News / Asia

China Seeks Global Help in Fighting Uighur Separatists

Uighurs rest outside a Xinjiang restaurant in front of commercial buildings in Beijing, (File)
Uighurs rest outside a Xinjiang restaurant in front of commercial buildings in Beijing, (File)

China is calling for the international community to help fight what it says is its own homegrown terrorist problem in mostly Muslim Xinjiang.  The Chinese government accuses the region’s Uighur minority population of seeking independence through violence, while the Uighurs blames Beijing for suppressing their culture and religion.  

Bin Laden

Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Jiang Yu was asked if the death of Osama bin Laden would have any effect on China’s counterterrorism policies.

She did not give a direct answer, but indicated that China believes it suffers too.

Jiang says there are terrorists who are actively trying to split China and who seriously threaten the country’s national security.  She said the fight against terrorist forces in East Turkestan is an important part of the international counterterrorism campaign, and that the global community should step up cooperation against terrorism.

East Turkestan is another name for the Uighur Muslim minority region of Xinjiang, in far northwestern China.  The U.S. government previously had put the East Turkestan Islamic Movement on its list of foreign terrorist organizations, although the group’s name does not appear on an official list that appeared in November.

Human rights

The Chinese comments come as the New York-based group, Human Rights in China, says Kazakhstan and Kyrgyzstan have prevented ethnic Uighurs from traveling to the United States to attend a Uighur conference.  The statement accuses the Central Asian countries of bowing to pressure from the Shanghai Cooperation Organization, which has adopted China’s policy of lumping together terrorism, separatism and extremism.

Human Rights in China’s executive director Sharon Hom say the Chinese government is taking advantage of the situation in order to internationalize its own concerns. "One of the concerns raised by China’s reactions to the death of bin Laden is they have used this as an opportunity to both link terrorism, international terrorism, with separatism, that is the domestic concern about separatism in Xinjiang," Hom states.

No connection

This argument is backed up by Uighur scholar Ilham Tohti, who accuses Chinese media of "kidnapping" the Uighur issue by connecting it to bin Laden and al Qaida.

He acknowledges there are some Uighurs with more extreme views, but says it does not mean that they are involved with al Qaida.

He says people should be smart enough to "just shut their mouths" instead of trying to link bin Laden to the Uighurs.

Tohti says Uighurs should be cheering that bin Laden’s time is over, and that he would consider any Uighur truly connected with al Qaida to be an enemy.

He says he feels that it is not fair to hold all Uighurs accountable for the actions of a few.

There have been several violent incidents in Xinjiang in recent years, including a deadly bomb attack, in 2008, in Kashgar, that killed 16 Chinese policemen.  And, in 2009, ethnic tensions in Xinjiang erupted into violent demonstrations in the region’s capital Urumqi that left about 200 people dead.   

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