- The Washington Times - Friday, December 21, 2001

The Chinese government wants the United States to hand over ethnic Uighurs from Xinjiang province who were captured while fighting with Taliban forces in Afghanistan. Washington has thus far refused, because it does not recognize Uighur separatists as terrorists.
For Beijing, this is a test case of Washington's stance that there are no "good terrorists," and it may have broader implications for U.S.-Chinese relations.
At a press conference this month, Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Zhang Qiyue said that if Chinese nationals fighting alongside the Taliban were captured in Afghanistan, "they should be sent back to China and dealt with in accordance to [Chinese] law."
However, Gen. Francis X. Taylor, the U.S. special envoy on counterterrorism, told Chinese officials the detained Uighurs would not be repatriated because the United States does not regard the independence movement for East Turkestan the Uighur name for Xinjiang as a terrorist organization.
The response alters Beijing's view of U.S. reliability in anti-terrorism coalition efforts and will carry over into other aspects of China's relations with the United States.
China's cooperation and support for the U.S.-led international campaign against terrorism stemmed from self-serving goals. Beijing sought to enhance its international political standing, to refocus Washington's perception of a "China threat" and to gain international acceptance of its own battle against separatist forces in Xinjiang and Tibet.
Yet, like Russia and India, China is finding that the anti-terrorism coalition targets only those that the United States deems a threat while Chechens, Kashmiris, Uighurs and Tibetans are for the most part ignored.
Chinese security forces stepped up efforts to crush Uighur separatism after September 11, expanding on this year's "strike hard" campaign against criminal and separatist elements. Government officials have repeatedly warned that Beijing will not tolerate separatism or social disturbances under the guise of religion a warning that encompasses groups including the Muslim Uighurs as well as Tibetans and Falun Gong practitioners.
The Chinese government contends that Uighur separatists are terrorists responsible for acts of violence in China and abroad. On Nov. 14, Foreign Ministry spokesman Zhu Bangguo detailed several specific instances, including a 1996 prison riot and bombings in Xinjiang in 1992, 1993 and 1997.
Mr. Zhu also accused Uighur terrorists of a 1998 bombing at the Chinese consulate in Istanbul, the May 2000 killing of a Chinese official in Kyrgyzstan, and the deaths of two policemen in Kazakhstan in September the same year.
In November, Vice Prime Minister Qian Qichen told Mary Robinson, the U.N. high commissioner for human rights, that about 1,000 of China's 10 million Muslims had trained with al Qaeda in Afghanistan and elsewhere. Beijing has also said that about 100 Uighurs were thought to be in Afghanistan and likely fought on the side of the Taliban.
Mrs. Robinson cautioned the government not to use the September 11 attacks as an excuse to suppress ethnic minorities, but Beijing assured her that it was targeting only terrorists who incidentally were linked to Washington's public enemy No. 1, Osama bin Laden.
On Dec. 6, Rashid Niyaz, vice director of the Xinjiang Ethnic and Religious Affairs Commission, countered the continued criticism, telling the official China Daily that "Muslims in Xinjiang are going on with their normal religious life."
Yet Beijing harbors deep-seated fears that religious and ethnic loyalties ultimately threaten the authority and even existence of the Chinese Communist Party. At a Dec. 10-12 conference on religion, top party and government officials urged greater party leadership over religion.
President Jiang Zemin said that religion should not be allowed to be used to challenge party leadership or destroy ethnic unity, according to the China Daily. Mr. Jiang also emphasized the close link between religion and China's social stability, national security and foreign relations.
It is this recognition of the effect that China's religious policies have on foreign relations that stirred Beijing to seek international understanding for its crackdown in Xinjiang. But China's leaders are now casting a skeptical eye on Washington's commitment to cooperation and enhanced relations with Beijing.
The decision against repatriating Uighurs captured in Afghanistan marks just another example from Beijing's point of view of Washington's double standard on international issues. China's terrorists are not the same as the United States' terrorists.
The case of the Uighurs will not, in itself, wreck Chinese-U.S. relations. But it does add to Beijing's underlying distrust of Washington's promises. This feeling was only reinforced by Washington's decision to withdraw from the 1972 Anti-Ballistic Missile treaty despite strong opposition from Moscow, Beijing and even some of Washington's allies in Europe.

Rodger Baker is a senior analyst with Stratfor in Austin, Texas, a provider of global intelligence to private companies and subscribers.

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