Posts Tagged ‘xinjiang’

This is going to become a more regular outlet for my writing. As part of my ongoing work on China in Central Asia, I am going to be producing more content directly for the site that I help co-edit, China in Central Asia with Alex and Sue Anne. Thanks in particular to dear Sue Anne for working on this one with me. This first piece is based on an experience a week or so ago in Tashkent at a curious Expo that we came across there.

A Xinjiang Trade Fair in Tashkent

May 17, 2012

By Raffaello and Sue Anne Tay

Last week, we have been visiting Tashkent, Uzbekistan as part of our ongoing research on Chinese interests in Central Asia.

Fortunately, on the flight here from Beijing, one of us had the good fortune to be seated amidst a boisterous group of 40 Xinjiang businessmen part of a provincial business delegation attending a trade fair in Tashkent. They had been forced to fly through Beijing from Urumqi – a geographically illogical route – due to the fact that there are no direct flights between Tashkent and Urumqi.

At their invitation, we visited the trade fair earlier this week. Held in an old exhibition hall in the outskirts of Tashkent it was a no-frills affair with basic booths lined up four by four. In its fourth year, the Xinjiang Trade Expo was sponsored by the Uzbek Chamber of Commerce, the Xinjiang government, and the bingtuan (the former People’s Liberation Army (PLA)-managed state owned enterprise (SOE) responsible for much of Xinjiang’s industries).

On the Chinese side, the participants were a mix of Xinjiang companies specializing in locally produced goods like Xinjiang snacks of dabanji (the famous big plate chicken), mushrooms, culinary sauces, an array of Uighur style clothing (and some fancily called ‘Turky style’ clothing) and more generic industries like uniforms/garment manufacturing and electronic equipment.

Other key participants were Xinjiang subsidiaries of holdings companies based in Guangzhou as part of the central government’s push for increased domestic investment in China’s less-developed hinterlands. One manager highlighted that they had started this work in the province at the Guangdong provincial government’s request. They were offering potential Uzbek customers property investment opportunities in Kashgar in southern Xinjiang, Chinese electrical gadgets like smartphones and Ipad-knockoffs tailored to the Uighur market (appropriately labeled with an Android character donning a Uighur hat), lightning equipment, police and factory uniforms. Many of the samples on display were manufactured in southern China and shipped to and assembled in Xinjiang.

With the pomp of the opening ceremony behind them, the reception at the Xinjiang Trade Fair when we went was lackluster to say the least. A thin traffic of Uzbek passers-by browsed with fleeting curiosity at what they considered well made but expensive Chinese products.

“The Uzbek market is too small and low-income compared to the vast opportunities we have in Xinjiang,” a uniforms manufacturer salesman named Tan Chao complained. Two locally dressed older Uzbek women stopped by to finger the bright Gortex jackets and browse a catalogue. A listless conversation in stilted Russian began with no conclusive business made.

Like Tan Chao, many of the Xinjiang businessmen were bored by the lack of opportunities offered in the trade fair. When we spoke to a pair of salesmen from an agricultural machinery manufacturer subsidiary of AVIC (the Chinese military aviation SOE), they acknowledged their presence seemed almost futile. Neither spoke Russian nor were there any serious potential clients for the cotton-picking machines they were peddling (Uzbekistan is one of the global top five cotton-producers). They responded to inquirers by waving a sheet with the prices of their equipment carelessly scribbled. Amusingly, curious onlookers seemed more interested in purchasing the model on display rather than the actual machinery.

A manager of a Xinjiang-based electricity infrastructure developer (with affiliation to Siemens) named Liu Zhao was one of the more enthusiastic and serious participants. His company had specially shipped in a landscape model of an electricity grid made up of parts manufactured by their company. Liu spoke fluent Russian thanks to 2 years of study in Almaty, Kazakhstan and extensive experience travelling to the region for work.

Several businessmen we spoke to, including Liu, acknowledged the difficulties of doing business in Uzbekistan. The government welcomed investment but not competition with local industries. Hence, the options for Chinese businesses in Uzbekistan are in the form of trade of specialized Chinese goods to the Uzbek market, attracting Uzbek investment to China and vice versa.

The limited convertibility of the Uzbek currency – 1800 Uzbek som to 1 USD (at the official rate, we were told the unofficial rate was as high as 2800 som to the USD) – was another obstacle. It is prohibited to take earned foreign currency out of the country, meaning you cannot leave with more forex than you arrived. Thus, foreign companies are either compelled to reinvest domestically any Uzbek som profits or absorb foreign exchange losses made via the official foreign exchange centre.

Hence, the dilemma facing Duan Weiming, a Chinese producer of Western suits who had just made a modest sale of several tens of thousands in Uzbek som. He jokingly showed off his cash bundles to his friends. What is he going to do with all the cash he made? We inquired.

“Why, spend it all on dinner, drinks and karaoke!” he boomed smilingly in response. Maybe to go enjoy his new fortune, the group packed up early at four o’clock. With another day at the Xinjiang Trade Fair, the Chinese businessmen were determined to make the best of what remained a slow affair.

Another short op-ed for the South China Morning Post (with Alex Petersen, co-editor of this other site), this time looking at Sino-Turkish relations in the wake of Erdogan’s recent visit, focusing particularly on how Central Asia figures between them. One of the most interesting things about this whole visit was Erdogan’s stop in Xinjiang which was quite a turn-around from his comments back during the riots of 2009. More on this subject coming soon. Unfortunately, this is again behind a firewall, but I have asked editors for permission to republish and will update duly. (UPDATE, have added full text after SCMP approval).

China and Turkey Reprise the Silk Road

Raffaello Pantucci and Alexandros Petersen see China and Turkey forming a new Eurasian axis

 NEW EURASIAN AXIS

Apr 23, 2012

Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s recent visit to Urumqi, Xinjiang, was a dramatic turnaround for a leader who just over two years ago had characterised the Chinese response to riots in the same city as “simply put, a genocide”. Now he has shifted his pose, reaffirming “the one-China policy” and speaking in Shanghai of the “cultural similarities” between the two countries. Engendered by an increasingly eastern-facing Turkish posture, this shift highlights a Eurasian axis that invites closer attention.

As two developing countries with good manufacturing capacity and large labour forces, China and Turkey were long able to grow independently of one another. Both were export-driven economies, but they did not directly compete for markets.

Where they did meet on the international stage, there was often tension. This was bound up with Erdogan’s tendency to favour the Uygur side of China’s ethnic quagmire in Xinjiang.

But times change. Earlier this year, Chinese leader-in-waiting Xi Jinping stopped off in Turkey, and now Erdogan has become the first Turkish head of state to visit China in 27 years. Behind this is a recognition that trade between the two nations is picking up, and, increasingly, their global interests align.

Both are uncharacteristically active in diplomacy in the current Iranian and Syrian stand-offs. But more interesting is China’s eagerness to encourage Turkish investment in Xinjiang – very surprising given Erdogan’s previous statements.

A main rationale behind this shift is recognition of the complementary roles the two powers play in Central Asia. Economic development, and the political stability it produces, is one of China’s main goals in the region. This is seen as essential to ensuring future tranquility in Xinjiang. Turkey contributes to that, with aid and educational programmes to Central Asia.

Chinese state-owned enterprises are busy constructing the components of a so-called Eurasian Land Bridge across the region, an East-West network of road, rail and other trade infrastructure. Turkish trucking, construction companies and traders in the region will be some of the first to reap its benefits.

Perhaps at some point, Chinese and Turkish interests will end up awkwardly rubbing up against each other, but, for the moment, the two fastest growing economies in Eurasia are reprising their historical roles as the two ends of the fabled Silk Road.

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. Their joint research is available at www.chinaincentralasia.com

 

A new article for 东房早报 (the Oriental Morning Post) the Chinese newspaper I sometimes contribute to about what China faces with regards the Middle East and the fall-out from the so-called Arab Spring of last year. I have also been doing a few media appearances, including being quoted in an article for Voice of America about recent troubles in Xinjiang and Chinese cultural influence in Kyrgyzstan for Eurasianet. Also, my recent piece for HSToday about Lone Wolves has been reproduced in a few places, including this digested version of it for a specialist site.

The article can be found here, and below is the English I submitted and under that is the text in Chinese for those able to read it and compare the differences.

China and the Arab Spring

This has been the year of great drama in the Arab world. Old certainties were pushed aside as Hosni Mubarak was reduced from Pharaoh to an old man being wheeled into a courtroom on a bed and the defiant Muammar Gadaffi was stripped and shot while hiding in a sewer. A new world order is being shaped, but what remains unclear is what exactly China’s role in this order will be.

At a conference in May this year, a Chinese friend angrily berated the government for being so slow to respond to events in Libya. While he was impressed by the rapidity with which they had been able to evacuate the 35,000 or so Chinese workers in the country, he was distinctly unimpressed by how long it had taken the government to reach out and make contact with the rebels.

And even once China did make contact with rebels, stories were also to emerge that China was maintaining contact with the old Gadhafi regime. In one widely reported case that was subsequently admitted by the government, documents obtained by the press showed that Chinese arms manufacturers were holding discussions with the Gadhafi regime as late as July 16, 2011 to provide supplies for the Colonel’s forces. This taking place a month after Beijing had hosted NTC leader Mahmoud Jibril to discuss China’s interests in Libya.

On the one hand, being friendly with both sides is something that is a strategically safe bet. By keeping everyone happy, you are able to theoretically focus on your interests and not become involved in local rivalries. But on the other hand, this can leave you in a situation where you are seen to be supporting an unpopular regime. Something highlighted when a friend from Beirut reported in response to a question about how China was perceived by the “Arab street” during this time, that China was not seen in a very positive light. Protesters taking up against regimes like Mubarak’s or Gadhafi’s were noticing that the regime had received weapons and equipment from China. They also did not appreciate the sense that it was a result of Chinese foot-dragging that the United Nations did not become involved sooner.

All of which illustrates quite tidily the problem that China faces when looking at how to react to the Arab Spring. The long-standing non-interference principle dictates that China cannot take an active role in getting involved in other nation’s internal problems. But this is a stand that will protect it from becoming entangled in situations like Iraq, but at the same time, it means that when an unhappy populace rises up against its leadership, it is equally likely that China will find itself backing the wrong side in the local public mind.

The problem for China with the non-interference principle is that sometimes in not choosing, China has made a decision or can be interpreted as making a choice. So when China chooses to avoid supporting sanctions through an abstention, it is in fact tacitly agreeing with the sanctions and therefore supporting the side that would want the sanctions. But it is doing this in a grudging fashion that suggests that in fact it disagrees with the idea of imposing the sanctions. Currently this is most visible in Iran and Syria where the Chinese government’s ongoing refusal to support strengthened sanctions against either country is something that is blocking the west from advancing sanctions themselves. The problem for China is that while at the moment this can seem a safe bet given the fact that it is not only China that is blocking sanctions, in the longer run it could leave China in an awkward situation should the regime be replaced.

Let us look for example at Syria, the off-shoot of the Arab Spring that is most likely to dominate news cycles in the next year. After a refusal to support UN resolutions condemning Bashar al-Assad’s regime, China ended the year by supporting a Russian proposal that in equal measure apportioned blame for the current trouble on the rebels and government. Earlier shifts only came after the Arab League had moved to condemn the regime in Damascus – theoretically reflecting a broader regional condemnation and therefore a regional consensus that China could agree with and therefore be seen as part of the mainstream.

This is a careful approach that is designed to give the appearance of not supporting oppression while at the same time not advocating regime change. Instead, the desire is to project a vision of China that is supportive of whomever is in charge, irrespective of their political leanings. The logic is that once the dust settles, China can sweep in with its deep pockets and focus on its interests and avoid having to choose sides. And certainly for some in Libya this is the case: as Abdul Rahman Busin, a spokesman for the NTC put it, “we all need to remember that China is a superpower. We all rely on products that come from China. We would have hoped they would have been on our side….but if it is the interests of the Libyan people to deal with China, then we will deal with China. It is very expensive and time consuming trying to settle old scores.”

But what does this say of China as a global power? Part of the reason why European forces engaged in Libya was a recognition that they had until then been supporting an oppressive regime and that it was a stain on Europe’s character. Once Gadhafi started to talk about going from house to house wiping out dissidents, it became clear that Europe was on the wrong side and leaders moved swiftly to get UN authorization to protect Misrata and Benghazi. While the decision to impose a no-fly zone was one that was contentious within Europe – Germany chose to abstain from the resolution – the end result was that the no-fly zone was voted for and imposed. This led to subsequent events and Gadhafi’s toppling.

China’s decision to sit, with Germany and others, in the abstention box, was ultimately neither here nor there. By refusing to take a position, China ultimately did take a position since it did nothing to try to stop the no-fly zone from being imposed. As a result, China ended up supporting what took place in Libya without accruing any of the international credibility that accompanied the vote. Instead, China was seen as being uncertain whether it really was a good idea to save the floundering rebellion and unaware of the consequences of its decision-making in the UNSC.

The question that China needs to confront in this coming year is what kind of an international player it is going to be. In this past year, it has shown that it is an international player – operations off Somalia show a capacity to conduct operations within an international framework (something already shown in the many peacekeeping operations China participates in), voting on sanctions against Libya shows it can choose sides when it wants to, the 10th year anniversary of the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO) show that it can create a regional security framework, and its work in Sudan helped ensure that the partion of the country was a largely peaceful event. The world knows that China has deep pockets and impressive capabilities to develop infrastructure, but the question is what sort of a leadership role is China going to take in the new world order.

Nowhere will this test become clearer in this coming year than in Iran and Syria – two countries long at odds with the western world and ruled by regimes of dubious legitimacy. This year it seems possible that we will finally reach a climax on both. For Iran, the signals that it is nearing capability to build nuclear devices are becoming ever clearer, while for Syria it seems likely that the Assad regime will eventually succumb to pressure and either crack-down more heavily and violently in a way that the international community cannot deny or simply collapse. And these late echoes of this past year’s Arab Spring will have a direct impact on China’s interests, something that China would do well to try to get ahead of rather than subsequently follow.

Up until now, China has been able to sit back and watch world events happen while it hedges by making friends with both sides. This is something that has been made possible by the willingness of western powers to step in and take leadership roles to make situations develop in positive directions. But in the coming year, austerity and domestic elections will become the priority concerns, meaning that China might find that its previous cover is blown. 2012 marks a new leadership direction in Beijing – let us hope that this leadership includes a more proactive stance in international affairs. The world is crying out for greater Chinese leadership; let the next generation of leaders be those to take China onto the world stage.

2012年中国面临的中东挑战

过去的一年是阿拉伯世界经历大变局的一年:穆巴拉克从“法老”变成了躺在床上被推进法庭的老头;从来不可一世的卡扎菲躲进了下水道,并在毙命前被羞辱……过去的一套法则被颠覆,新的世界秩序正被重塑,但中国在这一秩序中究竟将扮演怎样的角色还远不清楚。

比如,尽管中国政府从利比亚撤离35000多人的速度和能力令世人印象深刻,不过,中国政府向利比亚反对派伸出橄榄枝的步伐却没那么快。

一方面,“两头不得罪”在战略上是安全的。从理论上讲,让所有人都高兴,可以让人能够专注于自身利益,而不必卷入地区冲突之中。但另一方面,这种做法可能置人于一种不利的境地。

以上这些都非常清楚地展现了中国在思考如何应对“阿拉伯之春”的问题时所面临的困扰。长期秉持的“不干涉原则”限定了中国不可能积极地介入其他国家的内部问题。

“不干涉原则”给中国带来的问题还在于,“不选择”有时候也表明中国已经做出了决定,或可能被认为是做出了选择。所以,当中国选择通过弃权来避免支持对某国进行制裁时,表示它心照不宣地对制裁采取了赞成的立场,由此事实上也就支持了想要推行制裁的一方。而以不情愿的方式采取行动,则暗示其不赞成采取制裁。眼下,这一点最显著地体现在伊朗和叙利亚事件上,中国政府拒绝支持对任何一国实施进一步的制裁,这阻碍了西方推进制裁的脚步。

让我们以叙利亚为例。在新的一年里,这一场“阿拉伯之春”的独幕戏最有可能占据新闻头条。中国拒绝支持谴责大马士革阿萨德政权的相关决议,并在2011年年底前对俄罗斯的提议——将叙利亚出现乱局的责任分摊到反对派和政府身上,各打五十大板——表达了支持。这是一种谨慎的处理方式,表明中国一方面不支持压迫人民的做法,与此同时,也不主张政权更替。当然,对于利比亚的某些人而言,这的确如此,如同利比亚全国过渡委员会发言人Abdul-Rahman Busin所言:“我们都需要记住,中国是一个超级大国。我们都依赖来自中国的产品。我们希望他们能够站在我们一边……但如果与中国打交道符合利比亚人民的利益,我们将和中国打交道。力图解决过去的矛盾既耗费资本,又浪费时间。”

过去的一年,中国已经展现了国际大国的形象:索马里海域的巡航行动显示了中国具有在国际框架下执行(军事)任务的能力(这在中国参与的多项维和行动中同样得以展示);在利比亚制裁决议上投赞成票表明必要时中国能够“选边站”;上合组织成立十周年展示了中国具有创建地区安全框架的能力;在苏丹开展的外交工作确保了该国的分而治之得以和平进行……全世界都知道了中国拥有巨大的财富和惊人的基建能力,但问题是新世界秩序之下,中国将扮演怎样的领导角色。

新的一年里,没有什么比伊朗和叙利亚事件更能明晰地考验中国在国际角色扮演上的选择。这一年里,两起事件似乎都可能达到顶点。就伊朗而言,越发逼近制造核武器能力的信号已然清晰;而在叙利亚,阿萨德政权可能将最终迫于压力,或发起更大程度和更为暴力的镇压行动,或轰然倒台。刚刚过去的2011年“阿拉伯之春”的回响对中国外交将产生直接的影响,中国会竭力提前采取行动,而不是在事后再跟着形势走。

直至目前,通过与两边交朋友,中国得以能够“袖手旁观”且静观世界风云变幻。但这种局面得以可能的前提是西方强国愿意介入和发挥领导作用以推动局势向积极方向发展的情况之下。

在新的一年里,经济拮据和国内选举将成为各主要强国的首要关切,这意味着,中国可能发现这些之前的掩护已经不复存在。

2012年对于中国而言,将开启新的篇章,全世界迫切需要中国发挥更大的领导作用,期待中国在国际事务中采取更加积极的立场。

(张娟 译)

“全世界都知道了中国拥有巨大的财富和惊人的基建能力,但问题是新世界秩序之下,中国将扮演怎样的领导角色。

2012年对于中国而言,将开启新的篇章,全世界迫切需要中国发挥更大的领导作用,期待中国在国际事务中采取更加积极的立场。”

An article for Prospect, a British political magazine, looking at the phenomenon of the growing diffusion of power in China. Not a subject I have done a huge amount about, and is really an off-shoot of other work, but it is a fact that I have encountered in China and that I find increasingly interesting and relevant. The picture, btw, is of Beijing and the building on the far right is the new CCTV building – CCTV being the Chinese national television channel.

Can China’s Centre Hold?

RAFFAELLO PANTUCCI

25th November 2011  —  Issue 189 Free entry

As regions such as Xinjiang and Guangdong get richer and more powerful, it may be harder to govern from Beijing

Next year, China’s leadership changes. But as Chinese scholars, experts and officials are constantly reminding me, we should not expect any sudden or major shift in government policy. The rigid structure of Chinese government means that policy decisions are locked into place before leaders get a chance to shape them. And former leaders retain positions of influence and power behind the scenes.

Xi Jinping will likely become the international face of the Communist party, but Hu Jintao will, like his predecessors, retain a powerful position within the Chinese system. World leaders will find themselves dealing with a new character, though, as a Shanghai-based scholar told me: “leaders are not that important in foreign policy formation.”

Beneath this smooth exterior, however, there are fierce debates within the party about new “interest groups” in the system. This is shorthand for the growing fractionalisation in Chinese policymaking, a result of an increasing diffusion of power throughout the country. On the face of it, China remains a one-party state ruled by a central Politburo Standing Committee of nine men, but in reality an increasing number of actors influence the decision-making process.

Understanding the different roles these actors play is a parlour game among China watchers, but the trend is undeniably important. In a report late last year, entitled Inside the growth engine: a guide to China’s regions, provinces and cities, British bank HSBC advised: “anyone hoping to conclude a business deal in China…don’t assume you only have to deal with decision-makers in Beijing.”

A few months after the report came out, I met a local business representative from a European company in China. He described business in Shanghai and nearby provinces where his company had operations as typically opaque: what happens on the ground often differs substantially from the official line issued in Beijing. As the old Chinese saying goes: “the hills are high and the Emperor is far away.”

The regions’ newfound power is not all that surprising. China’s growth, after all, is mostly generated in a few coastal provinces. Guangdong, the nation’s powerhouse, accounts for over ten per cent of GDP and almost 30 per cent of the country’s exports (according to 2010 and 2009 figures respectively). This gives the regional governor a certain amount of power both domestically and on the international stage.

In October last year, Guangdong Governor Huang Huahua made a trip through Egypt, Israel and India in which he signed deals worth $9.12 billion and was hosted like a visiting state leader. During the trip he met with Israeli President Shimon Peres who “spoke highly of Guangdong’s energetic economy,” according to the official press release, and the two discussed ways that Israel and Guangdong could cooperate better on high technology development.

In some cases, provinces seem to be resisting central rule. On a trip to the Xinjiang province in China’s far west last year, a local guide told me how weak the current leadership in Beijing was and how the then Xinjiang Communist Party chief Wang Lequan would refuse to pay money earned in resource-rich Xinjiang to Beijing. I have been unable to confirm the details independently, but they resonate with a strong sense of independence from the center I found in the province. In a separate instance, a foreign researcher friend told me how Beijing policymakers had taken an interest in a project they were working on, which provided insights into the regional government in Yunnan province capital Kunming—they were grateful for insights on what was happening in the southern province.

State-Owned Enterprises (SOEs) are also an increasingly powerful counterweight to the central government. They control about a third of total enterprise assets in China. The largest are under the direction of the State-Owned Assets Supervision and Administration Commission (SASAC)—a body the Chinese government established in 2003 to try to rein in the SOEs, which accounted collectively for about 60 per cent of GDP in 2009. Usually run by senior Communist party members, the sheer size of the SOEs gives their leaders disproportionate importance and in some cases seems to put them beyond state control.

Liu Zhenya is a particularly well-placed SOE head: he is CEO of China’s State Grid Corporation, the world’s largest utility company, ranked 7th in Fortune’s list of the top 500 global corporations. Having worked his way up through Shandong’s electricity industry, Liu turned the power companies into conglomerates managing billions in assets. During his time as head of Shandong Electric Power, he diversified the company’s portfolio into finance and securities, IT, business travel, real estate, culture and a local football team.

When State Grid took the same approach outside China, its attempts to move into copper mining in Chile were blocked. According to company insiders quoted in the Financial Times, it was Chinese regulators who blocked the deal, saying that State Grid was not a mining company. Characterised in the Chinese press as a “Frankenstein” company, State Grid has become almost a state within a state. Fleets of limousines shuttle executives around high-end compounds where they dine at private restaurants and consider the fates of their one-and-a-half million staff.

The People’s Liberation Army (PLA), meanwhile, has also emerged as a strong force on the global stage. As well as rhetorical sparring with the United States, it has started to assert itself along China’s sea borders with its south east Asian neighbours, much to their and others’ concern. An academic from the Party School suggested that the PLA’s assertiveness in recent years stems from a bargain they made with political leaders under Deng Xiaoping.

According to the Party School professor, when Deng was pushing his economic reforms through in the 1980s and 1990s, he asked the military to accept tighter budgets while the party focused on the economy. Now that the economy has picked up, the PLA is having its moment in the sun and flexing its muscles. When former US defence secretary Robert Gates visited China in January this year, the PLA Air Force showed off their new stealth fighter jet, in an apparent display of one-upmanship. It put Hu Jintao in an awkward position: he was apparently as surprised as his American guests when the subject came up in a meeting.

The key lesson here is that nine men in Beijing are increasingly finding the current political system difficult to control. The booming economy has brought prosperity to China, but it has also meant that there are more powerful actors in the country than before. Without the checks and balances that a free press or a more open political system would provide, it is difficult to keep track of them. Although the internet could (and in some limited cases does) fill this gap, strict government controls mean that it is not a completely reliable watchdog. Now the Politburo Standing Committee finds itself struggling to balance an ever more complex set of power networks around the country, as it tries to keep control at the centre.

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

A long lost post for ICSR looking at terrorism in China, something that I had actually drafted initially prior to the recent events out in Hotan. There it now seems as though the government is saying that a “flag of jihad” was being flown, though I have not seen reference to the East Turkestan groups anywhere. Any tips or pointers always welcome.

Jihad in China

Islamist terrorism and extremism in China is a very difficult subject to research. A general sense of paranoia casts a shadow over the it and a great paucity in direct and accurate information means that people often have very little that is empirical or tangible to add.

None of this is to say that the problem does not exist. Recently a video emerged on the forums that by my count is the first to be released that is primarily in Chinese (Mandarin that is, the main Chinese language) – previous videos have been later translated into Chinese, but this is the first one to boast a speaker clearly using Chinese. Others have been released threatening China ahead of the Olympics, and a video from April 2008 showed three Chinese men being executed, most likely somewhere in Waziristan. There have also been a number of half-formed plots, including an attempt to bring down a plane going from Urumqi (a regional capital) to Guangzhou (a regional the capital) using a petrol bomb,a series of bus bombings for whom no satisfactory explanation has ever been provided and aseemingly suicidal attack against security forces in Aksu, Xinjiang in August last year.

In all of these cases, the Chinese authorities blamed what are called East Turkestan groups. East Turkestan refers to what China’s westernmost Xinjiang province is considered by those who call for independence of their province. These people tend to be Uighur, a Turkic minority mostly resident in China that used to be the most populous in that province: Han Chinese migration has completely changed the ethnic demographics of the province. This migration has been accompanied by what is seen locally as a slow erosion of Uighur culture and a general sense that Han China is taking advantage of the province’s considerable natural resources with little benefit to the locals. Uighur’s are a predominantly Muslim minority and some splinters of the al-Qaedaist narrative have managed to find a home amongst the disaffected communities. And these groups are either referred to as, or self-call themselves, East Turkestan Islamist Movement (ETIM) or Turkestan Islamist Party (TIP).

But whether these attacks are actually carried out by organised groups is very hard to confirm. Some individuals have in the past made connections with al Qaeda and affiliated networks in Afghanistan, Pakistan and broader Central Asia. According to Camille Tawil’s recent authoritative book Brothers in Arms, in Afghanistan prior to 9/11 ETIM “pledged allegiance to Mullah Omar and stopped all paramilitary activity against China (which the Taliban could ill-afford to upset), as requested.” And the existence of the connection is further confirmed by a quick review of the Chinese listed Wikileak’d Guantanamo detainee files that show a whole series of Uighur men who left China for reasons mostly to do with what they felt was Chinese oppression and ended up in Afghanistan and Pakistan. Whether they were all connected to terrorist groups is unclear, but certainly the path they took seems to have been a well-trodden one. There are regular reports that the Pakistani government trumpets of “Turkestan” fighters being killed in operations in Waziristan. And last May, interior minister Rehman Malik referred to the back having been “broken” of the “East Turkestan” groups. He was rewarded with substantial contracts and investment from China.

More recently, while the regional Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO) was undertaking one of its joint counter-terrorism exercises, Chinese minister Meng Hongwei declared that, “signs are the ‘East Turkestan’ terrorists are flowing back.” But while this declaration sounded like it was founded in some sort of direct threat intelligence, nothing has since materialized. This could of course be due to the fact that it is sensitive information and consequently suppressed, but at the same time, Chinese authorities like to trumpet success in counter-terrorism operations.

But now we have had what seems to be a genuine expression of violence in Xinjiang, with the news that a mob of “thugs” attacked a police station in Hotan, one of the few majority Uighur cities left in the province. While this attack does not seem on the scale of the grim July 2009 riots that led to around 200 deaths, reports indicate that at least a handful of people have been killed. So far blame has not been attributed to the East Turkestan groups, but the local information bureau has already referred to the event as “an organised terrorist attack.”

The East Turkestan groups and the threat from them are also often quoted as one of China’s driving motivations behind engagement with Central/South Asia. But what is interesting is that there is often little evidence of a successful terrorist attack being carried out in China. Consequently, there is a certain amount of skepticism about the size and nature of the threat. Curious, I recently asked a series of high profile researchers and officials what size they considered the threat to be and got broadly similar responses, though very different senses of how dangerous the ETIM/TIP groups are.

One told me that in the past year some 100 had been killed in Afghanistan/Pakistan and that he estimated there were some 1,000 more. Someone affiliated with a research institution linked to the state security ministry played the threat down, declaring that there were some 100/200 people and that the networks had been largely disrupted. The only reason he thought they would be able to make a turn-around was if things in Afghanistan got a lot worse providing the group with a new space to operate in. In a larger conference space I posed the same question to a University academic who had just given a very doom and gloom assessment of security in Central Asia and he guesstimated numbers were in the “hundreds” and that they were very active in the “border regions.” He expressed particular concern about Tajikistan and the porous borders that the nation had as a potential conduit for terrorist networks in the region.

Often, however, the bigger threat that is referred to are groups like Hizb ut- Tahrir, whom are present in Central Asia and apparently amongst the communities of cross-border traders that go back and forth between Xinjiang and the bordering states of Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan. One high estimate that was given me was of some 50,000 HuT members in China spread out from Xinjiang all the way down to Sichuan province with people seeing the group as part of a dangerous Islamicization that is taking place in broader Central Asia and consequently in China too. More conservative estimatessay there are some 20,000 HuT members in China.

It seems that there is some sort of a terrorist threat to China from violent Islamist networks. But what remains unclear is to what degree this threat is able to conduct any sorts of operations within China or to what degree al Qaeda and affiliate networks are able (or want) to manipulate it for their own ends. Currently, the jihad in China seems more aspirational than operational. At the same time, if events in Hotan are confirmed, it looks like the tinderbox of ethnic friction and disenfranchisement that might offer an outlet for such extremism to latch on to continues to exist.

A new piece for Jamestown analysing the recent video release in Chinese by the TIP. Not entirely sure what to make of this. It has since also been pointed out to me that it looks like the video was actually made back in April, which further raises questions about why it was released now. Any thoughts or reactions would be greatly appreciated.

Turkistan Islamic Party Video Attempts to Explain Uyghur Militancy to Chinese

Publication: Terrorism Monitor Volume: 9 Issue: 25

June 23, 2011 04:15 PM Age: 5 hrs

Almost completely overshadowed by the death of Osama bin Laden, jihadi publishing house Sawt al-Islam released a bilingual video from the Turkistan Islamic Party in mid-May. [1] The video recounted various historic grievances held by western China’s Muslim Uyghur people against Chinese communist rule while promising new efforts to achieve the independence of “East Turkistan” (China’s western province of Xinjiang). While the substance of the video is not that novel, the fact that it has been released with a narration in Mandarin Chinese would seem to mark a new twist for TIP, a group that has thus far largely restricted itself to publishing magazines in Arabic with occasional videos in Uyghur.

The video is delivered bilingually, with a speaker identified as Faruq Turisoon speaking Mandarin in the flat tones typical of some Chinese minorities. The language he uses is fluent and rapid, demonstrating a level of linguistic capability that would suggest he has at least lived in Chinese speaking communities for some time. The Uyghur version is dubbed over the Mandarin, while the Mandarin version has subtitles in simplified Chinese characters similar to those commonly used in Chinese television and cinema.

During the course of the video we see Turisoon standing before a group of eight heavily armed men brandishing machine guns and rocket propelled grenade launchers, with two men on horseback flying the black flag of jihad and the traditional blue flag of East Turkistan. The video is interspersed with footage from Abu Yahya al-Libi’s October 2009 video called “East Turkistan: the Forgotten Wound,” that was released in the wake of the rioting in Xinjiang in July 2009 (ansar1.info, October 7, 2009).  The new video also contains footage of unknown men in Middle Eastern garb talking about the situation in China on television and what appears to be footage from a release by al-Qaeda in Iraq in response to the 2009 riots.

The video is in the format of a “Letter to the Chinese People,” laying out Uyghur claims for independence and freedom for East Turkistan from the Chinese state (the region was independent of China for brief periods in the 1900s). In his speech, Turisoon repeatedly invokes China’s experience with Japan to make the Chinese people understand Uyghur perceptions of their treatment at the hands of the Chinese.

Turisoon cites the Cultural Revolution (the 1966-1976 period when Mao unleashed a purge of capitalist elements that ripped China apart) and Tiananmen Square (the June 1989 incident when the People’s Liberation Army cleared Beijing of protesting students) as incidents of when the Chinese government “wantonly killed” its own people. Added to this list he includes the rioting in the Xinjiang capital of Urumqi in July 2009 that left around 200 people dead (of both Han Chinese and Uyghur ethnicity) and an uncertain number of Uyghurs incarcerated or executed subsequently.

Within the context of Uyghur complaints, his statements are quite traditional, and in the video he highlights well-known Uyghur grievances with Chinese government family planning policies, the large-scale immigration of Han Chinese to Xinjiang and the supposed emigration of Uyghur women from Xinjiang to other provinces. [2] He also discusses the exploitation of Xinjiang’s natural resources by the Chinese government and singles out the work of the Xinjiang Production and Construction Corps (XPCC), a group founded subsequent to the Communist Party’s take-over of Xinjiang using demobilized Chinese soldiers to establish a foothold in the province. The XPCC still controls much of the province’s economy.

The exact reason for releasing the video now is unclear. In the weeks prior to its publication, a report in the Pakistani press claimed that Abdul Shakoor al-Turkistani, the supposed chief of the TIP, was elevated to the role of “chief of [al-Qaeda] operations in Pakistan,” so it is possible that this video was a reflection of a new push by the group to assert itself (The News [Islamabad], May 21). However, given the relatively low interest that al-Qaeda or any other groups have shown thus far in the plight of the Uyghurs and the close security connection between China and Pakistan that has likely stymied Uyghur groups’ efforts to carry out any attacks, it would be surprising if the release of this single video made much of an impact. During a visit last year to Beijing, Pakistani Interior Minister Rehman Malik confirmed the death of Abdul Haq al-Turkistani, the former leader of the East Turkistan Islamic Movement (ETIM – an alleged predecessor of the TIP), and declared that they had “broken the back”  of the ETIM (Dawn, May 7, 2010; see also Terrorism Monitor, March 11, 2010).

It should be noted that at around the same time as the alleged meetings were taking place in which Abdul Shakoor al-Turkistani was elevated to his new role, the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO) undertook a counterterrorism operation along the Kyrgyz-Tajik-Chinese border northwest of Kashgar in Xinjiang. The exercise took the format of forces hunting down a training camp on the Chinese side of the border and rescuing a bus full of hijacked citizens. Commenting subsequently, Vice Minister of Public Security Meng Honwei declared that there were “signs [that] the ‘East Turkistan’ terrorists are flowing back….the drill was designed against the backdrop that they are very likely to penetrate into China from Central Asia” (China Daily, May 9).

The video received no coverage in the Chinese media (or anywhere else for that matter), likely a reflection of a Chinese official desire to keep the information out of public circulation, but also due in part to the fact that the Turkistan groups have largely failed to conduct any successful attacks and remain low-level players in the world of global jihadism. Aside from some (disputable) claims of responsibility for small-scale and low-tech efforts to attack buses or airplanes in China, the group has not particularly demonstrated a capacity to carry out terrorist attacks within China or beyond.

Nevertheless, documents released by Wikileaks concerning suspected Uyghur militants detained in Guantanamo show that there is a contingent that has in the past moved from China to training camps in Central Asia in response to the oppression they believed they faced. [3] When one couples this with the ongoing tensions between Uyghurs and Han Chinese that are clearly visible in parts of Xinjiang, it is easy to visualize the sort of potential for threat that exists. Whether this video in Mandarin is a direct threat that presages action is unclear, but it certainly shows the groups eagerness to continue to prove its existence.

Notes:

1. majahden.com/vb/showthread.php.
2. The phenomenon was described by Abu Yahya al-Libi in his October 6, 2010 video, “East Turkistan: The Forgotten Wound” (al-Fajr Media Center). Abu Yahya denounced “the forced displacement and transport of Muslim girls to the major inner cities of China. These girls are cut off from their families for many years, perhaps forever, under the guise of vocational training so that they are able to work in factories and elsewhere (so these atheists claim). Indeed, hundreds of thousands of these girls were displaced to drown in the sea of corruption, godlessness, longing for their homeland, and organized capture and dishonorable employment. This has left many Muslim women with no choice other than to kill themselves in order to escape the cursed law.”
3. See the Guantanamo records of Uyghur prisoners at www.wikileaks.ch/gitmo/country/CH.html