Beijing has been capitalising on the West’s campaign against terrorism since the September attacks.
The nation has adopted a similar rhetoric and branding the local Muslim group of the bin Laden clique. Indeed, China got a major boost in its efforts when the East Turkistan Islamic Movement, or ETIM became the first branch of the Uighur separatist group to be added to the list of terrorist organisations. Maya Catsanis, Amnesty International’s press officer for the Asia-Pacific region, argued that the inclusion of ETIM in the terrorist list has emboldened the PRC to take tougher steps in Xinjiang. According to her, around 3,000 people were detained between September 11, 2001 and the end of the year, and many people were sentenced to long-term imprisonment and several executions took place.In response to these separatist movements the China took two-pronged steps.
On the one hand, it has come down heavily on the Uighurs with repressive measures. The April 1996 launching of the country’s most severe and extensive ‘Strike Hard’ (Yan Da) campaign was part of the repression. On the other hand, China adopted Western development policy to uplift the economic situation and thereby wean away the discontented Uighurs from separatist tendencies.
The policy commits the Chinese leadership to promote large-scale infrastructure projects such as rail links, roads, and telecommunications, essential for high-tech industrial growth. The announced plan is for investment of 420 billion renminbi (US$ 52 billion) in fixed assets during 2001-2005 in Xinjiang alone.62 Diplomatically, it stepped up efforts to build an anti-terrorism coalition.
The Shanghai Five, which was later renamed Shanghai Cooperation Conceptualising Uighur Separatism in Chinese Nationalism 375 Organisation (SCO), is such a manifestation. The Shanghai Five, that emerged as a forum to resolve border disputes took upon the task in the August 1999 summit to discuss the threat of Islamic fundamentalism, drugs, and weapons spreading from war-torn Afghanistan and destabilising Central Asia. The SCO summit in 2000 in Dushanbe agreed to add a military dimension to it with the creation of a joint counter-terrorism centre in Bishkek in order to meet the threat from the IMU and the Taliban. Thus, with the establishment of the SCO, China not only eroded the Central Asian States’ sympathy for the Uighurs but also portrayed China as favourable towards Muslim countries. Further, China continues to maintain close diplomatic ties with Pakistan and Iran, two countries often accused of aiding Islamic movements abroad.
China’s policy of offering political and economic incentives to the Islamic states thus obviates them to support a Uighur movement.