The Bush administration is adding a Muslim Uighur separatist group in China to a list of foreign organizations facing U.S. economic penalties for terrorist activities. But State Department officials say the decision should not be seen as a U.S. endorsement of a general Chinese crackdown against the Uighurs.
The administration decision affects the East Turkestan Islamic Movement, or ETIM, a Uighur group seeking to carve out a separate Muslim state in China's western Xinjiang province and blamed by China for scores of bomb attacks and assassinations.
The group is not being put on the State Department's list of foreign terrorist organizations. But rather it is has been added to a list of hundreds of foreign entities said to be associated with overseas terrorism which face U.S. financial sanctions under an executive order issued by President Bush just after the September 11 terror attacks in New York and Washington.
Any assets the group has in the United States would be frozen, and transactions it might make involving U.S. banks are to be blocked.
First word of the decision came from Deputy Secretary of State Richard Armitage as he began a round of political talks with Chinese officials Monday in Beijing. Mr. Armitage said the move came after a careful study of the ETIM and its tactics, but he also said it is absolutely necessary that China respect minority rights as it pursues the war against terrorism.
Those comments were echoed here by State Department spokesman Richard Boucher, who rejected the notion the U.S. decision on ETIM gives China a "green light" for a general crackdown on its Muslim minority. "The issue for us has always been that governments can fight terrorism and respect human rights at the same time," he says. "Indeed they're part and parcel of stopping the activity and the growth of these groups. So yes, it's necessary, and we recognize it's necessary for the Chinese government to take actions against terrorists, against people who have supported and carried out actions of terrorism inside China and elsewhere. At the same time, we think that that can, and must, be done in a way that respects human rights."
China has jailed and executed a number of Uighurs accused of acts of terror and has alleged that the separatist movement in Xinjiang has ties with the Osama bin Laden's terrorist organization.
Human rights groups have expressed concern China is using the war on terrorism as a pretext for action against Uighurs and other Muslims.
In a report earlier this year, the London-based Amnesty International accused China of stepping-up what it termed "harsh repression" of Uighur opponents of Chinese rule, including the detention of thousands of people and restrictions on religious and cultural rights.