Xinjiang, like Taiwan and neighboring Tibet, is a neuralgic issue for China, which desperately needs internal stability in that predominantly Muslim, resource-rich and strategically important region. Beijing's strategic and energy objectives are based on stability in Xinjiang and its Central Asian policies grow out of its preoccupation with stability there.
Right there in a nutshell:
"Beijing's strategic and energy objectives are based on stability in Xinjiang and its Central Asian policies grow out of its preoccupation with stability there."
At the beginning of Part 1, as in previous posts, we wondered who might benefit from instability in Xinjiang, and this gives us a clue to the answer: China's enemies. Communist China's weakest link may be its dependence on Xinjiang as an oil-producing region, and as a region through which natural gas and trade flow.
As we continue, keep in mind the article we are reviewing is from 2004:
The recent bombings in Uzbekistan, a Central Asia neighbor which does not border Xinjiang, though, has concerned Beijing, which was quick to label them as the work of "terrorists", though the exact motive for the violence is not known. Beijing also has been quick to blame dissent among the Muslim Uighurs on "terrorists", and in December it issued a list of what it called terrorist organizations and individuals.
According to China's own official sources, it has imperfect control - some say no control - of the borders of Xinjiang with Central Asia, specifically Tajikistan and Kyrgyzstan, and it cannot prevent border infiltration into Xinjiang, where many Uighurs are dissatisfied with China's governance and seek genuine autonomy. Whatever policies China adopts, however, it is likely to face continuing and long-term unrest, including possible violence in Xinjiang and related violence elsewhere, according to Western military and strategic analysts.
China's control of Xinjiang's borders with Central Asia is "imperfect" to say the least.
In this context, it is worth considering another, very recent, article from Asia Times Online, entitled China's tough Xinjiang policy backfires by Antoaneta Bezlova, dated August 15, 2008:
BEIJING - China's success in eliminating clusters of Muslim insurgencies in the western province of Xinjiang may have pushed an alleged separatist movement across the border into Pakistan and Afghanistan, exposing it to greater influences by jihadi groups in those countries.
The first connection to note: the separatists or terrorists or whatever we call them are definitely no longer indigenous, but are connected to Afghanistan and Pakistan.
Afghanistan has been a state with terrorist training camps in it for a couple of decades now. The mujahideen got their start in the jihad against the Soviet Union, but later, after the Soviets had been driven out, the entire nation ultimately was taken over by hardline jihadists who were far less discriminating in their choice of enemies.
Pakistan, in particular, was set on a course of jihadism by an elite that saw Islam as a rallying point in its independence movement, and which later saw jihadism as a means to wage a proxy war against rival India, and as a means to attain strategic depth in the event of a massive Indian attack.
Continuing with China's tough Xinjiang policy backfires:
With the Beijing Summer Olympic Games well underway, the Muslim majority province of Xinjiang has seen a spate of deadly attacks on government establishments and security personnel. Three violent incidents over the past 10 days have been interspersed with the release of two videos threatening the Olympics. In the latest assault, which took place on Tuesday near the border city of Kashgar, three security staff manning a road checkpoint were stabbed to death.
"Since the beginning of this year we have seen the deployment of some new tactics by insurgents," says Professor Chu Shulong, head of the Institute for International Strategic Studies at Qinghua University. "They are no longer targeting civilians by planting bombs on buses as they did in the 1990s but attacking government personnel, army and the police. This is aimed at winning the general population on their side."
Interesting the changes in insurgent tactics since the beginning of the year: "They are no longer targeting civilians by planting bombs on buses as they did in the 1990s but attacking government personnel, army and the police. This is aimed at winning the general population on their side."
The world's militant Islamists target infidels indiscriminately, and care not whether a few innocent Muslims die in the process: it's for the long-term betterment of Muslims, and Allah understands.
Instead, the insurgency in Xinjiang now seems very professional, very careful -- distinguishing between legitimate targets and innocents, making an effort to appeal to ordinary Uighurs while not alienating others.
We return to the 2004 article, Xinjiang and China's strategy in Central Asia:
Since the terrorist attacks on the United States on September 11, China's severe crackdown on unrest in Xinjiang has, if anything, become even more Draconian. It remains to be seen whether China uses the Uzbekistan violence to further strengthen its hand against dissatisfied elements in Xinjiang.
Since September 11, Beijing has been quick to label all forms of unrest there as expressions of Islamic terrorism and fundamentalism, even though this unrest goes back at least 20 years and is as much nationalistic as anything else. Thus the various forms of unrest displayed by the local Uighurs, a Muslim people, against Beijing's government represent a classic pattern of resistance to the colonial expropriation of land and to the officially sponsored migration of Han Chinese farmers, soldiers - often the same people - and officials into Xinjiang.
This policy of moving Hans into Xinjiang has also realized a classic colonialist system of economic and social stratification that is visible in many other cases of internal colonialism. In those cases, too, the representatives of the dominant nationality enjoy disproportionate economic and political advantages in education, job placement, and access to public goods.
And we have already seen documentation of all of this in the Uighuristan series.
China applies 'terrorist' labels to dissent
Chinese foreign policy has also been enlisted in the task of labeling virtually any and all manifestations of opposition as being terrorist conspiracies. Beijing successfully prevailed upon the administration of US President George W Bush to label the East Turkistan Independence Movement (ETIM) as a terrorist group, thereby rewarding the China for supporting the US-led "war against terrorism".
Similarly, China has used its superior power vis-a-vis neighboring Central Asian regimes, particularly Kazakhstan and Kyrgyzstan, to get them to suppress Uighur nationalists in those countries and to maintain official silence about the sometimes troubling situation in Xinjiang if they wish to have friendly relations - and significant economic ties - with China.
And those ties are significant, as China opens up a new economic frontier in Central Asia.
While China's interests in Central Asia transcend the suppression of any form of neighborly support for the Uighurs, its extensive and significant strategic and energy interests in the region are clearly tied to Xinjiang's internal developments. Indeed, one can say that China's policies in Central Asia represent an outward projection of its own fears for its internal security.
The linkages between Central Asia and Xinjiang are evident to the Chinese establishment. As a Chinese analyst told journalist Willem Van Kemenade, if Central Asia disintegrates, the chaos will reach Xinjiang. On the other hand, the analyst said, if those countries stabilize and succeed, that will invariably stimulate deeper drives for self-rule in Xinjiang - a no-win situation for China.
In other words no matter what Beijing does or what happens in Central Asia, unrest in Xinjiang will continue. At the same time Chinese scholars explicitly articulate the connection between Xinjiang and Central Asia, arguing that, China's policy to expand economic cooperation with Central Asia is undertaken, among other reasons, because to a large extent the stability and prosperity of northwest China is closely tied to Central Asia's stability and prosperity.
An interesting dilemma that China may have.
Next local war could be in Central Asia
Likewise, several Chinese military and political analysts have asserted, even before September 11, that the next likely theater of a major local war that will threaten, if not involve, China will take place in Central Asia. Certainly China feels itself threatened by terrorists operating out of Central Asia and by elements in Xinjiang. Even if many of these statements are self-serving, this perception is quite real and should not be taken lightly. Similarly, another Chinese observer, Gao Shixian, states that "China deems the area to be of the utmost strategic interest and a source to fill China's energy needs".
Thus economic growth, energy and strategic interests are inextricably tied together. But the precondition for realizing China's strategic and energy objectives is founded on the premise of internal stability in Xinjiang. Thus China's Central Asian policies as a whole are fundamentally strategically conceived and grow out of a preoccupation with internal stability in Xinjiang.
Again, not news to those who have read Uighuristan, but interesting.
Could this be the reason for Chinese colonialism in Xinjiang and beyond, in Central Asia?
Sinification of Xinjiang and an increased presence of ethnic Chinese beyond Xinjiang, coupled with Central Asian economic ties to China that make peaceful relations with China more necessary for the Central Asian republics, could guarantee the stability of China's "New Frontier" -- and of China's oil and natural gas supplies.
Stay tuned as The New Frontier continues!