Less than a week after the March 2nd stabbing incident at a train station which left 29 civilians and 4 attackers dead in Kunming, China, the country’s Foreign Minister Wang Yi made announced that China will “work with Afghanistan and other neighbors to resolutely fight all terrorist forces.”
Mr. Wang recently returned from a trip to Afghanistan that took place last month, and is planning to host a foreign ministerial conference in August to discuss working with Afghanistan.
China’s Xinjiang Province is in a strategic and an often tumultuous geographic region. It directly borders Mongolia, Russia, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, Afghanistan, Pakistan and the Kashmir region of India. The United States is set to pull out all combat troops from Afghanistan in November of this year, and the Chinese government is concerned with the potential for violence to carry into Xinjiang after the move.
The Chinese government has made claims that a separatist group within the Muslim ethnic group called Uighurs is responsible for last week’s attacks. They are claimed to be attempting to reclaim Xinjiang as an independent state called “East Turkestan.” The World Uyghur Conference, a group that believes China is illegally occupying the land that should be East Turkestan, announced it “unequivocally condemns the violence” of the attacks and “expresses its condolences to the victims and their families” in a press release on March 3rd. It also states, however, that the ethnicities of the attackers had not yet been released, and the government has only blamed “Xinjiang separatists” for the attack.
There are several points to be made from this announcement.
The first is that China is continuing to increase its political power throughout the world. Since the 1950’s, China has maintained a “non-interference” policy into sovereign countries’ internal affairs. However, as China has quickly leapt onto the world’s stage over the past 30 years, it has been more and more assertive in securing its interests in foreign countries. With the United States winding down its military efforts in Afghanistan, China is seizing an opportunity to have some sway in the country on a political, rather than military front.
Second, China may not be as stable as it is often viewed. Xinjiang is across the country from the brand new factories and mega-cities such as Shanghai on the east coast. Xinjiang is in a very diverse ethnic, linguist, and religious region. There are extremist groups such as the Taliban in neighboring countries that are known for playing up religion tensions in order to make political statements.
Finally, it can be argued that there are parallels to be drawn with China’s treatment of Tibet. By focusing the attention on a wide, abstract target such as “terrorism,” the government can get away with repressing anti-government political activity in the region. This is not unprecedented after violence by Uighurs or in Xinjiang. China may be able to improve stability in the region, but history shows it will be at the cost of the civil liberties of Chinese citizens.