Foreign Policy Blogs

China: Xinjiang Terrorism and Tibetan Protesters

An analysis of Russia's policies toward Central Asia by upcoming President Medvedev will be postponed for a couple days. Instead, I would like to discuss two interrelated stories occurring in China, but having ramifications in Central Asia and beyond:
1. China's Xinjiang terrorist threat, specifically the March 7 plane incident
2. Chinese government suppression of Tibetan protesters and its affect on Central Asian stability issues.
tibet-protesters.jpg

Reporters Chris Buckley and Benjamin Kang Lim claim to have a source on the inside of the investigation into the March 7 plane incident who believes that the perpetrators may have come from Pakistan, not solely from China's Uighur majority Xinjiang province. The two suspects, a man and a woman who made it on the plane, in custody were holding Pakistani passports. Another source stated that the female was in fact a Xinjiang-born Uighur, but had spent time recently in Pakistan being trained by a Pakistan-based militant group. There was also a still-at-large third suspect in this incident, a Pakistani, who is believed to be its mastermind.

When the incident first occurred, Xinjiang Province's Communist Party chief, Wang Lequan, was quick to blame Uighur separatists. He stated at the time; "An investigation found that the attempt to cause an air disasterwas a grave act of sabotage instigated and conducted by Eastern Turkestan separatists from abroad." So it appears that he was for the most part accurate, but this new source raises more questions about whether the Chinese government is raising the Uighur terrorist threat level, and specifically the East Turkestan Islamic Movement, in order to justify more repressive measures in the region.

Stephen Blank in Eurasianet.org, argues that China's recent crackdown of its other main separatist group, Tibetans, can be a potentially precedent setting method for the members of the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO) to handle similar secessionist attempts that may create instability in the Central Asian region. It is true that the SCO's other members, specifically Russia, have voiced their approval of China's policy against the Tibetan protesters and one can assume that China would share this support with Russia and its Central Asian neighbors if they came under similar separatist movements.

Blank asserts that the SCO charter includes a provision for each member to summon aid from the other member states in order to deal with a "security threat,' as a separatist movement would most likely qualify. He suggests that China, but more likely Russia, would use this provision to intervene in Central Asia if an anti-government movement arose, and mentions Uzbekistan and Kyrgyzstan as "hotbeds of instability.'

There have been two major occurrences of unrest in Central Asia in the past few years that shine a light on exactly what the SCO's two major powers, China and Russia, would do in such a situation. Uzbekistan's Andijion incident in 2005 was a moment of unrest and anti-government protest, but Karimov was mostly able to handle the situation internally. The governments of Russia and China quickly applauded Karimov's aggressive moves to suppress the demonstration and only a few months later, Russia and Uzbekistan agreed to a mutual protection pact and Russia opened up a new military base in the nation. Also in 2005, Kyrgyzstan's Tulip Revolution occurred, creating great instability in the state. There was no request by the new or old Kyrgyzstan government for aid in bringing stability in the country and though China and Russia held an SCO meeting to discuss intervention, in the end they did very little.

How the Chinese government handles its separatist movements as the Beijing Olympics creep closer and closer will be intriguing and important to watch, but also as critical will be to see how Russia and their Central Asian neighbors react to their methods.

 

Author

Patrick Frost

Patrick Frost recently graduated from New York University's Masters Program in Political Science - International Relations. His MA thesis analyzed the capabilities and objectives of the Shanghai Cooperation Organization in Central Asia and beyond and explored how these affected U.S. interests and policy.

Areas of Focus:
Eurasia, American Foreign Policy, Ideology, SCO

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