Religion in a communist country like China is much more regulated than most people realize. The central government in Beijing has been weary of religion being used to question their authority and create discord in its various far flung regions. Xinjiang, the home of the Muslim Uighurs is one such (vast) region in the North-West of China. The Chinese authorities are openly fighting their own “war on terrorism” with open police action and propaganda/information warfare directed at foreign and domestic entities. They have used the rise of ISIS/ISIL as a rallying cry to root out Islamic terrorism in Xinjiang, claiming that hundreds of ethnic Uighurs have traveled to the middle-east to wage jihad for the Islamic Caliphate. Justine Drennan, writing for the CFR’s Foreign Policy magazine, looks at the Chinese policies and their potential consequences to its domestic security situation.
How China deals with its native Muslims will impact its security
“The general consensus, according to Georgetown professor James Millward, is that radicalized Uighur expats, who mostly seem to be based in Pakistan rather than Iraq and Syria, haven’t provided any operational support for recent violence in China, but rather just propaganda. And any who are fighting with Middle Eastern jihadi groups don’t seem to be rising very high in their ranks, said Raffaello Pantucci, an analyst at London’s Royal United Services Institute.
China, however, has been quick to label moderate Uighurs who speak out as radicals. Last year a Xinjiang court sentenced Uighur professor Ilham Tohti to life in prison on charges of “separatism,” for running a website that discussed Uighur experiences in the region. The United States condemned Tohti’s sentence, with Secretary of State John Kerry warning that silencing moderate voices “can only make tensions worse.” (Foreign Policy)
One would think that the last thing people would worry about in an authoritarian communist country like China would be the loss of human rights. But things have been changing in the PRC as liberalization of the Chinese economy, a growing middle class and the communications revolution have resulted in much greater freedom, wealth, property and legal rights. The Chinese government may be looking to curb some of these freedoms by playing the Islamic terrorism card, from its frontier area of Xinjiang, to pass tough new counter-terrorism laws. Human Rights Watch issued a press release warning against the possibility that these measures may do more than fight terrorism. The very vague definition of terrorism, expansion of state surveillance powers to enforce complete digital surveillance and targeting NGOs will harm the human rights of Chinese citizens.
China’s use of this concept of “never let a crisis go to waste” is by no means unique to them. Even liberal western democracies that would consider themselves the bastions of freedom have used terrorist acts to bring restrictive laws in place. The USA Patriot Act may be the most well known and even though it has seen some opposition, the law has been in place for over 13 years. Canada, United Kingdom, Australia, New Zealand, Belgium, etc. have all used the Islamic terror threat to beef up their counter-terrorism laws and security infrastructure. HRW may have issued similar press releases in these cases but we are not sure how persistent or effective they have been in preserving the human rights and freedoms of all people.
Human Rights Watch (HRW) has concerns about new Chinese terror legislation
“The draft counterterrorism law states that “counter terrorism work shall be conducted in accordance with the law” and that “human rights shall be respected and guaranteed” (art. 6). But the 106-article draft makes clear the government’s intent to establish a counterterrorism structure with enormous discretionary powers, define terrorism and terrorist activities so broadly as to easily include peaceful dissent or criticism of the government or the Communist Party’s ethnic and religious policies, and set up a total digital surveillance architecture subject to no legal or legislative control.” (Human Rights Watch)
China is a very large and complex country but it really does not take much to see the hypocrisy and self serving attitude they laid out at the World Internet Conference hosted in Wuzhen, China. In brief, the Chinese slid draft copies of a declaration under the hotel doors of the attendees at 11pm with a 8am deadline for any feedback. The declaration asks that the world community join together to police and censor the Internet to prevent it from being used for terrorist purposes. This of course is to also protect the personal information of users, prevent cyber attacks and maintain sovereignty of each country over its portion of the Internet (sic).
Terrorism as we try to show on this site is a very complex subject and to see a country – one that by all reasonable standards, censors information including the Internet for its citizens and is accused of being complicit in cyber attacks – is extremely discouraging for any sort of global governance of the Internet. Its best to keep this medium independent of the interests of countries or else we will end up with a fractured system that reflects the values of those who are the most restrictive.
World Internet Conference held in Wuzhen, China.
But when a key Chinese proponent of tougher laws to combat cyber-terrorism pushed that view on Thursday while showing video from the crime scenes at a forum called the World Internet Conference, he faced pushback from two American researchers.
“Cyber-terrorism is a sort of cancer on the Internet,” declared Gu Jianguo, who is China’s top policeman on cyber-crime as director of network protection at the Ministry of Public Security. “We are trying hard to elicit support of the international community.”
While condemning such attacks, not everyone agreed with Mr. Gu’s way of thinking about them. “There is very little cyber-war or cyber-terrorism,” said Bruce McConnell, a senior vice president at the EastWest Institute who formerly worked on such issues at the U.S. Department of Homeland Security. “Exaggerating the threat does not help defeat it. (Wall Street Journal Blog)
Russia and China have been developing deeper economic, military and strategic ties – to the point where many believe that a new east versus west Cold War may be at its nascent stages. So it should not come as a huge surprise to see them also co-operating in the fight against terrorism, which they both believe to be a problem. The Chinese have clamped down on the Uighurs in Xinjiang and Russia has long fought against Islamic terrorist and separatist groups in its Caucasus region.
China and Russia held an anti-terrorism drill in Inner Mongolia
Chinese and Russian policemen attend a joint anti-terror drill in Manzhouli City, north China’s Inner Mongolia Autonomous Region, Oct. 20, 2014. In order to boost coordinated ability to fight terrorism in the border region, Chinese and Russian police held a anti-terror drill on Monday, which involves planning hostage rescues and physical competitions between both squads. (Xinhua/Zhang Ling)
Also of interest is to note that:
In August, a multinational anti-terror drill was held in China’s Inner Mongolia by China, Russia, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan, aiming to deter the “three evil forces” of terrorism, separatism and extremism.
China’s western most Xinjiang province is the gateway to the new Silk Road and is also believed to be rich in many natural resources. With sustained migration from other parts of China and the stationing of People’s Liberation Army troops, the previous majority of Uighur Turkic who follow the Islamic religion, are now believed to be a minority. There is a pretty long history of unrest in the region as the central government has tried to consolidate its control over this vast region. Uighur terrorists have struck at both home (within Xinjiang) and other parts of China (including Tiananmen Square in Beijing) with increasing ferocity. The response from the Chinese government has typically been brutal and swift with tight controls on what information it lets out.
China deals with terrorism stemming from its Xinjiang province
A mastermind of violence in China’s Xinjiang region in which almost 100 people were killed sought to establish an Islamic state, official media said on Wednesday, reinforcing government warnings about an Islamist threat.
A court in the far western region sentenced 12 people to death on Monday for an attack in Xinjiang’s southern Yarkant county on July 28, in which the government said 59 “terrorists” were gunned down by security forces, while 37 civilians were killed.
The incident was one of the bloodiest bouts of unrest in the region that has seen hundreds of people killed in the past two years, most in clashes between ethnic Uighur Muslim people, who call Xinjiang home, and ethnic majority Han Chinese.