Posts Tagged ‘East Turkistan’

China is inventing a whole new way to oppress a people — Reminiscent of Hitler’s Nazis

September 18, 2018

The growing, horrifying oppression of Muslims in a western Chinese province marks a key moment in Beijing’s expansionist drive — and its global competition with America.

A key part of China’s manufacturing machine, Xinjiang province is a gateway to Central Asia, and therefore crucial for President Xi Jinping’s Belt and Road Initiative, a plan to create a formidable China-dominated realm all the way to the Indian Ocean and the Mideast.

The province’s 11 million Uighurs call it “East Turkistan.” They look different than most Chinese, have a different culture, practice moderate Islam — and have been oppressed by Beijing for decades. But now, seen as a major stumbling block to Xi’s new ambitions, China’s Communist Party has escalated its control.

By Benny Avni

Things worsened when Xi became president in 2012. But the real turning point was in 2016, when the Communist Party secretary in Tibet, Chen Quanguo, was transferred to Xinjiang, importing to the province tactics used in his successful quashing of Tibetan unrest.

In Xinjiang, Beijing is honing to perfection such tactics as facial recognition, personal-background data-mining and DNA collection. Scannable codes are posted on apartment buildings where suspected Uighur dissidents live. Such practices, reminiscent of 1940s low-tech identification of Jewish residences under German control, may expand beyond the Uighur province.

“Now they [have started] using these systems in the rest of China,” says Omer Kanat, director of the Washington, DC-based Uyghur Human Rights Project. Soon, he added, the tactics China uses in Xinjiang will be exported to friendly dictatorships outside the country as well.

Up to 1 million Uighurs were sent to re-education camps for “sins” like eating Halal food or growing beards longer than Beijing allows. According to some reports, those interned in camps are forced to eat pork, study Xi’s writing and participate in intensive forced-labor projects. Some are executed; many don’t survive for other reasons.

Artists, scholars, musicians, intellectuals and anyone who ever had contact with the outside world are specifically targeted for “cultural indoctrination,” Kanat adds. “My neighbor, Abdel Rashid Seley, died in the camp.” Other reported Uighur deaths include an intellectual known for his translation of the Koran to Chinese and one of China’s most well-known scientists.

After taking over Macao and Hong Kong, Beijing promised to leave local practices intact, calling it “one government, two systems.” But by now China’s neighbors know that once Beijing assumes control, it’ll pursue complete ideological, political and cultural domination. If you happen to be Muslim, Christian, Falon Dafa or a Western-style democrat — well, too bad.

Xi increasingly uses China’s economic prowess to squeeze resistant neighbors and reward those willing to accept Beijing’s dominance. Once successful, China will control regions rich in minerals, rare earths, oil and other resources necessary for China’s economic growth.

Beijing will also export its model of controlled capitalism, using economic incentives and punishment as well as military tactics honed in the East and South China Seas.

But to pave his new Silk Road, Xi must first control China’s gateway to Central Asia. And if America wants to arrest his march, highlighting Uighur oppression would be a good start.

To that end, Vice President Mike Pence and Secretary of State Mike Pompeo have already been speaking up. Some in Congress call to invoke the Magnitsky Act and impose sanctions on seven Chinese officials responsible for the Uighur plight, including party secretary Chen.

The administration’s wild card: President Trump, who veers between expressing his friendship with Xi and waging a vicious trade war against China. A more comprehensive strategy is needed.

Xi’s China is emerging as America’s most formidable global competitor since the end of the so-called “end of history” era. Many countries in China’s immediate neighborhood, and increasingly beyond, face a choice: our liberal democracy or China’s harsh ways.

America should highlight the horrors suffered by China’s Uighurs to help those countries choose right. Oh yeah: We also bear an obligation to stand up for universally accepted human rights, and the Uighurs are also a model pro-American Muslim community.

Some of China’s allies will rejoice as they study Beijing’s new ways to control populations. Everyone else represents our current, and perhaps future, allies.


China’s Xinjiang Muslims live in fear of disappearing into camps

In the past few years, hundreds of thousands of ethnic Uighurs and Kazakhs have allegedly been locked up in “reeducation camps” in China’s Xinjiang province. DW met some of their relatives and former prisoners.

A Uighur woman in Xinjiang (picture-alliance/dpa/D. Azubel)

Kairat Samarkhan looks taciturn and aloof. Or maybe he is just tired after a long day at work. Once he attempted to kill himself by smashing his head against the wall. “I could not stand it anymore,” he said.

Samarkhan is talking about his “imprisonment” at a “reeducation camp” in the western Chinese region of Xinjiang. International organizations say over a million people are forced to live in these camps.

According to Human Rights Watch (HRW), a New York-based rights watchdog, human rights violations on this scale have not taken place in China since the Cultural Revolution.

Many “reeducation camps” are spread across the region, which is populated by the Muslim minorities of Uighurs and Kazakhs.

Read more: UN panel ‘alarmed’ by reports over Xinjiang

‘Nobody believes us’

Dozens of people gather at Atajurt, a non-governmental organization in the Kazakh metropolis of Almaty. Many of these people carry photographs and identification documents of their relatives, who have been allegedly arrested by Chinese authorities in Xinjiang. A team of Amnesty International activists records their accounts.

Atajurt was founded in 2017 when the first reports of Kazakh arrests reached the Central Asian country.

“When we made the first cases public, nobody believed us,” said Kidirali Orazuly, the founder of Atajurt.

Kazakhstan has close ties to Xinjiang – about 1.6 million ethnic Kazakhs live in the region. About 200,000 Kazakhs from Xinjiang have been naturalized in Kazakhstan since the former Soviet republic gained independence in 1991. Many of these people still have family members in China, therefore when they hear about the disappearance of a relative; they report it to Kazakh authorities.

At the Atajurt office, a woman holds up two large photos of her son and daughter. She said her son was arrested while taking a selfie with a Kazakh pop star on the Chinese side of the border.

Chinese authorities accused her son of being a “double-faced” person, by which they mean someone who is not loyal to the Chinese nation and the ruling Communist Party of China but to their own ethnic group.

To punish the family more, Chinese officials demanded that the woman’s daughter return to China and study at a school there.

“I had no choice,” the woman said. “They threatened to arrest all my relatives in Xinjiang.”

The girl later disappeared into the “reeducation camp,” said the woman.

Read more:

Germany halts Uighur deportations to China

China state media justify Muslim Uighur crackdown to prevent ‘China’s Syria’

The man with ‘two faces’

Authorities also handed down a verdict of “double-face” to Kairat Samarkhan, who has lived in Kazakhstan since 2009.  When he returned to China to take care of some business matters, the police interrogated him.

They wanted to know what he had been doing in Kazakhstan and whom he had met there. Then they looked through his smartphone. On one of his social media profile pictures he had the initials “KZ,” the international abbreviation for Kazakhstan. This sealed the verdict for Samarkhan.

“When I arrived at the camp I thought, now it’s all over,” he said. “The days in the camp begin with singing the national anthem and afterward ‘lessons’ are started,” he continued, adding that he estimates at least 5,700 prisoners were being held in the camp.

The prisoners had to sing songs praising the Communist Party for hours on end with titles like, “Without the Communist Party there would be no new China” or “The East is red.”

They sat through lectures on last year’s 19th Party Congress and were required to repeat slogans.

“We learned was a great person Xi Jinping is, and why China is such an amazing place to live,” said Samarkhan.

All prisoners were divided in groups according to the reasons behind their incarceration. Those held for religious reasons were in one building, those with foreign contacts in another. There is no legal foundation for this mass incarceration, much less a basis for sentencing. The camp bosses decide with impunity who is freed and who isn’t.

“That was the worst part,” said Samarkhan. “You don’t know how long you are going to be held, if you will ever be freed or if, in the end, they will maybe just execute everyone.”

He started to think frequently think about suicide, but any articles of clothing suitable for hanging himself had been taken away. Then he began to slam his head against the wall until he was unconscious. After this, he was released.

Samarkhan’s story cannot be verified, but what he describes corresponds to what other prisoners have shared. Suicide attempts come up again and again in reports.

Read more:Arrests of Uighur women married to Pakistani men spark anger in Gilgit-Baltistan

Protests turn to terrorism?

Xinjiang has long been a conflict-plagued region in China. The Uighurs, the region’s largest ethnic group,  have repeatedly rebelled against Chinese rule – sometimes using force.

In 2009, an uprising in the regional capital Urumqi cost around 200 people their lives. In 2014, Uighur separatists carried out a knife and machete attack at a train station in the southern Chinese city of Kunming that killed 29.

China considers the violence to be in line with Islamist attacks in the West.

On the sidelines of a UN Human Rights Committee meeting in September, a Chinese official said the camp system was “necessary to fight religious extremism.”

“Maybe it’s the necessary way to deal with Islamic or religious extremism, because the West has failed in doing so,” said the official.

It was the first time that China had admitted to mass-internment, even if the representative insisted that they weren’t camps, but rather “professional training and educational centers.”

‘Brainwashing’ centers

China doesn’t seem to be distinguishing between Jihadist ideology and those striving for cultural independence.

“The root of terrorism is ethnic separatism and its ideology is religious extremism,” said Xi Jinping.

Since then, the possession of a prayer rug can raise suspicion against Muslims, just like neglecting to raise the Chinese flag, which is now mandatory for residents in many parts of Xinjiang.

“This is brainwashing. They are supposed to feel like part of the Chinese nation and set aside their own ethnic identity,” Patrick Poon, a China expert at Amnesty International, told DW.

Kairat Samarkhan is one of the few who have managed to leave China. He is also one of very few former prisoners who is willing to be quoted using his full name. Samarkhan is an orphan, and he has no fear that revenge will be taken on his relatives. Kazakh authorities have warned him about the long arm of the Chinese law and that his statements could get him into trouble.

“But if we don’t talk about what is going on there, who else is going to do it?” he said.

Read more: Chinese authorities detain relatives of Radio Free Asia’s Uighur reporters


After Balkanizing Syria; Will Xinjiang be Destabilized?

September 14, 2018

The US policy of permanently balkanizing Syria appears to be a foregone conclusion, even as the Syrian Arab Army and Russian forces proceed with their last major counter-terrorism operation in Idlib.

According to Wolfgang Mühlberger, senior fellow for EU-Mideast relations at the Finnish Institute for International Affairs, “Idlib is the very Arab Kandahar with potentially more than 100,000 experienced, battle-hardened Sunni jihadi fighters hiding between the civilians.”

The number is due to the amalgamation of all the militants from de-confliction zones or reconquered battle zones (e.g., Aleppo, Ghouta, Deraa, etc.) throughout Syria that have been shipped to Idlib over the past couple of years, as well as remnants of the Free Syrian Army.

However, despite Washington acknowledging that the governorate is an Al Qaeda safe haven for militants from over 100 countries, the tripartite powers of the UK, US and France are now asking Germany to join planned airstrikes against Syria – as soon as President Bashar al-Assad gives them the green light by using chemical weapons.

Asia Times

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Turkish military vehicles in Syria. AFP photo

It is not entirely clear why the US believes the Syrian president would deliberately provoke western airstrikes on Syrian forces when they are on a winning streak in their war with the terrorists, but it does seem apparent that Washington intends to prevent Syria from regaining sovereignty over Idlib.

As discussed in a previous Asia Times article, RAND Corporation drew up a Syria partition plan wherein the US would occupy the northeast, Turkey the northwest, Russia and Iran the coastal area and large parts of the Syrian desert, and Israel and Jordan the southwest.

The US zone would contain oil fields where 90% of Syria’s pre-war oil production took place, while Israel would control the newly discovered oil reserves in the Golan Heights. Turkey’s control of Idlib as a safe haven for militants would put continued pressure on the Syrian government, and a balkanized Syria would be weak and less likely to provide a viable base for Iran and Hezbollah to attack Israel.

However, the partition of Idlib as a jihadi sanctuary has important implications for another actor – China. Back in August, there were reports that Beijing would participate in the Battle for Idlib due to the presence of Chinese Uyghur jihadi colonies. If Turkey controls Idlib, China fears Ankara and the West would exploit Uyghur militants as proxies to destabilize Xinjiang.

Idlib proxies to destabilize Xinjiang?

There are historical reasons for this concern, given that the CIA tried to destabilize Xinjiang and supported separatists in Tibet during the Cold War. As Israeli sinologist Yizhak Shichor pointed out, in the 1950s Washington tried to exploit Muslim grievances against China and the Soviet Union, by attempting to form a Middle Eastern Islamic pact to organize fifth columns in these countries.

Brian Fishman, a counter-terrorism expert at the New America Foundation, also noted that in the 1990s Osama Bin Laden accused the US and CIA of inciting conflict between Chinese and Muslims. After a series of 1997 bombings in Xinjiang that Beijing ascribes to Uyghur separatists, bin Laden blamed the CIA in an interview, saying, “The United States wants to incite conflict between China and the Muslims. The Muslims of Xinjiang are blamed for the bomb blasts in Beijing. But I think these explosions were sponsored by the American CIA.”

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Free Uyghur group. Getty Images

Interestingly at the time, Al Qaeda had its eyes on the West and largely ignored Uyghur separatism as a Chinese domestic issue. But as Fishman assessed, over time the transnational problem of al Qaeda and its allies, and the increasing prominence of Uyghurs in jihadi propaganda, meant that China could no longer avoid them.

Currently, China seems to be steering clear of direct military involvement and instead relies on Syria and Russia, but it would be concerned should Western powers block Damascus and Moscow’s campaign to reclaim Idlib and continue to partition a safe zone for Uyghur militants

Indeed, given that the 2016 bombing of the Chinese embassy in Kyrgyzstan was a joint operation between Al Nusra and its Uyghur affiliate Turkistan Islamic Party (TIP); the continual supply of advanced weaponry and tacit Western support for TIP due to its intermingling with the “rebel” opposition; professional military training by the private security company Malhama Tactical to improve TIP’s warfighting capabilities; and TIPs ultimate goal to attack China, James Dorsey at the S. Rajaratnam School of International Studies in Singapore argued that Beijing mulling military intervention in Idlib underscores the gravity of this threat to China’s core interests.

Currently, China seems to be steering clear of direct military involvement and instead relies on Syria and Russia, but it would be concerned should Western powers block Damascus and Moscow’s campaign to reclaim Idlib and continue to partition a safe zone for Uyghur militants.

Moreover, as Jacob Zenn from the Jamestown Foundation pointed out, China is also concerned by “the prospect of re-shaping the borders in the Middle East that could lead to new conceptions of sovereignty and statehood – not only in the region but elsewhere throughout the Islamic world, including Central Asia and Xinjiang.’

Xinjiang at heart of Belt and Road Initiative

Now it appears that a Western united front is emerging to confront China on human rights issues, using various tools of media coverage, economic sanctions, political activism by NGOs and think tanks to internationalize the Uyghur issue in Xinjiang.  Similar to Israel’s dilemma over the internationalization of the Palestinian issue, China is bracing itself for a destabilization campaign and possible call for secession and partition of the province from Chinese sovereignty.

This perception is due to US backing of the Munich-based World Uyghur Congress, which aspires to revert Xinjiang to an independent East Turkistan. The first president of the Congress was Erkin Alptekin, son of Isa Alptekin, who headed the short-lived First East Turkestan Republic in Kashgar (November 12, 1933 to February 6, 1934), and also served as an advisor to the CIA while working at Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty in Munich.

The Alptekin family and Xinjiang secession enjoy strong support from Turkey’s President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, who while being mayor of Istanbul in 1995, named a section of the Blue Mosque park after Isa Alptekin and built a memorial to commemorate Eastern Turkistani martyrs who lost their lives in the “struggle for independence.”

Given resource-rich Xinjiang is at the heart of the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI), destabilizing the province would not only spoil the plan for Eurasian integration and development, but also weaken China’s economy by cutting off its overland energy supply from Central Asia and the Middle East, hamper its market access, and keep Beijing bogged down in an ethnoreligious conflict.

While this may augment current Washington’s trade war against the Middle Kingdom and weaken the Pentagon’s “peer competitor,” by deliberately stoking Chinese fears about Xinjiang destabilization and increasing radicalization, thereby egging Beijing to clamp down on Uyghurs, is in effect exploiting the ethnic Uyghur’s plight for narrow geopolitical agenda.

And as Yizhack Shichor perceived, “Vocal criticism of China related to its Uyghur persecution comes primarily, in fact almost entirely from outside the Middle East, from Western non-Muslim countries…[which] may have little do to with loving the Uyghurs, and much more to do with opposing China.”

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See also:
Xinjiang is the Weak Link in China’s Belt and Road

China says Afghan president vows to help China fight extremists

October 28, 2014

Chinese President Xi Jinping (R) with Afghan President Ashraf Ghani Ahmadzai attend a signing ceremony at the Great Hall of the People in Beijing October 28, 2014. REUTERS/Lintao Zhang/Pool

Chinese President Xi Jinping (R) with Afghan President Ashraf Ghani Ahmadzai attend a signing ceremony at the Great Hall of the People in Beijing October 28, 2014. Credit: Reuters/Lintao Zhang/Pool

(Reuters) – Afghanistan’s President Ashraf Ghani has pledged to help China fight Islamist extremists, a senior Chinese official said on Tuesday, after Ghani met President Xi Jinping in Beijing on his first visit abroad since his September inauguration.

China, which is connected to Afghanistan by the narrow, almost impassable Wakhan Corridor, says militants seeking to set up a separate state called East Turkistan in its western Xinjiang region are holed up along the ungoverned Afghan-Pakistani border.

Leaders in Beijing, who have been bracing for more responsibility in Afghanistan as the bulk of U.S.-led troops pull out, worry that ethnic Uighur separatists from Xinjiang will take advantage if the country again descends into chaos.

“In the area of security, President Ghani expressed the readiness and staunch support from the Afghan side in China’s fight against East Turkistan Islamic Movement terrorist forces,” Kong Xuanyou, Director General of the Foreign Ministry’s Asian Affairs Department, told journalists after Ghani and Xi met.

Kong said China would give 1.5 billion yuan ($245 million) in aid to Afghanistan over the next three years and would help train 3,000 Afghan professionals over the next five years.

China says it does not seek to replace the departed Western troops in Afghanistan but has promised to play a “huge” commercial role in helping rebuild the country.

So far, China’s commitment to Afghan reconstruction since the fall of the hardline Islamist Taliban regime in 2001 has been around $250 million and its security support has been mostly limited to counter-narcotics training.

Xi has repeatedly urged Central Asian countries to step up the fight against religious militants, which the Chinese government says were behind a spate of attacks in Xinjiang and across China that have left hundreds dead in the past two years.

Experts, however, dispute the influence of foreign militant groups within China, and argue that economic marginalization of Muslim Uighurs, who call Xinjiang home, is one of the main causes of ethnic violence there.


Ghani began his four-day trip to China less than a month after being sworn in following a protracted election stalemate.

The Taliban have stepped up attacks ahead of the withdrawal of most foreign troops from Afghanistan at the end of the year, seeking to weaken the new government.

Speaking to Xi at Beijing’s Great Hall of the People, Ghani pressed China to open the Wakhan Pass connecting the two countries, a long-held request from Kabul which hopes to see an influx of Chinese development. China has resisted, fearing unrest will spill over into Xinjiang.

Ghani also offered unconditional support on China’s own territorial problems, citing “Taiwan, Tibet, and other issues”.

On Friday, foreign ministers from Asian and Central Asia countries will gather in Beijing for a fourth round “Istanbul Process” conference on Afghanistan.

(Editing by Raissa Kasolowsky)