- The Washington Times - Friday, October 12, 2001

KHOTAN, China Chinese cooperation in the global war on terrorism depends on Western support and understanding for Beijing's widely criticized attempts to resolve its own Islamic terrorist problem.
China's foreign policy is rarely transparent, but the price of its involvement was the only inference possible from statements yesterday by Foreign Ministry spokesman Sun Yuxi in Beijing.
With rare use of the separatists' own term for China's northwest frontier province of Xinjiang, Mr. Sun said the violent activities of the East Turkestan elements not only threaten the stability and security of China, they also threaten the stability and security of the whole region.
"We hope that efforts to fight against East Turkestan terrorist forces should become part of the international effort, and should also win support and understanding," he said.
Beijing believes that dissident groups fighting for an independent homeland in China's distant west are galvanized by militant strains of Islam seeping over Xinjiang's 3,355-mile border with eight countries, including Afghanistan.
For over a decade, Xinjiang's native Uighur people, some 8 million strong, have responded with anger and bombing campaigns to an influx of Han Chinese settlers from the east, now totalling at least 7.8 million.
Thanks to the globe-trotting Dalai Lama, Tibet is China's most celebrated ethnic and religious hot spot, but the Turkic, Muslim region of Xinjiang, China's largest province, probably worries Beijing far more.
Without detailing any evidence, Mr. Sun added: "We also have evidence which suggests that [East Turkestan militants] have acted in collusion with international terrorist forces."
His remarks drew a worried response from human rights groups.
Amnesty International fears that the Chinese "may use the opportunity of 11 September to provide further justification for their harsh repression of Muslim ethnic groups in Xinjiang, which they accuse of being separatists, terrorists or religious extremists," Amnesty spokeswoman Isabel Kelly said yesterday.
As Beijing rushed rapid-response units to its remote mountain border with Afghanistan and to China's now-closed border with Pakistan, state media announced this week a renewed campaign to wipe out terrorism and separatist activity.
In Xinjiang, the ongoing, nationwide Strike Hard crackdown on crime had already become an assault on anyone whose loyalty was doubted. Within three months of the campaign's start in April, Xinjiang police had detained nearly 10,000 suspects, executed at least 200 of them, and boasted of destroying six ethnic-separatist and terrorist organizations.
Unconfirmed reports suggest Xinjiang informer networks scored a major success in March, when they helped police scotch an attempt to blow up the Kizil Thousand Buddha Caves near Kucha, a plot inspired by the Taliban destruction of Afghanistan's colossal 1,500-year-old Bamiyan Buddhas.
Given the scant support Uighur nationalists enjoy in the outside world, blowing up Buddhist frescoes would have destroyed any foreign sympathy for them.
But feelings run high in Xinjiang, where Han Chinese comprised just 5 percent of the population in 1941. In 2001, they account for 41 percent, and are growing at twice the rate of the minority nationalities, despite the latter's preferential birth quotas.
"If I had a gun, I'd take action," Abdullah, a laid-off factory worker in the city of Khotan, a Uighur stronghold on the southern thread of the Silk Road, told The Washington Times.
"We have no freedom here. This should be our country, but the Chinese get all the jobs and the best opportunities," he said.
In recent months, Abdullah has counted more than 40 executions in Khotan alone, for some Uighurs do take action.
On Aug. 7, a Han Chinese policeman in Kucha died after a hand-grenade attack said to have been carried out by the East Turkestan Freedom Fighters Organization, one of dozens of secret groups that bombed police stations and public buses throughout the 1990s.
As religious and ethnic sentiment grows stronger, "more people tend toward separatism, so the government must control it," said social scientist and author Li Yinping, a longtime Han Chinese resident of Khotan.
"Money is coming to the mosques from abroad, and must be stopped. Look at the women in Khotan, who were always quite free. Only in recent years, under foreign influence, have they begun covering themselves," Mr. Li added.
But a stall tradesman in Urumqi, the Xinjiang capital, who recently returned from two years in a labor camp for his separatist sympathies, voiced a litany of popular sentiments.
"One day, we will get the right to our land back. We will never give up. The Chinese invaded us at the end of the 18th century, but before that we invaded them. The Great Wall was built to keep us and the Mongols out. I am confident. Nothing lasts forever."

Sign up for Daily Newsletters

Copyright © 2019 The Washington Times, LLC. Click here for reprint permission.

The Washington Times Comment Policy

The Washington Times welcomes your comments on Spot.im, our third-party provider. Please read our Comment Policy before commenting.


Click to Read More and View Comments

Click to Hide