambitious speech at the National Defence University in Islamabad. In between platitudes about China and Pakistan being ‘brothers’ he spoke of the ‘China-Pakistan Economic Corridor’ that brings together ‘the transportation infrastructure, the energy and economic zones along the corridor, which will organically combine China’s ‘Western Development’ strategy and ‘Opening up to the West’ policy together with [a] Pakistani blueprint for national development.’ China’s strategy in Pakistan is both integrally bound into Pakistan and China’s national development.

These two speeches illustrate the greater vision that Professor Wang was talking about. A ‘silk road economic belt’ to bring European markets closer to China, as a ‘organic’ binding transforms Pakistan into a highway for Chinese goods to get to the Indian Ocean. The ultimate aim for Beijing: to reconnect its western province Xinjiang to the world and open it up for trade. Under-developed and riven with ethnic tensions that continue to spill over into violence, Beijing’s solution is an economic development strategy that needs routes to markets. Hence a highway through Central Asia to Europe and a path through Pakistan to the Indian Ocean.

The odd man out in this broader vision is Afghanistan that sits squarely in between these two routes. China has invested in some routes through the country, but these are at best subsidiary paths to the outer edges of the routes from Central Asia to Xinjiang or possibly a longer-term vision to directly correct Iran to China. But where Afghanistan can play a spoiler in this plan is to disrupt broader regional stability – in particular in Pakistan where a difficult situation on the ground will likely get further exacerbated by a negative outcome post-2014 in Afghanistan. In Central Asia a similar threat exists, but appears far less existential – militant groups previously occupied fighting western forces in Afghanistan may flow back home to Central Asia, but they are unlikely to have the sorts of numbers necessary to overthrow regimes. Nevertheless, an unstable Afghanistan would have negative repercussions on the region and all of this would displace China’s broader strategy.

The grander Chinese vision may be imperiled by potentially negative fall-out in Afghanistan, but the reality is that there are numerous short-term problems that are already hindering the situation. Pakistani instability has always presented a problem for Chinese firms: back in September 2011 China Kingho pulled out of a massive investment in southern Sindh in fear of the security of its workers (though this now may be back on). And the investment climate in Kyrgyzstan is so difficult that in late 2012 Li Deming, the head of the Chinese Chamber of Commerce in the country wrote an op-ed in Global Times highlighting all the difficulties Chinese firms faced in the country.

Difficulties notwithstanding, China is making moves to fulfill the reality of the broader vision. There is already a route for goods to go from China to Europe by rail, and it is already possible to travel by road from Kashgar to Gwadar through Pakistan. And Chinese firms are working to re-develop these routes either using national development banks or through the Asian Development Bank. As the world looks elsewhere, China is re-wiring the infrastructure of its western neighbors to bind them ‘organically’ into Beijing’s domestic development strategy.

Another new article pegged to the recent events in Beijing, this time focused on the China-Afghanistan relationship for a Chinese paper that I sometimes write for, 东方早报 (Oriental Morning Post). I try to offer some tangible ideas for what China could do. I should point out that this was written prior to the events last week, so some of the ideas that I mention seem to have been part of the subsequent agreements. Not sure I can take credit, but hopefully these things will feed the general conversation in China subsequent to last week’s announcements. I have pasted the full english text below the Chinese, and would point out that the last paragraph in English didn’t make the Chinese version. I have also saved readers here of seeing the picture of me that they included in the Chinese version, to see that go to the link in the title to the article.

中国如何在阿富汗更有作为
作者 潘睿凡   发表于2012-06-12 03:05

上合组织北京峰会上周决定以观察员国的身份接纳阿富汗。
潘睿凡
上海社科院访问学者

  上合组织北京峰会上周决定以观察员国的身份接纳阿富汗,中国与该国总理卡尔扎伊在单独双边会谈中签署了战略协议,透露出中国愿意在邻国的未来中发挥更大的作用。不过,中国眼下在阿富汗并非主要玩家,这一点在我不久前遍访喀布尔,不断询问中国在阿富汗的利益及其影响力时,屡次得以显现。目前阿富汗人主要的注意力都集中在美国2014年从阿富汗的撤军,及其对于该国未来的意义。

实际上,在阿富汗很难见到中国存在的证据。当2008年阿富汗安全局势恶化以后,很多曾经充斥当地市场以及开餐馆的中国商人关门回国了。留下来的中国人如同其他当地的外国人一样保持低调,躲在高墙以及安全人员的保卫之下。但是在战略层面上,中国却十分显眼,刚赢得了艾娜克(位于喀布尔东南)铜矿的开采合同,以及在阿姆河(阿富汗北部)一处气田的开发权。

从这些大合同中,我们可以看见中国如何能够在这个国家扮演更大和更积极角色。

艾娜克铜矿位于贫穷的洛加尔省,铜矿的开采及其他相关基础设施项目建设(如铁路、公路、发电厂、煤矿坑以及学校等)将创造更多的就业和商业机会,惠及该地区。

在阿姆河天然气田项目上,由于中石油同意以十分优惠的条件与阿富汗政府一道开发,当地的分析人士认为这折射出中石油对该地区未来石油项目开发的兴趣。这被视为中国在阿富汗的长期利益。在政治层面上,将阿富汗提升至上合组织内部“观察员国”身份的决定也显示出中国推动的区域组织正在对阿富汗的未来做出积极的承诺。

不过,在和阿富汗官员、政客以及当地人交流时,他们理解的却不是这个道理。相反,他们指出了中国将大量的援助与投资投向了巴基斯坦,而非他们,并且相信中国更青睐巴基斯坦,而非阿富汗。此外,对于阿富汗开通瓦罕走廊的长期请求,因为对该项目所进行的无止境的可行性研究而被忽略,这被视为是中国的一大策略。更为明显的是,在新疆的答普塔尔(音译,Daptar,中阿边境最后一座中国的小镇),喀喇昆仑山高速路穿过这座小城,通过Kunjerab哨口连接巴基斯坦,而通往阿富汗的道路却依然是尘土飞扬。阿富汗人觉得自己错过了与中国这个经济巨人进行贸易而潜藏的巨大利益,还觉得这是被故意切断的。

在许多方面,中国的观点是容易理解的。阿富汗目前面临安全问题,开放边境可能将其问题直接引入中国。但是,问题在于,除了上文提到的几个大项目之外,似乎再没什么证据显示中国在如何对待阿富汗及如何着手应对2014年美军撤出后的局面问题上存在更长远的大战略。

喀布尔的民众不断追问中国对于阿富汗的策略是什么,大多数人的结论是,没有人在这个问题上有着清晰的思考。

这是一个问题,因为阿富汗的局势会对中亚和南亚产生直接影响。从与阿富汗接壤的杜尚别(塔吉克斯坦首都)及塔什干(乌兹别克斯坦首都)的官员和专家们的谈话中,可以感受到他们对2014年的不确定性极为担忧。而塔吉克斯坦与乌兹别克斯坦的不稳定与不确定性又会波及整个中亚地区,进而波及中国新疆,影响中国在中亚地区的投资。往南看,如果阿富汗变成一个乱摊子,巴基斯坦也会遭殃,中国在巴利益也将进一步受到直接影响,中国已经承接的通过巴基斯坦直达波斯湾海域的大型项目也难以独善其身。

喀布尔内部的期望值并不高。他们并不是期望中国会派遣军队保卫其安全,或是中国会突然到来,取代美国成为主导玩家。相反,他们期望中国可以阐释一个更为清晰的阿富汗战略:努力通过大量战略性经济投资推动当地的稳定和安全。眼下的这些投资在当地被视为有“寄生性”,而哪些努力可以实现稳定仍模糊不清。

这是世界上的一个长久以来充斥着不安全的“大锅炉”,与中国相邻,中国在那里也有着显而易见的战略利益。将阿富汗正式纳入上合组织可以看作一个良好的开始,而中阿战略协议的达成进一步释放出中国愿意参与邻国未来建设的信号。不过,现在是中国明确自己的阿富汗战略,并做出对于该国安全、繁荣与稳定的未来更加明显承诺的时候了。

这一战略可以通过一系列方式得以实现:首先,中国政府可以帮助解决中冶集团(MCC)眼下在当地遇到的麻烦,并让项目进行起来。这将意味着帮助阿富汗政府解决一些官僚问题,而北京方面的集中关注可能有助于这一进程的加速。第二,中国可以更多聚焦于将阿富汗的基础设施(能源线、管道、公路和铁路)与地区网络连接起来——这将有助于阿富汗融入地区发展之中。第三,中-巴-阿三边会谈应该扩展至将除了外交官之外的更多行为体纳入其中,包括国有企业和经济部门。这将有助于把相关行为体聚集到一块儿,共同讨论发展,促进更大的地区融合。第四,中国应该引导上合组织朝着更加积极应对毒品问题的方向迈进。眼下,该组织谈得多,而做得少。在边境监控上加大力度,为阿富汗农民提供除了种植毒品作物之外的其他选择,都是中国引导下的上合组织可以聚焦的项目,这些都将有助于阿富汗逐步摆脱对毒品种植的依赖。(张娟 译)

录入编辑:李琪

China Should Develop its role in Afghanistan

This week’s decision by the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO) to make Afghanistan an observer member and President Karzai’s separate bilateral meeting to sign a strategic agreement with China are signals that China is eager to play a greater role in Afghanistan’s future. However, while these high level actions are positive demonstrations of intent by Beijing, China needs to be sure to follow through if it is to be seen to be playing a greater role in stabilizing its neighbour after the American withdrawal in 2014. Currently, China is not a major player in Afghanistan. A fact that was repeatedly made clear as I went around Kabul asking about China’s interests and influence in the country. Afghans would clearly like to see China play a role, but from what they can see at the moment, China is instead focused on taking Afghanistan’s natural resources while others guarantee security and work to stabilize the country.

There is very little visible evidence of Chinese presence in the country. Many Chinese traders who used to populate the markets or run restaurants closed down and returned home in 2008 as the security situation deteriorated. Those that are left keep a low profile, like most foreigners in the country, reduced to hiding behind high walls and security teams. But at a strategic economic level, China is very visible, winning large contracts to mine for copper in Aynak (southeast of Kabul) and a contract to open a gas field in Amu Darya (in the north of the country).

And in these large contracts we can see how China could play a bigger and more positive role in the country. Aynak sits in Logar province, an underdeveloped region that would benefit from the jobs and opportunity the copper mine and other infrastructure (trains, roads, a power station, coal mine and local schools) that come with the project would bring. And analysts spoken to on the ground believe that the very favorable terms that CNPC agreed to develop the gas field with the Afghan government in Amu Darya are a sign of CNPC’s desire for future oil projects in the region. This is interpreted as a long-term interest in Afghanistan. And at a political level, this week’s announcements in Beijing at the SCO Summit are a sign that the regional body is paying attention to Afghanistan, while the signing of an agreement between Afghanistan and China are a show of the bilateral relationship.

But when talking to officials, politicians and locals in Afghanistan this sense is not what is being understood. Instead people point to the large amounts of aid and investment that China puts into Pakistan rather than them and believe that China prefers Pakistan over Afghanistan. Furthermore, the long-standing requests for the Wakhan Corridor to be opened have been answered with a lengthy feasibility study into whether the project can be done. This is seen as a Chinese strategy of simply sealing off Afghanistan from China and letting it resolve its security problems by itself. Something even more visible on the ground in Daptar in Xinjiang (the last border town before Afghanistan in China), where the Karakoram Highway sweeps magnificently through the village and on to the Kunjerab Pass with Pakistan while the road to Afghanistan remains a closed dusty track. Afghanistan feels it is missing out on the potential trade benefits with the Chinese economic giant and feels like it is being purposely cut off.

And in many ways this Chinese perspective is easy to understand. Afghanistan is currently a security problem and opening the border might let trouble flow directly into China. But the problem is that aside from the big projects mentioned earlier, there is little evidence of a larger Chinese strategy of what to do with Afghanistan and what to be preparing for after 2014 and the American withdrawal. In Kabul people kept asking what the Chinese strategy was for Afghanistan, with most concluding that there was no clear thinking going into this subject.

This is a problem, as what happens in Afghanistan will have a direct impact on Central and South Asia. Talking to officials and local experts in Dushanbe and Tashkent, who sit on the border with Afghanistan, there is a high level of concern about what 2014 means. And instability and uncertainty in Tajikistan and Uzbekistan is something that will impact the entire Central Asian region and therefore Xinjiang, as well as Chinese investments in throughout region. Looking south: Pakistan will also suffer if Afghanistan falls into chaos, something that will further have direct impact on Chinese interests in the country, but also the great projects that China has undertaken to connect itself to the warm waters of the Gulf through Pakistan.

Expectations in Kabul are not very high. The hope is not that China will deploy forces to guarantee security or that China will suddenly come and replace America as the main player in the nation. Instead, the hope is that China will instead enunciate a clearer strategy towards the nation that ties in efforts to improve stability and security with large strategic economic investments. Currently on the ground the investments are seen as holding pieces of territory without investing in them, while what efforts towards stability are either invisible or considered irrelevant. And at a political level, while the brokering of a China-Pakistan-Afghanistan trilateral was an interesting and positive development, it is unclear that it has changed much on the ground.

All of this in a region of the world that has long been a cauldron of insecurity and which is adjacent to China and in which China has quite obvious strategic interests. The decision to bring Afghanistan further into the SCO framework is a good start and the strategic agreement a further signal of China’s willingness to participate in the country’s future, but the time has come for China to clearly enunciate its strategy towards Afghanistan and to make a more visible commitment towards the country’s secure, prosperous and stable future.

This could come in a number of different ways: first, China could help companies like MCC resolve their current difficulties on the ground and get projects going. This would require helping the Afghan government resolve some bureaucratic issues, but focused attention from Beijing might help speed this process up. Secondly, China could focus more attention on getting Afghanistan’s infrastructure (energy lines, pipelines, roads, trains) connected to regional networks – this will help bind the country into its region and help development. Thirdly, the China-Pakistan-Afghanistan trilateral format should be expanded to bring more actors to the table beyond diplomats, like state owned companies and economic ministries. This will help bring relevant actors to the table to discuss development together and help foster greater regional integration. And fourthly, China should help steer the SCO in the direction of more active counter-narcotics work. Currently, the organization talks about the problem a lot without doing much visibly. Encouraging greater border surveillance, stopping the flows of precursor drugs into the country and offering farmers alternatives to growing drug crops are all projects that the SCO could focus on with Chinese leadership and would help Afghanistan move beyond reliance on this crop.

But the most significant move that China could make is to ensure that it makes further visible progress in its relationship on the ground with Afghanistan before the American withdrawal in 2014. It is understandable that China wants to wait to see what the environment looks like post-2014; but at the same time, whatever the scenario post-2014, Afghanistan will still be next door to China. So waiting is somewhat unnecessary and is only going to delay development in Afghanistan. Afghanistan’s future is clearly going to be both important and to some degree tied to China’s. China is in a position to play a very positive role in fostering a peaceful future for the nation, starting work on it now is something that will only reap dividends.

A new piece for a new outlet, The Diplomat which is an excellent magazine and site that covers Asia-Pacific affairs. This one focuses on China-Pakistan relations, a fascinating subject that plays quite a bit into considerations on the other subject I have been looking at in some detail, China-Afghanistan. I also want to use this opportunity to highlight some media stuff I have done. I did an interview for Voice of America ahead of the SCO Summit and what it means for SCO involvement in Afghanistan, as well as an interview for the Christian Science Monitor on China-Afghanistan.

Break Up Time for Pakistan, China?

Chinese and Pakistani officials often talk in lofty terms about the proximity of their relationship. “Higher than mountains, deeper than oceans, sweeter than honey, stronger than steel and dearer than eyesight” is the official characterization, and Chinese or Pakistani researchers will often say how they are welcomed like brothers when they visit their respective countries.

A story last week in the Pakistani press, however, seemed to belie this, stating that Chinese Foreign Minister Yang Jiechi had declined to move a meeting with Pakistani President Asif Ali Zardari to Karachi, forcing the president to rapidly reschedule his trip to be in Islamabad to meet with Yang. Whatever the accuracy of this specific story, there has been a noticeable tenseness in relations between Beijing and Islamabad, indicating that things may not be as rosy as they are sometimes portrayed.

At an official level, it seems clear that both sides are eager to maintain a visible proximity. In the wake ofZardari’s visit to India earlier this year, Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani told the press that it was “our best friend China….[who] advised us to promote trade relations with India.” And from a Chinese perspective, during a visit last December on behalf of President Hu Jintao during a ceremony to mark 60 years of “China-Pakistan Friendship” State Councilor Dai Bingguo declared: “It is believed that happiness, when shared by two, will be doubles, suffering, when shared by two, will be halved…[Pakistan is] an iron core” friend of China.

Yang added to this recently when he stated: “the China-Pakistan strategic partnership of cooperation, marked by all-weather friendship and all-round cooperation, has become an example for harmonious coexistence and friendly cooperation.”

But beneath the rhetoric, there have been a number of divergences from the official line. Back in August of last year, after an incident in Kashgar in which six people were killed, the local government issued a statement in which they said that an “initial probe” indicated that the leader of the plot had been trained in Pakistan. This was seemingly confirmed a month later when the Turkestan Islamic Movement (TIP) released a video showing the alleged leader, Memtieli Tiliwaldi, training at a camp they claimed was in Waziristan.

A subsequent investigation cleared Pakistan of responsibility, but the impression of Chinese concern over its South Asian neighbor was emphasized again when in early March, Xinjiang Chairman Nur Bekri highlighted the “countless” links between terrorists in the province and “neighboring country” Pakistan. This came after more than a dozen people were killed in another stabbing spree in Yecheng County, just south of Kashgar. And then in April, the Public Security Ministry released a wanted notice for six individuals who it referred to as having links to “a South Asian” country and being members of “East Turkestan groups.”

While the statements from the Xinjiang government likely reflected anger at a local level in the province, the statement from a central government ministry was a different thing, showing that this concern was something that extended beyond Xinjiang security officials. Xinjiang’s proximity to Pakistan and its restive Uighur Muslim population make it a prime candidate for links to extremists in Pakistan – stories in the Chinese press about the Yecheng incident emphasized the cities’ proximity to Pakistan – but usually the central government is wary of pointing fingers directly at Pakistan.

But beyond Xinjiang, we have also seen a retraction from Pakistan of Chinese official business interests. Back in September last year, Chinese coal mining company Kingho withdrew from bidding for a development in Thar, Pakistan. What was most striking was that when the firm talked to the press subsequent to the decision, the Wall Street Journal reported a company official openly stating that it was a result of the negative security situation.

Then, in March, the state owned Chinese bank ICBC withdrew its support from financing a gas pipeline from Iran to Pakistan. It did not specify why. And while China recently announced that it would buy out all other stakeholders in ownership of the Gwadar Port, it’s still unclear when the port is going to gain tractions. Completed in 2007 with largely Chinese funding, the port is advertised as a sign of Sino-Pakistan friendship, but languishes unused as other regional ports are moving to overtake it as potential seaports for Central Asia’s rich resources.

All of which paints a very different picture of the public face that China and Pakistan like to project about their friendship and alliance. Both governments clearly want to keep up good appearances.  It is, however, increasingly clear that there is a high level of concern in China about Pakistan. In Xinjiang in particular they seem to have lost patience at Pakistani capacity to contain Uighur extremists travelling to train in Pakistan and then coming back.

Pakistan, for its part, is clearly aware of these problems. In the wake of incidents last year, Zardari visited Urumqi for the first China-Eurasia Expo. Preceding him was ISI head Lt. Gen. Ahmed Shuja Pasha who visited Beijing, presumably to discuss, amongst other things, problems in Xinjiang.

Whether this kind of contact will be enough, though, is unclear. Beijing may be Pakistan’s best friend, but even best friends can eventually lose their patience with each other.

Raffaello Pantucci is a visiting scholar at the Shanghai Academy of Social Sciences.

After a short hiatus, a new piece for Jamestown, looking at recent unrest in Xinjiang through the lens of its Pakistan connections. Interesting subject, I am going to be doing an increasing amount of work on. Have been focusing on some longer pieces hence the silence, should have some things landing soon.

Uyghur Unrest in Xinjiang Shakes Sino-Pakistani Relations

Publication: Terrorism Monitor Volume: 9 Issue: 33
August 19, 2011 10:19 AM Age: 4 hrs

Pakistani President Zardari and Chinese President Hu Jintao in negotiations

It has been a difficult summer for China’s restive western province Xinjiang. A series of incidents characterized as terrorism have struck two of the province’s cities, causing death, destruction and ethnic tension. This picture was further complicated when the government of the city of Kashgar published a statement online that claimed at least one of the perpetrators had been trained in Pakistan (Xinhua, August 1). The allegation by Chinese officials cast a shadow over Sino-Pakistani relations, a bilateral relationship that had been characterized in Kashgar jut the month before by Pakistani Ambassador to China Masood Khan as “higher than mountains, deeper than oceans, stronger than steel, sweeter than honey, and dearer than eyesight” (Associated Press of Pakistan, July 1).

Death in Hotan and Kashgar

The most recent troubles in Xinjiang took place in a series of incidents in the western cities of Hotan and Kashgar. The first was an incident in Hotan on July 18 when a gang of some 18 men, described as being between 20 to 40 years old, stormed a local police station after launching an attack on a local tax office (Shanghai Daily, July 21). Armed with a variety of axes, knives and firebombing material, the group attacked those they found within the Naerbage police station, killing four people and seriously wounding at least four more. In response, police killed 14 of the assailants and arrested the remaining four (Xinhua, July 20).

This violence was repeated just over a week later in Kashgar when, as described by a local Han Chinese man, “I saw a blue truck speed through the crossing and plough into the crowd” (Xinhua, July 31). The drivers then leapt from the cab of the van and started hacking at the crowd with knives of some sort. China’s official English-language news service indicated that immediately prior to the attack a pair of explosions was heard, but this was apparently omitted in Chinese language reports (Xinhua, July 31; AFP, July 31). In the end, the men killed eight people and injured a further 27 before the crowd turned on them and beat one of them to death while the second was apprehended (Xinhua, August 1). One report from a Hong Kong newspaper suggested that initially there had been three attackers with a vehicle bomb that had blown up prematurely, leading the other two to resort to the tactic of hijacking a truck and ramming it into a crowd (Ming Pao, August 3). This was not mentioned in other reports, though one person injured in the attack reported hearing “a big bang like a blast” before passing out (China Daily, August 2).

This was not the end of the violence – the next day another group of assailants armed with knives stormed a restaurant in Kashgar and killed the owner and a waiter before starting a fire in the building and racing outside to slash wildly at passersby (Xinhua, August 4). In the melee that ensued six civilians were killed and a further 12 civilians and three police officers injured before five assailants were shot dead (Xinhua, August 1). An unclear number of assailants escaped, though rewards were offered for the capture of two men, identified as 29-year-old Memtieli Tiliwaldi and 34-year-old Turson Hasan. The two were subsequently shot by security forces in cornfields outside Kashgar (Xinhua, August 1)

What Was Behind the Violence?

Broadly speaking the Chinese media and officialdom concur on the point that the violence was stirred by outside forces.However, with regards to the apportioning of blame there seems to be some divergence between the events in Hotan and Kashgar.

In Hotan, locals described the group that stormed the police station as a group of “ruffians” aged about “20 to 40 years old and all male” speaking with out of town accents. They were apparently wearing “convenient shoes” to aid them in “running away easily” (Xinhua, July 20, 2011). Another report characterized the men as “gangsters” from out of town (Zhongguo Xinwen She [Beijing], July 20). Police reported that the men had brought with them flags of “radical religion” that they were planning on flying over the police station. One banner was reported as saying, “Allah is the only God. In the name of Allah” (Xinhua July 20; Zhongguo Xinwen She, July 20). Officials claimed the attackers confessed they hoped their actions would “stir up ethnic tension” (Xinhua, August 4).

This backdrop was seemingly confirmed by a report in a Hong Kong daily, in which locals said that the spark for the incident was a local attempt to crack down on the wearing of the veil by Muslim Uyghur girls. According to Hotan resident, the government had been using slogans telling girls to “show off their pretty looks and let their beautiful long hair fly.” After this approach failed, the government had started to reach out to local religious leaders (South China Morning Post [Hong Kong], July 22). Within this context, it is worth highlighting that this all took place shortly before the beginning of Ramadan, a period of fasting and religious observances for Muslims.

At the same time, the importance of an attack on a local Hotan tax office that preceded the assault on the police station was played down in the official press. One report stated that the group had accidentally attacked the office mistaking it for a police station, while another said that two uniformed taxation officers who had been stabbed before the attack on the police station were mistaken for the police officers since their uniforms were similar (Shanghai Daily, July 21; Xinhua, July 22).

On the other hand, events in Kashgar came with a simpler explanation. Pointing the finger directly at the East Turkestan Islamic Movement (ETIM), the Kashgar government published a statement in which it said that one of the men had confessed that some of leaders of the group had trained in Pakistan in bomb-making and weapons handling and had returned to carry out terrorist attacks (Xinhua, August 1; China Daily, August 2; The News [Islamabad], August 6; People’s Daily, August 5).

This was not the first time that China has found links between domestic Uyghur-linked terrorism and individuals with links to Pakistan: Guzalinur Turdi, the 19-year-old Uyghur girl who tried to bring down a China Southern Airlines plane on March 7, 2008 en route from Urumqi was using a Pakistani passport and was part of a group directed by Pakistan. [1] This rather blunt apportioning of blame towards Pakistan was somewhat surprising, especially given the close relations that are clearly visible at almost every level of the Sino-Pakistani relationship.

Pakistan was quick to respond to the charges, with the Ministry of Foreign Affairs publishing a statement that condemned events in Kashgar. Using Chinese-style terminology, the statement spoke of the “patriotic people of Xinjiang” and the Chinese government succeeding in “frustrating evil designs of the terrorists, extremists and separatists.” [2] According to the Pakistani press, the statement was published after President Hu Jintao called his Pakistani counterpart, Asif Ali Zardari, to “express concern” about ETIM’s growing activities in the region (News Online, August 6). Soon after this, Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) chief General Ahmed Shuja Pasha headed to Beijing. Whether this trip was linked to events in Xinjiang was unclear, with some reports indicating it was part of ongoing regional discussions about Afghanistan (The Nation[Lahore], August 2). Nevertheless, Xinjiang is likely to have been featured during discussions.

Maybe to prove herself to her main ally, Pakistan seems to have responded with a mini-crackdown of sorts on Chinese Muslims in the country. A Chinese individual identified as Muhammad Yusuf was arrested sometime in July with around $50,000, some Chinese Yuan, and Islamic literature (Dawn [Karachi], August 7). A few days after this was reported, Pakistan deported a group of five Chinese nationals in handcuffs and blindfolds – two men, two children and a woman. Another man was apparently refused boarding permission by the China Southern Airlines pilot, and the Pakistani press hinted that the group may be involved in ETIM plotting (Dawn, August 10).

Conclusions

The full picture of what took place in Hotan and Kashgar remains somewhat obscure, however, some details are clear.People did die, but the methods of attack seemed surprisingly low tech for terrorists who had supposedly undergone terrorist training in Waziristan. However, this was not the first time such attacks had been undertaken using such methods – in August 2008 a pair of Uyghur men ran a truck into a column of policemen on their morning run, before leaping out of the vehicle, using knives and lobbing homemade grenades. Sixteen officers were killed and another 16 injured (Xinhua, August 4, 2008). This was followed a year later by violent rioting in Urumqi that claimed almost 200 lives in clashes between Uyghurs and Han Chinese.

All this suggests that something deeper is afoot than just individual and random incidents of violence. The fact that we have seen similar instances of serious violence in Xinjiang on a relatively regular basis over the last few years suggests some deep-seated anger is bubbling just below the surface. Whether this is directed by external parties is unclear, however. The indications are that some Uyghurs in Pakistan are connecting with extremist groups there. There is evidence from videos released by Uyghur groups that there is a desire to strike within China (see Terrorism Monitor, June 23). However, the random and low-tech nature of this recent spate of attacks suggest that, while it may have in part emanated from the community of Uyghurs who are transiting back and forth between China and Pakistan, it does not seem to fit the mold of an al-Qaeda directed plot.  What is clear, however, is that the Sino-Pakistani relationship will endure – official statements from both sides indicate a high level of bilateral support and recent reports of Pakistan allowing Chinese access to parts of the advanced helicopter abandoned by the Navy SEAL team sent in to kill Osama bin Laden in Abbottabad suggest that Islamabad cherishes its relationship with Beijing over its relationship with Washington (Financial Times, August 14).  Though both Beijing and Islamabad have denied this report, it is apparent that China requires action against fugitive Uyghur dissidents in Pakistan as a condition of maintaining a bilateral relationship “higher than the mountains and deeper than the oceans.

 

Notes:

1. Elizabeth Van Wie Davis, “Terrorism and the Beijing Olympics,” Jamestown Foundation China Brief, April 16, 2008.

2. “Pakistan extends full support to China against ETIM,” Pakistan Ministry of Foreign Affairs Press Release, August 1

http://www.mofa.gov.pk/mfa/pages/article.aspx?id=787&type=1