The global spread of terrorism and extremism over the years has inflicted agony on humanity. Some of the most notorious terrorist attacks include: the September 11 attacks in 2001 that killed 2996 people in the USA; the Bali bombings on 12 October 2002 that killed 202 people in Indonesia; the Madrid train bombings on 11 March 2004 that killed 190 and injured over 1500 people in Spain; the Beslan school siege on 1st September 2004 that killed 335 people, including 186 minors, and injured 958 people, in Russia; the London bombings on 7 July 2005 that killed 52 and injured over 700 people in the UK; the Mumbai attacks on 26 November 2008 that killed 195 and injured close to 300 people in India; the shooting on 22 July 2011 that killed 77 people in Oslo, Norway; the Westgate shopping mall attack on 22 September 2013 that killed 72 and injured 168 people in Nairobi, Kenya; the 16 December 2014 Army Public School Peshawar terror attack which took a toll of 149 lives including 132 children; the Paris attacks on 13 November 2015 that killed 132 and injured more than 300 people in France; the Brussels bombings on 22 March 2016 that killed 35 and injured over 300 persons in Belgium; the Berlin truck attack on 19 December 2016 that killed 12 and injured 49 people in Germany; the Istanbul nightclub shooting on 1st January 2017 that killed 39 and injured 69 people in Turkey; the Sinai mosque attack on 24 November 2017 that killed 235 and injured 109 people in Egypt. According to incomplete statistics, in 2018 there were 1,127 terrorist attacks globally, causing 13,000 deaths.
Thus, the scourge of terrorism is an international curse. The most populous country of the world, China, has not escaped the cruel effects of terror attacks. Xinjiang, which is China’s largest province, faced the brunt of terror attacks but prudent planning, astute handling and a firm resolve to eradicate the causes of the problem have enabled Xinjiang to overcome this challenge.
The strategy employed by the Chinese government and the Communist Party of China (CPC) in handling this major crisis makes fascinating reading and there are lessons from it for the entire world. To understand the roots of the problem, it is imperative to delve slightly deeper into Xinjiang’s rich history and past.
Xinjiang is situated in northwest China and the hinterland of the Eurasian Continent, covering an area of 1.66 million sq km. It borders eight countries: Mongolia, Russia, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, Afghanistan, Pakistan, and India. Since ancient times, Xinjiang has been home to various ethnic groups, and different cultures and religions coexist. It has also been an important channel for communication between civilizations of the East and the West and was an important section of the famed Silk Road which linked ancient China with the rest of the world. In the long historical process, these ethnic groups have communicated and merged with each other, while living, studying, working and developing together in harmony.
Xinjiang has long been an inseparable part of Chinese territory. In 1949, the People’s Republic of China was founded, and Xinjiang was liberated peacefully. In 1955, the Xinjiang Uygur Autonomous Region was established. Under the leadership of the CPC, Xinjiang has witnessed fundamental social and economic change, and it is in its best period of prosperity and development. For centuries, Xinjiang was a melting pot of civilizations and religions, but the majority population of the region comprises Uyghurs who profess Islam.
Separatism is the hotbed in which terrorism and extremism take root in Xinjiang. For a long time, terrorist and extremist forces have been beating the drum for separatist activities by distorting, fabricating and falsifying the history of Xinjiang, exaggerating the cultural differences between ethnic groups, instigating isolation and hatred, and advocating religious extremism.
At the turn of the 20th century, separatists and religious extremists in and outside China, inheriting the so-called theories of ‘Pan-Turkism’ and ‘Pan-Islamism’ created by former colonialists, spread the word that Uyghurs were the only ‘masters’ of Xinjiang, that the ethnic cultures of Xinjiang were not Chinese culture, and that Islam was the only religion practised by ethnic groups of Xinjiang. They incited all ethnic groups speaking Turki and believing in Islam to join in creating the theocratic state of so-called ‘East Turkistan’. They denied the history of China jointly built by all its ethnic groups and clamored for “opposition to all ethnic groups other than Turks” and for the “annihilation of pagans”.
From the early 20th century to the late 1940s, the ‘East Turkistan’ forces, in an attempt to split and control Xinjiang and establish their state, promoted and spread the ideas of ‘Pan-Turkism’, ‘Pan-Islamism’, and violence and terrorism. They organized and planned a series of separatist activities. In 1915 separatist Maswud returned to Ili, opened a school and publicly preached separatism to the students. On 12 November 1933, Mohammad Imin founded the so-called ‘East Turkistan Islamic Republic’, but the farce ended in less than three months because of strong opposition from the people of all ethnic groups in Xinjiang. On 12 November 1944, separatists led by Elihan Torae founded the so-called ‘Republic of East Turkistan’, which soon collapsed a year later. Afterwards, a series of separatist organizations and individuals continued their subversive and separatist activities under the banner of ‘East Turkistan’ in a vain attempt to establish their own state.
Since the founding of the People’s Republic of China, people of all ethnic groups in Xinjiang have, under the leadership of the CPC, worked together to build a better Xinjiang; they have maintained social stability, achieved economic growth, and improved lives for the people. The ‘East Turkistan’ forces, however, have not resigned themselves to defeat. With the support of international anti-China forces, the ‘East Turkistan’ forces have resorted to all means, fair or foul, to organize, plan and carry out acts of separatism and sabotage. In the early 1950s the separatists instigated many riots in Xinjiang, calling on Uyghurs to “unite under the moon-and-star banner to create a republic of Islam”. In the 1960s there were the riots in Ili and Tacheng on the China-Russia border, the riot of the ‘East Turkistan People’s Revolutionary Party’, and the armed rebellion of the Gang of Ahongnof in southern Xinjiang. In the late 1970s and early 1980s, religious extremism made further inroads into Xinjiang. It soon blended with terrorism to stir up social unrest in the region, seriously undermining local stability and security.
Since the 1990s, especially after the September 11 attacks in the USA, the ‘East Turkistan’ forces inside and outside China have stepped up their collaboration as terrorism and extremism spread around the globe, trying desperately to establish ‘East Turkistan’ through jihad. In the name of ethnicity and religion, they deceitfully used people’s ethnic identity and religious belief to instigate religious fanaticism, spread religious extremism, and incite the common people to join in violent and terrorist activities. They brainwashed people with the idea of jihad, abetting them to “die for their belief in order to enter heaven”. Some of the most susceptible followers, no longer possessed of any self-control, became extremists and terrorists who heartlessly slaughtered innocent people. External forces tried to fish in troubled waters and incited the Uyghurs to adopt extremism and resort to terrorism.
In the next part of this detailed article, it will be examine how China managed to tame the scourge of terrorism.