Category Archives: China

China Confronts Islamist Terrorism

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The attention of the world has been focused on the Middle East and on the nuclear agreement with Iran that almost certainly will lead to that country becoming a nuclear power. Less attention has been paid to the link between a Muslim ethnic group in China and Islamist terrorists, and even less to the need for American-Chinese collaboration in the fight against Islamist terrorism.

China has the world’s largest population and can now be regarded as the fastest growing economy, having overtaken that of the United States in 2014. The Chinese economy has been slowing down over the last year, yet the growth has been estimated at 7 per cent during 2015.

Since the 1980s, the state socialism of the Communist system, the People’s Republic founded in 1949, has been transformed in many ways to one of private enterprise that has generated rapid growth. But that economic development has not been accompanied by political reform, and the Communist Party, the world’s largest party, retains a monopoly of power.

China has been having its share of problems. One acute one was the problem with its stock market equities and with inflationary trends. In June 2015 the Shanghai Composite Index plunged more than 30 per cent, an amount of $3 trillion, and nearly 1,500 companies halted their shares from trading. The turmoil in Chinese equities has shown that central government had failed to control events. The markets are operated and regulated by the state. However, the dramatic fall in the stock indices reflected weakness in regulation of capital markets as well as panic among retail investors, rather than weakening growth outlook.

China, using a variety of methods including threats to arrest those who were selling short, loosening monetary policy, and buying stocks directly, finally stopped the stock market plunge. China is obviously concerned with the problem that global investors, unhappy that many companies were suspended from trading during the stock market panic, are turning away from Chinese stocks.

Yet China is now concerned not only with growing its economy, but also with a threat that the democratic countries of the West and the United States have been facing and that continues to grow more formidable.

China is now forced to deal with the increasing threat of Islamist terrorism.

The main problem at present comes from the ethnic group, the Uighurs living in Xinjiang, the most northwesterly region of China, one bordering on the states of the former Soviet Union. The region contains about 20 million people of whom10 million are Uighurs, a mostly Sunni Muslim, Turkic speaking group that is recognized by China as one of the 56 ethnic groups in the country.

Mostly occupied with agriculture and trade, the Uighurs regard themselves as culturally and ethnically close to central Asian countries. The area for a few months in 1949 was declared an East Turkestan state, but then became part of Communist China. In October 1955 China set it up as an Autonomous Region, and refers to it as an inseparable part of the Chinese nation. Central authorities encouraged Han Chinese, now about 40 per cent of the Xinjiang population, to settle there. They have taken part in establishing the new industrial towns and family villages, and integrating the area into mainstream China.

The commercial and cultural activities of the Uighurs are severely controlled by the central Chinese authorities who have imposed restrictions both on the expressions of Islam and on the cultural identity of the people. Residents have difficulty in obtaining passports to travel, and women are restricted in wearing of veils.

This atmosphere of repression has led to violence. Grievances of Uighurs in the past have mostly been economic, cultural, or political in nature, involving either calls for an independent state or for greater political and cultural autonomy in China. Now, those grievances have become infused with Islamist terrorism, and pose a threat to Chinese security. Uighurs have established connections with both al-Qaeda and with the Islamic State (IS).

Information from China is understandingly imperfect and the exact danger of terrorism is arguable. What remains relatively unknown is the exact number of outbreaks of terrorism in Chinese territory although there are frequent reports of deadly clashes with police.

However, it is evident that from the 1990s Uighur separatist groups were mounting attacks against the central government: the most well-known group doing so is the East Turkestan Islamic Movement (ETIM). This organization has been labeled a terrorist organization by China, by the United States, and by the United Nations Security Council. It is interesting that the Obama administration removed it from the list of Foreign Terrorist Organizations in 2012. The founder and former leader of ETIM was killed in 2003, and his successor was killed in 2010.

Instances of Islamist violence over the last few years have become known. Anti-government protests took place before the Beijing Olympics in 2008 and again in 2009 when riots led to 200 people being killed. In October 2013 a car ploughed into a crowd and burst into flames in Tiananmen Square in Beijing, killing two and injuring 40. In March 2014, stabbings in Kunming killed 29 people and injured 130 others. In April 2014 an attack was made with knives and explosives at the railroad station in Urumqi, the capital of Xinjiang. Another attack in the same town in May 2014 killed 31 and injured more than 90. On June 13, 2015, three knife-wielding terrorists trying to flee China to join the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria were killed.

China claims that some of these would-be jihadists received training from Osama bin Laden and the Taliban. Some of them fought in Afghanistan, Chechnya, and Uzbekistan.

The Chinese government says that 109 members of the Muslim Uighur community who had been repatriated by Thailand had gone there, perhaps assisted by Turkish diplomats, on their way to join the jihadists in Turkey, Syria, or Iraq. Presumably, the affinity of Turkey for the jihadists is due to the fact that Uighurs are also a Turkic people. Sixty-seven other Uighurs remain in Thailand which is uncertain on how to deal with them.

It appears that these would-be jihadists were radicalized by information and materials sent by the exiled World Uyghur Congress, a group based in Germany, as well as by ETIM. China believes that more than 300 Uighurs are fighting for IS in Iraq and Syria. Though little known, 22 Uighurs, captured in Asian fighting mostly in Afghanistan, are detained by the U.S. in Guantanamo Bay.

China now faces the same problem as the Western democracies and the United States. All fear the return of the local jihadists who may form a terrorist cell. The West may take lessons from China that has imposed border controls and countering those groups, especially Turks, who have given fake Turkish passports to the Uighurs whom they helped smuggle out of the country.

China, which contains about 20 million Muslims in its borders, has been forced to join in the fight against Islamist terrorism. As a result of its recent problems, China said it was willing to join that war against the Islamic State, but without joining the “international coalition,” or supporting air strikes. So far it is limiting its activity to personnel training of anti-Islamist fighters and emergency humanitarian assistance.

It is incumbent on the Obama administration to induce the Chinese to be more active in the fight against Islamist terrorism.

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China to Build New Nuke Plants in Iran

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Iran announced that China has agreed to assist in the building of five new nuclear plants across the country, according to Iran’s Atomic Energy Organization (AEOI).

Iran plans to enlist the Chinese in the construction of five new nuclear plants similar in size and scope to the plant currently operating near Bushehr.

Iran’s insistence on building more nuclear power plants has become a key concern for critics of the Obama administration’s diplomacy with the Islamic Republic, as these nuclear structures could potentially be used to assist its nuclear weapons program.

The Obama administration has said in the past that the construction of light water reactors such as the one in Bushehr does not violate existing United Nations restrictions or the interim accord struck with the country in 2013.

Behrouz Kamalvandi, the spokesman for the AEOI, announced on Tuesday that Iran is pursuing at least five new nuclear power plants to produce nuclear fuel at an “industrial scale.”

“The Islamic Republic of Iran plans to produce at least 190,000 SWUs (Separative Work Units) of nuclear fuel at the industrial scale, while we also think about 1,000,000 SWUs, which will be needed to fuel 5 power plants like Bushehr,” Kamalvandi was quoted as saying during an address Tuesday in Tehran at an event described by the state-controlled Fars News Agency as an “Analysis of Lausanne Statement.”

Russia has already helped to start construction of at least two plants in southern Iran, while the Chinese will assist with the rest, Kamalvandi revealed.

“This is the reason why we have inked an agreement with the Russians to construct two nuclear power plants for the generation of electricity while the Chinese will also enter this arena soon,” he was quoted as saying.

Touching on the contents of a recently agreed to framework nuclear deal with the United States, Kamalvandi said Tehran will retain the Fordow nuclear enrichment facility—a former military site—and operate more than 1,000 centrifuges there.

Nuclear research and development work also will continue and return to full capacity after around 10 years, he said.

In addition to the light water reactors, Iran plans to build “small nuclear power plants” around the Persian Gulf area for the reported purpose of desalinating water, Fars reported.

“The AEOI plans to build small power plants in the Southern parts of the country for desalination purposes. Construction of such power plants are on the agenda and will be materialized in the next few years,” Fars quoted Kamalvandi as saying.

When asked about Iranian efforts to build new nuclear reactors, the State Department has said that this type of work is still permissible under existing agreements.

“In general, the construction of light water nuclear reactors is not prohibited by U.N. Security Council resolutions, nor does it violate the [interim agreement,” a State Department official told the Washington Free Beacon in January.

“We have been clear in saying that the purpose of the negotiations with Iran is to ensure that Iran’s nuclear program remains exclusively for civilian, peaceful purposes,” the official said at the time. “The talks that we have been engaged in for months involve a specific set of issues relative to closing off all possible pathways to Iran acquiring a nuclear bomb. That remains our focus.”

Michael Rubin, a former Pentagon adviser, said that years of diplomacy with Iran have nearly unraveled a sanctions regime that brought the Iranian economy to its knees.

“Obama’s partisans like to bash Republicans as anti-diplomacy and they vilify men like [former U.N. Ambassador] John Bolton,” Rubin said. “But it was John Bolton who crafted unanimous and near unanimous U.N. Security Council Resolutions to bring Iran to its knees, while it is the likes of Obama and Secretary of State John Kerry who have unraveled multilateral pressure and opened the floodgates both to Iranian enrichment and to adversaries like China and Russia to jump in with deals that make Iranian cheating even easier.”

“For all their rhetoric and fawning press, Obama and Kerry have confirmed themselves as the real JV team in the region,” Rubin said.

Around 300 Chinese fight alongside ISIS

About 300 Chinese people are fighting alongside the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria, a Chinese state-run newspaper said on Monday, a rare tally that is likely to fuel worry in China that militants pose a threat to security.

China has expressed concern about the rise of the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria in the Middle East, nervous about the effect it could have on its Xinjiang region.

But it has also shown no sign of wanting to join U.S. efforts to use military force against the group.

Chinese members of the East Turkestan Islamic Movement (ETIM) are travelling to Syria via Turkey to join the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria, also known as ISIS, the Global Times, a tabloid run by China’s ruling Communist Party’s official newspaper, the People’s Daily, said.

“According to information from various sources, including security officers from Iraq’s Kurdish region, Syria and Lebanon, around 300 Chinese extremists are fighting with ISIS in Iraq and Syria,” the Global Times reported.

Chinese officials blame the ETIM for carrying out attacks in Xinjiang, home to the Muslim Uighur people. But the government has been vague about how many people from China are fighting in the Middle East.

In July, China’s envoy to the Middle East, Wu Sike, cited media reports when he said about 100 Chinese citizens, most of them from the ETIM, were in the Middle East fighting or being trained.

China says ETIM militants are also holed up along the ungoverned Afghan-Pakistani border and want to create a separate state in Xinjiang, though many foreign experts doubt the group’s cohesiveness.

Instead, human rights advocates argue that economic marginalization of Uighurs and curbs on their culture and religion are main causes of ethnic violence in Xinjiang that has killed hundreds of people in the past two years.

China has criticized the Turkish government for offering shelter to Uighur refugees who have fled China through southeast Asia and said such a channel creates security risks.