The State Department’s Country Report on Terrorism casts doubts on the “terrorist” nature of some of the latest attacks in China by Uighur activists. Regarding the Oct. 28th, 2013 car bombing in Tiananmen, which Chinese authorities attributed to the East Turkestan Islamic Movement (ETIM), the report said, “There was no independent evidence to suggest ETIM involvement.” (East Turkestan is what Uighur terrorist-separatists call their secessionist entity, including China’s Xinjiang province.) The report went on that “in general, Chinese authorities did not provide detailed evidence of terrorist involvement, and restricted the ability of journalists and international observers to independently verify official media accounts.” The report also complained that “Chinese law enforcement agencies were reluctant to conduct joint investigations with U.S. law enforcement agencies or provide assistance in cases involving suspected terrorists.”
Given the provocative stance of the U.S., as indicated in the recent Obama visit to Asia, it’s not unexpected that Chinese authorities would be rather hesitant to be totally transparent with the workings of their own internal security operations. And the United States has not been terribly forthcoming itself with regard to China’s terrorist fight. Earlier, the U.S. had transferred six suspected Uighur terrorists from Guantanamo Bay to the Pacific island nation of Palau, and ignored China’s demand for repatriation. Twenty-two ethnic Uighurs were captured after the U.S. invaded Afghanistan in 2001. But when the U.S. moved towards closing the Cuban detention facility, all were eventually resettled to six different countries including Slovakia, Palau, the Maldives, and even the United States, instead of China.
The terrorist threat is taken very seriously by China. One of the key purposes of the visit of President Xi Jinping to Xinjiang last month was to speak to the security services there and to beef up their capabilities. As the key link in the Chinese Silk Road Economic Belt, stability in Xinjiang is at a premium. If the province were destabilized, it would disrupt the entire program as the cities of Urumqi, Kashgar, and Aksu are integral to the effort. During his visit, President Xi also encouraged local leaders to participate in the developments now open to them and encouraged the young children to study both Chinese and Uighur languages.
Developing the economy of Xinjiang has been a prime goal of the Chinese government since the premiership of Zhu Rongji, who worked hard to bring more industry to the region. The “Go West” policy, now folded into the Silk Road Economic Belt can help lift the lives of the people of the region. The renewed terrorist threat, now become bolder with the direct attacks in the Urumqi railroad station during President Xi’s visit, represents a grave threat to that policy. And U.S. refusal to accept the threat as “terrorism” makes it in turn a party to that destabilization.