by M.S. Ahmed (Special Reports, Crescent International Vol. 33, No. 8, Sha'ban, 1425)
China’s growing status as a new superpower and its role in the US-led “war against terrorism” have left Chinese Muslims to the dubious mercies of Beijing. This gives Beijing a licence to pursue, without hindrance from the “international community”, its policies of mass-murder and torture of members and supporters of the East Turkestan Islamic Movement (ETIM)– and indeed those of other groups that support the independence of the Muslims of Xinjiang region.
Beijing’s horrific human-rights violations in the region, known as East Turkestan to the pro-independence Muslims, are well documented. Yet the UN and its human-rights organisations refuse to receive any complaint against these violations, and states that are eager to impress the “new superpower”, or to belong to the anti-Islamic alliance that claims to be waging war on “international terrorism”, list ETIM as a terrorist group and help Beijing against it. The international press and human-rights organisations rarely mention the issue, and prefer to coverBeijing’s treatment of the peoples of Hong Kong, Tibet and Taiwan.
China set out to improve its relations with other countries after the end of the Soviet Union (and the international communist bloc) in 1990, exploiting its status as a “demographic superpower”. It even established diplomatic relations with Israel in 1992, and for the rest of the decade cooperated in several military technology projects, including China’s own fighter-aircraft programme. This military cooperation proved so fruitful that the US felt it necessary to put pressure on Israel to cancel a lucrative contract to supply airborne warning and control planes (AWACS) to China in 2000. Washington was afraid that Beijing might use this technology againstTaiwan, instead of against Islamic movements. In fact, the US backs the close cooperation between Israel and China to fight Islamic groups, such as Hamas and ETIM, that seek to end the occupation of Muslims lands.
China has also developed close relations with the US, based on their shared desire to trade and to fight “international terrorism”. Relations began to improve when China condemned the attacks in September 2001, and promised to cooperate with the “war on terrorism”. In late October of that year president Bush made his first official visit to China, to attend a summit meeting of the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC), which was dominated by the issue of terrorism. At the end of the year Bush signed proclamations granting China “permanent normal trading relations”, to begin on January 1, 2002. He also revoked the Jackson-Vanik regulation preventing communist countries from having normal trading relations with the US if they restricted emigration. In late August 2002 the US listed ETIM as a terrorist organisation for the first time, in return for the introduction by Beijing of the “Regulations on Export Control of Missiles and Missile-related items and technologies”: a move that seems to assure the US and Israel that Muslims will not acquire missiles and technologies.
China has also steadily consolidated its relations with Russia and the former Soviet republics ofCentral Asia in pursuit of the same objectives, namely to fight Islamic resurgence and expand trading links. The despotic rulers of the republics and China have a common interest in suppressing the growing resistance of Islamic groups to their rule and in developing and transporting the petroleum and gas deposits of the Caspian Sea-Central Asia region. In the late 1990s China and Russia, along with Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan, formed the organisation known as the Shanghai Five, renamed the Shanghai Cooperative Organisation (SCO) at their annual meeting in June 2001, when Uzbekistan became the sixth member. The importance Beijing attaches to relations with the Central Asian republics was demonstrated whenHu Jintau, on his first state visit as president, went to Kazakhstan in June 2003. One of the ‘security” strategies adopted by these countries is full cooperation in sealing their boundaries to prevent help in any form from reaching Islamic organisations from sympathisers.
Beijing’s determination to starve ETIM of aid was demonstrated in 2000 when it began to improve relations with the Taliban, who, along with the West, it considered to be an “Islamic terrorist entity”. Its ability to conquer its suspicions of those it historically and traditionally distrusts, in order to serve its ‘security” and economic interests, has also been proven by the development of close relations with India, another “demographic superpower”. Like China, India occupies Muslim lands whose people (the Kashmiris, for instance) are denied self-determination. Under their economic arrangement, India will concentrate on developing services, while China will devote its resources to advancing industries. This economic relationship potentially poses a threat even to developed countries’ business interests in “developing countries”. But any gains made by the new partners will not benefit their Muslim regions, and a substantial part of those profits will be spent on fighting Islamic groups, which are dismissed as “separatist terrorists”. China already deprivesEast Turkestan of its legitimate share of the benefits of its recent economic development.
According to the historical record, Islam arrived in China as long ago as 651 CE. So it is not surprising that the number of Muslims there is large, or that they occupy large areas that are historically their own. But Beijing insists that their number is much smaller than the estimates of Muslims or of non-Chinese-government sources. In 1997, for instance, the official record put the number of Chinese Muslims at 18 million, while unofficial estimates put the same figure tens of millions higher. But the authorities are not content with claiming the number of Muslims to be “insignificant”; they are also importing millions of non-Uighur non-Muslim Chinese into EastTurkestan, in order to change the Muslim Uighur majority into a numerical minority. Moreover, mass-murders and arrests of Muslims there, coupled with tens of thousands of disappearances, are not only carried out to defeat (or at least seriously weaken) ETIM, but are also designed to force the local people to transfer to other regions, where they will become numerically insignificant minorities.
That the international community is silent on these developments cannot be denied. For instance, the world’s media, which recently gave a great deal of attention to Chinese affairs, were totally silent on events in East Turkestan, while covering the non-events in Hong Kong and Tibet in great detail because they were ‘serious human rights violations”. And, while ignoring the sufferings of Chinese Muslims, the media sympathised with non-Muslim minorities in Muslim countries. The London-based Economist on September 11 published a long article on China, but failed even to mention the Chinese Muslims, while discussing in a separate article the problems faced by Christians in the Indonesian island of Sulawesi. There was also the inevitable coverage of the suffering of the people of Darfur at the hands of the “Islamic” regime in Khartoum. But the refusal to pay any attention to East Turkestan is not confined to the media. While, for instance, senior officials of the UN, the EU and other western countries have recently been flocking to Darfur, no one has visited East Turkestan.
Clearly the Chinese Muslims are out of sight and out of mind, facing a grim future. But their worst problem is the indifference of Muslim countries, some of whom are actually on Beijing’s side, engaged in the “war on terrorism”. The way out, not only for the Muslims of East Turkestan but for all Muslims, is clear: we have to topple the corrupt and anti-Islamic rulers in the Muslim world who consider Islamic movements to be their natural enemies and western ‘superpowers’ to be their protectors. The need to rid ourselves of them applies not only to Chinese Muslims but also to the rest of us. Our dire problems will not be solved without drastic and determined action.