Washington's support for terrorist groups and Beijing's policies in Xinjiang
Over preceding weeks and months, the Western media have reported that Beijing is detaining anywhere from one million to 1.5 million Uyghur people, and other minority groups like ethnic Kazakhs, in what China's government claims are “re-education camps”. Due to the secretive internal nature of Chinese affairs, it is difficult to ascertain the precise number of those interned, or the real nature of their confinement.
Mainstream press, like the Guardian and New York Times, have been highlighting and quoting associations like the World Uyghur Congress (WUC), which is headquartered in Munich, so as to supposedly strengthen their arguments. In their reports, these newspapers do not feel it worthwhile to mention that the WUC receives part of its funding from the National Endowment for Democracy (NED), a US government-sponsored organisation.
The World Uyghur Congress was founded in April 2004 by Erkin Alptekin, a Xinjiang-born Uyghur exile who has extensive links to the CIA, and is a former director of the US government-funded news organisation, Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty. Again, liberal media spare their readers these significant but unwanted facts.
The NED has a long history of meddling in sovereign nations, from China to Cuba and the Ukraine. The NED has sought to undermine administrations abroad through "soft power" tactics like bankrolling anti-government groups, encouraging dissent and unrest, etc.
Yet this may be besides the point. Notwithstanding the exact total of minorities that Beijing is detaining, there can be little doubt that China's government is violating human rights, and on a wide-scale basis.
Beijing has utilised the somewhat ominous-sounding word “camps” to describe the areas where Uyghur people and others are held. Some of the most serious crimes in human history have been committed in camps, such as the Nazi death camps erected in central and eastern Europe, where about six million people were killed, mainly Jewish populations.
Another bad omen is that some of the world's most despotic regimes have publicly supported Beijing's policies in Xinjiang, such as the dictatorships in Saudi Arabia, Oman, Bahrain and the UAE. These oppressive nations, most of them rich in oil, are moreover all Western allies where immense numbers of US troops are located. The oil dictator countries are quite likely playing a double game here, between east and west, in homage to Beijing's new-found and persuasive financial might.
Xi Jinping's government has not been guilty of perpetrating crimes remotely approaching those above, but their policies have still been repressive, and it has undoubtedly damaged Beijing's reputation.
In late November 2018, hundreds of scholars condemned “China's mass detention of Turkic minorities” in Xinjiang, led by the American intellectual and activist Noam Chomsky; among those rebuking Beijing were also dozens of academics hailing from the Asian states of Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan and Turkey, the former two nations sharing a border with China. Kazakhstan and Kyrgyzstan are in addition members of the Beijing-led alliance, the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation (SCO).
Segments of alternative media in recent times have, rashly and unwisely, attempted to downplay or even dismiss human rights abuses carried out by China's authorities mostly against Uyghurs, who are for the large part believers in Sunni Islam. One can be certain that, if American or British governments were reported to be confining minority groups in similar numbers to what is claimed above, the same alternative news would be irate.
To take one notable example, the left-leaning American outlet CounterPunch last year professed that the mass media focus on Uyghur people was “being mendaciously depicted as systematic, large-scale repression of one of China's biggest ethnic minorities”.
The CounterPunch article failed to acknowledge any human rights abuses perpetrated by Beijing against Uyghurs or other minorities. Quite the opposite in fact. The authors praised China's government for having “stepped up security, including armed patrols and checkpoints in hot spots” while “The Chinese government, through various programs, has been winning the hearts of minds of ordinary Uighurs”. No evidence is presented to substantiate these claims, and the article is unsourced.
There has been a history of terrorism originating from Xinjiang in recent years, much of which can be linked to Uyghur separatists, and terrorist groups like the Turkistan Islamic Party (TIC) which was founded by Uyghur jihadists in 1988. The TIC, it can be noted, is considered a terrorist organisation by China, Pakistan and Russia, while it is also deemed as such by the United States and European Union.
Thousands of Uyghurs have merged with terrorist groups such as ISIS in countries like Syria, but many Uyghurs have been fighting too "under their own banner" to promote their ethnic goals, as revealed in May 2017 by Syria's ambassador to China, Imad Moustapha.
The shocking proliferation of terrorist factions, across the Eastern hemisphere, can mostly be traced to American foreign policy actions: As a result of large-scale militarism, covert intelligence operations, funding, training, and so on. Secret intelligence acts, initiated by the CIA on orders from the White House, were implemented in order to destabilise the Soviet Union – and preceded, by almost six months, Moscow's Christmas 1979 invasion of Afghanistan. The Soviet war in Afghanistan lasted for almost a decade, and the Kremlin holds a good deal of culpability for the awful bloodshed of that conflict.
Nonetheless, Zbigniew Brzezinski, the US National Security Advisor for four years (1977-1981) under president Jimmy Carter, confirmed that Washington unleashed the spark – by providing arms, training and cash – which ignited the Mujahideen and also Osama bin Laden, the early Islamic fundamentalists, which developed into the terrorist organisation Al Qaeda by the late 1980s. Washington's aim was to lure the USSR into attacking neighbouring Afghanistan, in doing so "giving them their Vietnam", while these extremists with Western backing fought Soviet troops stationed in Afghanistan.
Pentagon strategies were also a pivotal factor behind Bin Laden's evolution from an unknown wealthy college student, into a leading terrorist figure, who inevitably turned against America.
In a 1998 interview Brzezinski said, “According to the official version of history, CIA aid to the Mujahideen began during 1980, that is to say, after the Soviet army invaded Afghanistan, 24 December 1979. But the reality, secretly guarded until now, is completely otherwise. Indeed it was 3 July, 1979 that president Carter signed the first directive for secret aid to the opponents of the pro-Soviet regime in Kabul... We didn't push the Russians to intervene, but we knowingly increased the probability that they would”.
Brzezinski's comments are supported previously by Robert Gates, former director of the CIA. Later in the interview, Brzezinski describes the radicals he assisted in creating as “Stirred up Moslems”, and dismisses their being a threat to the world. Yet terrorist groups have been a menace and the possibility remains – however small – of extremists laying their hands upon nuclear weapons.
Across the years, Washington and its special services have offered varying degrees of assistance to other terrorist organisations, like Al Qaeda and also ISIS, the most extreme organisation to date. For instance in the city of Raqqa, northern Syria, the American military provided direct help in allowing senior ISIS commanders and their families to avoid captivity – when in mid-October 2017, a US helicopter landed, picked up high-ranking ISIS leaders and their kin, before flying them to safety to the Kurdish region in northern Iraq.
Both US and British forces have secretly flown hundreds of ISIS fighters to safe havens, so that they can “spread out far and wide across Syria and beyond”. Here there is hard evidence revealing Anglo-American collaboration or support for Islamic terrorists in Syria, and the broader Middle East.
Differing accounts have been formulated about how ISIS was spawned, but it is almost certain that US actions in the Middle East, with British support, have been at the root of this terror group also materialising.
The most destructive acts committed abroad can be attributed to US-led invasions: Vietnam and Iraq particularly, which resulted literally in millions of deaths.
Ever-lasting Western support for Saudi Arabia and Israel has also had serious consequences, two countries whose human rights records are much worse than China's. The Saudis themselves have had an ongoing and sinister role in fanning the flames of extremism in the Middle East, including among Uyghur people, while the West looks the other way.
As regards the Americans, they have supported policies of provoking unrest inside or nearby China's frontiers, in Xinjiang, Hong Kong, Taiwan and elsewhere, not to mention stimulating a bitter trade war with China. It is important, however, not to overestimate the extent of US interference within China's borders.
China is now among the world's most powerful countries, possessing the elite financial and military muscle to look after much of its own interests. China's increasingly bold stance in the waters that bear its name, such as the South China Sea, is an indication of its newly discovered strength in international affairs. This is not the weak, divided China of pre-1949, which had been exploited for decades by American and British investors, until the revolution of that year when the US “lost” China to communism. US influence in China's domestic affairs has been limited at best over the past seven decades.
Reports like the one from CounterPunch blame virtually all of the societal issues in Xinjiang, and elsewhere in China, on the United States. Upon closer inspection, most of these claims do not stand up. Regarding a country of China's influence today, it is not realistic to propose that Beijing's problems are entirely due to US interference. For example China's massive environmental problems, along with its high emission levels, are hardly the fault of Washington.
America is still the world's strongest country by a considerable distance, but even US power has its limits. The world witnessed this with the inability of Washington to place Iraq under its control following the March 2003 invasion, which descended into a serious defeat.
In Xinjiang – a sparsely populated and diverse province containing over 20 million people – the number of terrorists embedded among the wider Uyghur population has been limited to the thousands. The Uyghur populace resident in Xinjiang consists of about 11 million people. In percentage terms therefore, well under 1% of Xinjiang's Uyghurs could be classed as terrorists, but considerably more than thousands are held in suspicion by Beijing.
China does have legitimate concerns here, as any nation would relating to terrorist atrocities occurring inside their boundaries. A number of terrorist attacks have plagued China, including an assault that killed 16 Chinese policemen in Kashgar, Xinjiang, and which was perpetrated to coincide with Beijing's hosting of the 2008 Olympic Games.
Nor have the terrorist assaults in China been restricted to Xinjiang. In early March 2014, more than 30 Chinese civilians were killed in the south-western city of Kunming, when knife-wielding extremists – reported to be ethnic Uyghurs – went on a rampage at a railway station.
Xinjiang is of great strategic importance to Beijing. It is rich in raw materials, containing 21 billion tons of oil reserves, while its coal sources amount to 40% of China's total levels of that substance. China is by far the biggest coal consuming nation on earth, and Beijing's exploitation of this area's mineral resources has been increasing.
Xinjiang is the largest region in China, comprising about one sixth of the country's land mass. Oil and gas pipelines criss-cross Xinjiang, with resources that pour into China from mineral-laden Central Asia. Perhaps most critical of all, Xinjiang lies directly in the path of Beijing's Belt and Road Initiative (BRI), an industrial program planned with unequalled scope and which is expected to span three continents.
This decade, the Obama and Trump administrations have sought to smother China as much as they possibly can. This is borne out most starkly in military terms, with China now surrounded by approximately 400 US military bases.
Even this display of armed force is occurring outside the frontiers of China. The closest that America's military dare venture towards the official boundaries of China, is within a few miles off the coast of Hong Kong – and also through the nearby Taiwan Strait. Washington's policy here is one of both containment and intimidation of China, to re-assert that America is the world's dominant force, and expects to remain so.
Unlike the United States or Britain, China does not have a record of overseas military and imperial intervention.