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Tuesday, 10 September, 2002, 16:31 GMT 17:31 UK
China's 'war on terror'
President George W Bush and Chinese President Jiang Zemin
Mr Bush is concerned about China's strategic goals

Long before 11 September and the US war against terrorism, China had been fighting its own campaign against what it views as separatist terrorism in western Xinjiang.

There Muslim separatists from the Uighur ethnic minority have been waging a 20-year-old campaign to establish an independent state called East Turkestan.

Map of Xinjiang
The 11 September attacks gave Beijing an opportunity to link its actions in Xinjiang with the US war against al-Qaeda and Russia's war in Chechnya.

China's aim was to win international support for its own crackdown and it has been able to claim some US backing for its policy in Xinjiang.

In November a Foreign Ministry spokesman said US President George W Bush and Chinese President Jiang Zemin had agreed that "Chechnya terrorist forces and East Turkestan terrorist forces are part of the international terrorist forces, which must be firmly stopped and rebuffed".

But in December a top US official said ethnic Uighur unrest in Xinjiang "was not necessarily a terrorist issue", leaving the Chinese to fight their own battle.

Strategic importance

For China, sovereignty over Xinjiang is both a matter of national pride and of security. One of China's critical strategic interests lies in securing Xinjiang and access to Central Asia's energy resources.

But tensions between indigenous Uighurs and Han Chinese settlers have led to violent uprisings, bomb attacks and security crackdowns.

Muslim Uighur priests
China accuses the Uighurs of links with Bin Laden

In 1997, calls for independence erupted in a protest in Yining as hundreds took to the streets shouting "Independence for Xinjiang" and "God is Great".

Last October, Beijing said al-Qaeda had trained Uighurs in Afghanistan to fight for an independent "East Turkestan" in Xinjiang.

Until the attacks on the US, China had cultivated military and business contacts with the Taleban as part of its strategy against separatism.

Crackdown intensifies

Since 11 September, China has stepped up its crackdown on Uighur separatists.

Independent sources say China has arrested thousands of Uighurs suspected of separatist activities - a concern raised by UN rights commissioner Mary Robinson during a trip to Beijing.

Writings that promote a separate Uighur identity and history are reportedly being purged.

The state media continues to blame outsiders for Xinjiang's troubles, while calling for tougher measures against separatism, religious extremism and terrorism.

US blacklists Uighur group

In August, Washington said it was prepared to freeze any US-based assets of a Uighur separatist group, the East Turkestan Islamic Movement (ETIM). The US embassy in Bishkek said ETIM had been planning attacks on embassies in Kyrgyzstan.

China has accused ETIM of links with al-Qaeda and of seeking to establish an independent state of East Turkestan in Xinjiang.


The disembodied American definition of terrorist challenge has been both expedient and convenient

Zbigniew Brzezinski

The Bush administration, however, sees Beijing as a "strategic rival" rather than a "strategic partner" and is concerned over China's military ambitions.

US security expert Zbigniew Brzezinski believes the Bush administration's "one-dimensional" definition of terrorism has been used by Chinese, Indian, Russian and Israeli leaders to "promote their own agendas" in cracking down on separatism.

"For each of them, the disembodied American definition of terrorist challenge has been both expedient and convenient," Mr Brzezinski said.

Mutual mistrust

As for China, the mistrust is mutual. With US military bases now established in Central Asia and foreign forces still in Afghanistan, China is framing a new policy.

Beijing has built up closer security and economic ties with Russia and Central Asia through the Shanghai Co-operation Organisation.

Increased engagement with Islamic neighbours has been complemented by moves to mend ties with India.

But with the US campaign against terror spreading to South East Asia and with Washington's continued support for Taiwan, China could feel increasingly squeezed by a growing US military presence in the region.

BBC Monitoring, based in Caversham in southern England, selects and translates information from radio, television, press, news agencies and the Internet from 150 countries in more than 70 languages.

See also:

08 Jan 02 | Asia-Pacific
01 Jun 02 | Asia-Pacific
12 Oct 01 | Asia-Pacific
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