From Kashgar to Syria

In 1949, a few months after the new People’s Republic of China was proclaimed, Mao moved to ‘liberate’ large areas…

From Kashgar to Syria

Uygurs in Xinjiang

In 1949, a few months after the new People’s Republic of China was proclaimed, Mao moved to ‘liberate’ large areas in the periphery of the Middle Kingdom. While the remnants of the Nationalist forces were slowly and systematically annihilated in the Mainland, Mao annexed Xinjiang using two tactics ~ a large number of troops were sent to the New Dominion and the surrender of some Nationalist leaders was induced. It was relatively easy for the Great Helmsman who had got the assurance from the Soviets that they would not interfere.

The PLA had however to cross deserts, walk over high snow-capped mountains and suffer starvation to realise this unbelievable military feat, walking some 3,000 kms in six months, to complete their mission. Strategically, Communist China was at the Gate of Tibet …and of India; a couple of years later, the construction of a road across the Indian territory in the Aksai Chin area would start.

A recently released CIA report gives a good oversight on what happened in Kashgar in 1949-50. Although written in March 1951, the note remarked: “The Chinese troops stationed in Sinkiang use systematic, disciplined violence for political reasons, (while) rations, ammunition and military stores are received from the USSR.”


The local government officials assured the people that “the Chinese in the administrative structure were there simply to teach the natives of Sinkiang the art of governing, and that soon the full Governmental administrative responsibility would be turned over to the people of Sinkiang.”

It is ironic that nearly seventy years later, the Han are still struggling to manage the restive province and still use systematic violence. Retrospectively today, one understands the importance for China of the annexation of Xinjiang with its natural resources such as oil, but also for trade routes which are now revived under schemes such as One Belt One Road initiative or the China Pakistan Economic Corridor.
But Xinjiang remains far from being ‘liberated’; on the contrary, the Chinese State is slowly transforming the restive province into a nursery for terrorism. The South China Morning Post recently explained: “For many in the Muslim ethnic group, China has become unlivable since Beijing launched a security crackdown in Xinjiang in 2009.”

The Hong Kong newspaper takes the case of one Ali, an Uygur who has been fighting in Syria. Ali had paid smugglers to get him into Turkey and then to Syria, where he was trained to use a Kalashnikov… to later return to China. After spending two-and-a-half years in Syria with him, his brother told the newspaper: “We’ll avenge our relatives being tortured in Chinese jail. Since 2013, thousands of Uygurs, a Turkish-speaking Muslim minority from western China, have travelled to Syria to train with the Uygur militant group Turkestan Islamic Party and fight alongside Al Qaida, playing key roles in several battles. Syrian President Bashar al-Assad’s troops are now clashing with Uygur fighters as the six-year conflict nears its endgame.”

According to Uygur exiles, more than 10,000 Uygurs fled China following the repression. The SCMP concluded: “But the end of Syria’s war may be the beginning of China’s worst fears.”

As the vicious circle continues, Debka, the Israeli weekly reported that according to intelligence sources “2,500 Chinese elite troops are on the way to Syria to fight Chinese Uighur Islamist extremists and their Turkish-backed plan to set up an autonomous enclave in the rebel-held Idlib province of northern Syria.” Will it help?

Debka’s sources affirmed that China has secured permission from Damascus to send Chinese troops from two elite units ~ the ‘Siberian Tigers’, a PLA Navy Special Force from north-east China’s Shenyang Military Region and the ‘Night Tigers’, a Special Forces Unit from Lanzhou.

Already two years ago, a new Chinese Counterterrorism Law made it legal for China’s PLA to get involved in anti-terror operations abroad. The legislation allows the PLA and Armed Police’s forces to carry out counter-terror missions overseas with the approval of the Central Military Commission.

Xinhua affirmed: “Public security and national security authorities could also send personnel overseas for counter-terrorist missions, but these must be approved by the State Council and agreements signed with the countries concerned.”

Having borders with eight nations ~ Mongolia, Russia, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, Afghanistan, Pakistan and India ~ Xinjiang is a convenient conduit for terrorist movements towards the Middle East and the world in general. In the meantime, repression is increasing every day in Xinjiang.

Radio Free Asia (RFA) recently reported that the authorities have earmarked a substantial amount of cash to reward the residents of Hotan prefecture (north of India’s Aksai Chin) who report ‘acts of terrorism’. “The Counter-Terrorism Reward Resolution, enacted by the government of Hotan Prefecture, set aside 100 million yuan ($15.2 million) for information on suspicious activities, and for individuals who attack or kill terrorists,” the official Hotan Daily newspaper said in a post on its WeChat social media account.

A security guard from Aqsaray police station in Hotan’s Qaraqash county read to RFA an official notice posted in the station; it is entitled “Announcement of Payment Categories for Rewarding Members of the Public Who Provide Information on Illegal Activities Relating to Acts of Terrorism or Violence.” The notification said: “People from all ethnic backgrounds who provide tips or clues of any illegal activities relating to acts of violence or terrorism will receive high rewards, once the information has been confirmed to be genuine after investigation.”
Also according to RFA, nearly 10 per cent of the population of Bullaqsu township, a county near Kashgar, have been detained. A former resident of Bullaqsu told RFA that “a large number of people have been arrested in the county this year, leaving some townships with hardly any males to be seen.” The person who now lives in exile asserted: “Bullaqsu was one of the townships most affected by the arrests in Kashgar …groups of people have been arrested and sent to detention centres every week.”

Most of this happened after the appointment of Chen Quanguo as Communist Party chief in August 2016. “A series of harsh policies have been initiated targeting Uygurs in the region, where members of the mostly Muslim ethnic group complain of religious and cultural repression and harassment under Chinese rule,” says RFA.

Since then, Chen, who had earlier practised his ‘recipe’ in Tibet for five years, has been rewarded with a seat on the Politburo. Thousands of Uygurs, who have been accused of harbouring ‘extremist and politically incorrect’ views, have been detained in re-education camps and prisons throughout Xinjiang since April. Earlier this year, Human Rights Watch (HRW) released a ‘glossary’ of special slogans or ‘formulations’ (tifa) used by the Chinese officials in Tibet when referring to party policies. The same applies today to Xinjiang.
‘Poetic’ tifas such as Social Management, Comprehensive Rectification, Preventive Control, Eliminate-Unseen-Threats, Nets-in-the-Sky, Traps-on-the-Ground or Copper-Ramparts-Iron Walls, are regularly used.

The latter one, for example, translates into “an impenetrable public security defence network consisting of citizen patrols, border security posts, police checkposts, surveillance systems, internet controls, identity card monitoring, travel restrictions, informant networks, and other mechanisms.”

The implementation of these tifas is often dreadful, but efficient for Beijing. China has for example decided to collect DNA samples from all Xinjiang’s residents; the name Mohamed is banned for newborns, men can’t have beards, etc.
China is definitely breeding more terrorists.

The writer, an acclaimed author and commentator, holds the Field Marshal KM Cariappa Chair of Excellence at the United Service Institution of India.