Setting the Sights on East Turkestan (I)

BERLIN/BEIJING (Own report) - The German government is participating in the West's campaign against China's anti-terrorist measures in its Xinjiang autonomous region. The Chinese authorities are taking massive repressive measures against Uighur terrorists and their milieu. They are being held in camps, which Beijing says are "educational centers." Western governments are calling them "re-education camps." Information on how many are being held, range from a few tens of thousands to a million. During his inaugural visit to that country, Germany's Minister of Foreign Affairs, Heiko Maas, publicly criticized China on this question. Beijing objected to Berlin's interference in its domestic affairs. Over the past few years, hundreds and possibly thousands have fallen victim to Uighur separatist terrorism against Han Chinese. Uighur jihadis are also fighting within the ranks of the Islamic State (IS). The Uighur secessionists, who seek to separate Xinjiang - calling it "East Turkestan" - from China, are receiving support from western countries, including Germany.

"Shut Down Immediately"

Berlin is using the measures being taken by the Chinese authorities in western China's Xinjiang Autonomous Region, to help intensify international pressure on the People's Republic of China. At the meeting of the UN Human Rights Council on Tuesday of last week, Germany, in league with France, Great Britain, Canada, and the United States, called on Beijing to shut down the camps for Uighurs in Xinjiang immediately. On Thursday, the German Bundestag debated a motion tabled by the Green Party group, calling on the German government to demand of China that "all camps and detention facilities be closed and the imprisoned be immediately and unconditionally set free." The Bundestag also debated sanctions against Chinese officials.[1] Monday, Germany's Foreign Minister, Heiko Maas, upped the ante during his inaugural visit in Beijing, where he declared, "We cannot accept re-education camps." The People's Republic of China must "develop transparency" so that the outside world can "make a final verdict on what is happening."[2]

"Blatant Interference"

Beijing strongly objects to Germany's - and other western countries' - interference. In a letter dated last Friday, the Chinese embassy in Berlin characterized the Bundestag's Xinjiang debate "a blatant interference in China's domestic affairs and a gross violation of its sovereignty."[3] The People's Republic of China seeks dialogue with Germany "on the basis of equality and mutual respect." The German government should take this note of protest seriously, "to insure that German-Chinese relations develop in the proper direction." China's Minister of Foreign Affairs Wang Yi categorically rejected Maas' subsequent intervention in Beijing. "This is China's domestic issue," Wang declared following his meeting with Maas. In Xinjiang the issue is "the prevention of terrorism." The camps are a "preventive measure."[4]

Terror in Xinjiang

In fact, China's measures in Xinjiang are part of its anti-terrorism operation. It is a Chinese alternative to the West's "War on Terror," which, since 2001, has included the abduction of suspects to foreign torture chambers - also in Europe [5] - and the use of drone attacks on suspects which have caused numerous civilian casualties.[6] Already since the 1990s, Xinjiang has been faced with terrorist attacks by members of the Turkic-speaking Uighur minority, fighting to secede this autonomous region from China, to found "East Turkestan." Some seek an eventual fusion with the Turkic-speaking countries of Central Asia. The attacks that became known in the West included a Uighur terrorist attack at a coal mine in Xinjiang in September 2015. The assailants deliberately targeted non-Turkic-speaking workers - especially those of China's majority Han population - slaughtering them with long knives. According to western media reports, at least 50 people died in the attack.[7] March 1, 2014 eight Uighur terrorists armed also with knives attacked civilian travelers in a train station of Kunming, the capital of Yunnan Province, killing 31 and wounding around 150, some seriously. There have also been recurring pogroms targeting Han Chinese. For example, in July 2009, several thousand Uighur in Xinjiang's capital, Urumqi, attacked Han Chinese. According to official figures, 197 people were killed; however, observers calculate the actual body count to be much higher.

The Uighur Jihad

The Uighur separatist spectrum is overlapped by the Uighur jihadi milieu, who link the issue of Xinjiang's secession from China to that of forming a Salafist theocracy. Uighur jihadis have long since expanded their radius of actions beyond China's borders. This first drew public attention, when it was reported that, in "the war on terror," which began in 2002, the United States had been holding more than 20 Uighurs in their torture chambers at Guantanámo. The last of the prisoners were released only in late 2013. Uighur jihadis have long since expanded beyond their Afghanistan engagement to other regions of the world. For example, the assailants behind a bombing attack on August 17, 2015, in Bangkok, had ties to Uighurs. The attack was carried out at a shrine that was a tourist attraction for Chinese. The attack killed 20 people, most of them ethnic Chinese tourists.[8] Uighur jihadis' activities have also been registered in other Southeast Asian countries, such as Malaysia and Indonesia - from where quite a few continue on to Turkey, to support the IS or al Qaeda. Last year, China had estimated that up to 300 Uighurs are fighting in the ranks of IS, while Syrian government officials set the figures at up to 5,000 Uighurs who are operating in various jihadi militias in Syria. Regardless of the accuracy of these estimates, experts are certain that a large contingent of Uighur militias are fighting within the ranks of IS and al Qaeda. An analysis published by the International Center for Counter-Terrorism in The Hague warns that the Uighur jihadi threat is largely underestimated in the West.[9]

"Our Martyrs"

For China, this terrorism is that much more serious, because Xinjiang is a strategically important region. That autonomous region comprises central sectors of the "New Silk Road" ("Belt and Road Initiative," BRI) project, currently Beijing's most important foreign policy mega-project. Unrest in Xinjiang threatens not only the People's Republic of China's domestic tranquility, but also its rise in world policy. This unrest is being systematically fanned from abroad. Turkey, under President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan has assumed a prominent role. While still mayor of Istanbul and long before becoming Turkey's president, Erdoğan had declared that "East Turkestan is not only the homeland of the Turkic peoples, but also the cradle of Turkic history, civilization, and culture. The martyrs of East Turkestan are our martyrs."[10] Uighur jihadis have regularly used Turkey as a safe haven. In his talk with, the German expert on intelligence services, Erich Schmidt-Eenboom confirmed that Ankara's intelligence service has repeatedly "sought to support secessionist attempts" in Xinjiang.[11]

In Germany as well

Uighur separatists are active in Germany, as well, at times, even with official support - which sheds a new light on Berlin's most recent attacks against the People's Republic of China. The activities date back to the cold war. will soon report.


[1] Antrag der Abgeordneten Margarete Bause, Kai Gehring, Jürgen Trittin, Dr. Franziska Brantner, Agnieszka Brugger, Uwe Kekeritz, Katja Keul, Dr. Tobias Lindner, Omid Nouripour, Cem Özdemir, Claudia Roth (Augsburg), Manuel Sarrazin, Dr. Frithjof Schmidt, Ottmar von Holtz und der Fraktion Bündnis 90/Die Grünen: Schwere Menschenrechtsverletzungen in Xinjiang beenden, aufklären und ahnden. Deutscher Bundestag, Drucksache 19/5544, 07.11.2018.

[2], [3] Friederike Böge: Diplomatisches Ballgefühl. Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung 13.11.2018.

[4] China rechtfertigt "Umerziehungslager" für Uiguren. 13.11.2018.

[5] See also 17 Years "War on Terror".

[6] See also Die Phase der gezielten Tötungen.

[7] At least 50 reported to have died in attack on coalmine in Xinjiang in September. 01.10.2015.

[8] Thomas Fuller, Edward Wong: Thailand Blames Uighur Militants for Bombing at Bangkok Shrine. 15.09.2015.

[9], [10] Colin P. Clarke, Paul Rexton Kan: Uighur Foreign Fighters: An Underexamined Jihadist Challenge. ICCT Policy Brief. November 2017.

[11] See also Vom Partner zum Konkurrenten.

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