Academic journal article International Journal on World Peace

Counterterrorism in Xinjiang: The Etim, China, and the Uyghurs

Academic journal article International Journal on World Peace

Counterterrorism in Xinjiang: The Etim, China, and the Uyghurs

Article excerpt

This article analyzes the issue of Uyghur terrorism in Xinjiang and the Chinese government's response. Since the September 11 terrorist attacks, Beijing has focused public attention on the Uyghur terrorist group ETIM, accusing it of having direct connections to Osama bin Laden and al Qaeda. This article argues that the government exaggerated the relative threat posed by ETIM as part of a broader move to safeguard certain economic and strategic interests. The article joins other scholarly assessments in arguing that alienation in Xinjiang is partly due to China's treatment of the Uyghurs. Notwithstanding critiques about China's record, it closes with a discussion of what conditions might increase the threat posed by Uyghur separatist groups, assessing the likelihood of each condition.

INTRODUCTION

This article analyzes the issue of Uyghur terrorism in Xinjiang and the Chinese government's response following the September 11 terrorist attacks. More explicitly, this article investigates the relative threat posed by the Uyghur terrorist group ETIM, which Beijing has singled out as the most vicious of Uyghur separatist organizations. With the goal of bringing greater clarity to what is known about the ETIM and what type of threat it might pose to China, this article attempts to bring together a generous cross-section of what has been written, analyzed, evidenced, debated, and concluded about the ETIM.

Since 9/11, Beijing has trained most of its focus on the ETIM, accusing it of having a direct relationship with Osama bin Laden and al Qaeda. Several experts and specialists argue that the Chinese government has overstated or embellished the case against the ETIM, perhaps as part of its effort to win support from the international community in the post-September 1 1 environment. Nonetheless, it is also possible that China feels legitimately threatened by instability and unrest in Xinjiang. Therefore, this article also discusses China's strategic and material interests in Xinjiang that the government has aimed to protect.

Notwithstanding the fact that instability in Xinjiang legitimately could threaten (and at times has threatened) these interests, it is argued here that Beijing has overstated the relative specific threat for terrorism posed by the ETIM. (Although definitions of the word "terrorism" abound, here it will be defined as "the deliberate creation and exploitation offear through violence or the threat of violence in the pursuit of political change.")1 Furthermore, this article suggests that alienation in Xinjiang has been caused in part by China's treatment of the Uyghurs.

The organization of this article is as follows: first, in order to provide a fuller context for understanding Uyghur identity, this article briefly examines the background and history of the region. The next section explores the nature of Uyghur unrest during Chinese Communist rule, examines China's response to separatist groups fighting for an "East Turkestan," and describes how the ETIM came to be identified as a significant terrorist threat. It also analyzes the perspective and interests at stake for the Chinese government and Uyghur community. Next, the article examines the case made by the government against ETIM, and weighs the government's charges against counter-arguments from various scholars and experts. Finally, it contemplates some of the possible and/or hypothetical conditions allowing Uyghur separatism to endure, irrespective of a specific terrorist organization. It will consider the likelihood of each scenario.

THE UYGHURS AND XINJIANG

It is important to start this analysis by providing some background on the population in question. The Uyghurs are a Muslim, Turkic-speaking ethnic group found throughout Central Asia. The vast majority (8 million) live in the Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region in western China, where they represent the largest ethnic group but live alongside Kazakh, Kirghiz, and Han Chinese inhabitants. …

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