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China and Eurasia Forum Quarterly, Volume 4, No. 2 (2006) p.

© Central Asia-Caucasus Institute & Silk Road Studies Program
ISSN: 1653-4212

East Turkestan Terrorism and the Terrorist
Arc: China’s Post-9/11 Anti-Terror Strategy
Pan Guang*

Anti-terrorism has become an important part of China’s domestic and
diplomatic agenda. China’s anti-terrorism campaign started even before
9/11, but it was only after the attacks that China participated fully and
became a significant player in the international anti-terror coalition. This
has its historical roots and theoretical basis. With reform and opening-up
unfolding under Deng Xiaoping’s leadership in the 1980s, China
experienced rapid economic growth, combined with an influx of various
external influences into China. Some violent and terrorist activities,
mostly with economic motivations and criminal elements began to occur.
In this period, hostage taking, bank robberies, and armed drug-
trafficking became ever more frequent. Most of these activities took place
in the eastern coastal regions, where the economy and overseas
connections are more developed, although drug-trafficking generally
originated from the north-west (Afghanistan-Xinjiang) and south-west
(the triangle region-Yunnan). To be sure, terrorist actions of a political
nature were also ubiquitous, including the recurrent hijacking of planes
across the Taiwan Strait. On the whole, however, the Chinese
government labeled these as ordinary criminal acts rather than terrorist
acts. The Chinese authorities began to feel the urgency of anti-terrorism
only after terrorist violence emerged with the separatist “East Turkestan”
movement in Xinjiang in the early 1990s.

East Turkestan Separatism: The Historical Basis
The current activities of the “East Turkestan” separatism in China can be
traced to the great uprising of the Hui people in the mid-19th century. At
the time, Yaqub Beg, a Muslim leader who led the expedition against the
rule of the Qing dynasty, for 10 years (1867-77), turned parts of Xinjiang
Pan Guang is the Director and Professor of Shanghai Center for International Studies
and Institute of European & Asian Studies at Shanghai Academy of Social Sciences, PRC.
He is also a Senior Advisor of the China and Eurasia Forum and Senior Advisor on Anti-
terror Affairs to Shanghai Municipality and Ministry of Public Security of PRC. He was
nominated by UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan as member of the High-Level Group for
the Alliance of Civilizations in 2005.
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into a kingdom independent from Qing control. Nevertheless, it was in
the 1930s and 1940s that a so-called “East Turkestan” state was really
established. Uighur separatists established the Turkish Islamic Republic
of East Turkestan in November 1933, but the regime collapsed in less than
five months. In November 1945, the Eastern Turkestan Republic was set
up in Yining, but was also relatively short-lived and lasted only for half a
year. In the four decades from the founding of the People’s Republic of
China in 1949 to the withdrawal of the Soviet troops from Afghanistan in
1989, “East Turkestan” separatists rarely undertook armed activities
within Chinese borders. However, the end of the “jihad” against Soviet
troops in Afghanistan combined with the chaotic situation unfolding
there in the early 1990s somewhat spilled over, providing separatists with
an opportunity of waging a “jihad” in Xinjiang. In April 1990, separatists
launched an attack in Baren in Akto county of Xinjiang, killing nearly 60
civilians and policemen. This turmoil represented the beginning of
terrorist violence committed by the “East Turkestan” group.
After 1996, with the support from the Taleban and Al-Qaeda,
religious extremists and terrorist organizations in Central Asia built up
their cross-border networks. Certain organizations of the “East
Turkestan” campaign like the “East Turkestan Islamic Movement”
became very active among these cliques, and Osama bin Laden has
reportedly been quoted as saying: “I support your jihad in Xinjiang
[referring to ETIM].”
In order to cope with these terrorist challenges that threatened
China’s security and unity, the Chinese authorities began to formulate an
anti-terrorism strategy seriously, focusing mainly on combating “East
Turkestan” terrorist forces to ensure the security and stability of
Xinjiang. Anti-terror corps were organized in Xinjiang, the first among
China’s provinces and autonomous regions, under the fiscal support of
the central government. Meanwhile, as the “East Turkestan” movement
had international connections and was transnational in nature, this
inadvertently implied that any Chinese anti-terrorist strategy was forced
to rely on international cooperation. Indeed, this became one of the
driving forces behind the institutionalization of the “Shanghai Five” and
the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO) mechanisms. From the
Chinese perspective, it was of particular importance that China could
now, within the framework of the organization, count upon the support
of the other five member states (Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan,
Uzbekistan and Russia) in its campaign against the “East Turkestan”

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China’s Post-9/11 Anti-Terror Strategy
China’s Anti-Terror Strategy After 9/11
Shortly after 9/11, China established its National Anti-Terrorism
Coordination Group (NATCG) and Secretariat led by Hu Jintao. The
National Ministry of Public Security also simultaneously launched an
anti-terrorism bureau responsible for the research, planning, guidance, co-
ordination and undertaking of the national anti-terror agenda. The
NATCG’s office was subordinated under the anti-terror bureau of the
National Ministry of Public Security. In addition, all the provinces
followed suit by organizing their own anti-terrorist co-ordination groups
and offices, with Beijing, Shanghai, Guangdong, Xinjiang and Tibet at
the forefront. In view of these expanded efforts, China has also made
remarkable achievements in strengthening its anti-terror mechanism
since 9/11. The capabilities of the “East Turkestan” group were severely
weakened following the U.S. intervention in Afghanistan and the
subsequent strikes on terrorist bases. However, following the U.S.-led
war in Iraq, the group has somehow revived, coinciding with the
resurrection of the Taleban and Al-Qaeda, and the security situation in
Central Asia has deteriorated again. To counter the emerging threats in
the post-9/11 environment, the following measures have been taken by
the NATCG and the National Ministry of Public Security.
Firstly, an early warning and prevention system has been set up. The
objective of this system is to monitor the activities of terrorist groups,
forestall terrorist attacks, and cut terrorist financing.
Secondly, a quick response mechanism is now in place. The purpose
of this is for relevant authorities to take speedy and determined measures
to neutralize perpetrators, restrict their fallout, and work for a quick
resolution in the event of a terrorist strike. China has greatly enhanced
the capabilities of its quick-response anti-terror troops over the past two
years both in personnel and equipment. They are now deployed not only
in Xinjiang, but also in almost every provincial capital city. China has
also participated in various bilateral and multilateral anti-terror exercises.
For example, China conducted a joint bilateral anti-terror military
exercise with Kyrgyzstan in October 2002. In August 2003, China took
part in the multilateral anti-terror military exercise dubbed “United-2003”
with other fellow SCO members. Some of the more recent exercises
include “Great Wall-2003” held on September 26, 2003 attended by
President Hu Jintao, as well as “Peace Mission 2005” under SCO auspices.
Thirdly, a crisis control and management system is now being
established. This system focuses on damage-control of human losses and
infrastructural damages in the wake of terrorist attacks or during their
initiation. China, drawing especially upon the experience of authorities
in New York City handling the 9/11 disaster, seeks here to improve the
co-ordination of policemen, fire-fighters, armed troops, civilian rescuers

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and medical personnel in the event of a terrorist attack. Training and
exercises at various levels have already been conducted for this purpose.
Fourthly, a mass education and mobilization system has been
initiated. Various authorities in China have carried out a series of
education and training programs among civilians to raise awareness of
counter-terrorism efforts. A number of schools have added anti-terrorism
to their curriculum, while some research institutes and universities have
set up anti-terror research centers. Besides, the Chinese legislature – the
People’s Congress – is also currently drafting an anti-terrorism law. This
is especially important as China is hosting the 2008 Olympic Games in
Beijing as well as the 2010 World Expo in Shanghai.

Growing Interconnections in the “Terrorist Arc”
Besides concern over “East Turkestan” terrorist forces and recent
Chinese adaptations and counter-measures to the threat, growing
interconnections between terrorist organizations in Asia are also
attracting Beijing’s attention. In the new surge of terrorist attacks
sweeping the world following the Iraq War, the formation of a “terrorist
arc” stretching across the Middle East, Central Asia, South Asia and
Southeast Asia is being formed. This is an extremely disturbing
development. Terrorist organizations and activities in Central Asia,
South Asia and Southeast Asia are starting to resemble those in the
Middle East in terms of intellectual connections, organizational networks,
and activities.
This development is also partly driving the Chinese anti-terror
strategy. What is particularly worrying is that Southeast Asia, sitting at
the eastern end of this arc, has become the target of frequent terrorist
attacks in recent years. Certain terrorist groups closely connected to Al-
Qaeda, such as Jamaah Islamiyah, Kumpulan Mujahidin Malaysia, and
Abu Sayyaf have plotted a series of terrorist activities against the state
and civilians alike. It has been pointed out by some that Jamaah
Islamiyah, as the main agent of Al-Qaeda in Southeast Asia, is now
functioning within a broad scope ranging from southern Thailand,
Malaysia, Singapore, Indonesia, and the Philippines, all the way to
Australia. Lee Kuan Yew, Minister Mentor of the Singapore Cabinet,
recently remarked that it is very disturbing to see that, although the 230
million Muslims in Southeast Asia have long been “tolerant and easy to
live with”, recent changes indicate that extremism and terrorism are
taking root.
Such developments are of direct concern to China’s view on security.
Both because terrorist groups in Southeast Asia such as Jamaah
Islamiyah, are closely connected with terrorist organizations in Central
Asia and South Asia; but also because terrorist activities in Southeast

East Turkestan Terrorism and the Terrorist Arc: 23
China’s Post-9/11 Anti-Terror Strategy
Asia are bound to threaten the security of China’s citizens abroad. In fact,
terrorism in Southeast Asia has already affected Chinese tourists and
engineering workers in the region. Bali, which has witnessed repeated
explosions, is a favorite resort of the Chinese. Meanwhile, Chinese
engineering workers in the Philippines have more than once been taken
hostage by the Abu Sayyaf, with one Chinese killed so far. With regards
to security, if maritime terrorist activities in Southeast Asia target oil
tankers at the Strait of Malacca, an act which cannot be ruled out,
China’s energy security will be threatened as over 60 percent of imported
oil passes through the Strait.
South Asia faces similar challenges and what is most alarming to us
in this region is terrorists’ frequent targeting of Chinese citizens. On
May 3, 2004, Chinese engineers working in the Pakistani Gwadar Port
were attacked by car bombs leaving three killed and nine wounded. On
June 10, 2004, a group of Afghan terrorists attacked a construction site
near Kunduz causing the death of eleven Chinese workers and further
injuring four. In October 2004, two Chinese engineers were taken hostage
with one eventually being killed by Al-Qaeda militants, according to
Pakistani officials. More recently, three Chinese engineers were killed in
Gwadar while another three were killed in a bombing in Amman, Jordan.
What merits our special attention is that terrorist groups now are
adjusting their strategies with some resorting to new approaches and
appearances. Certain groups are cropping up and expanding their
organizations by enlisting members from the disadvantaged masses. Hizb
ut-Tahrir (HT) has become very influential in Central Asia though it
was first established in Jordan and Saudi Arabia in 1953. HT maintains
close connections with al Qaeda and focuses mainly on subverting the
existing state establishments. By increasing its membership through
philanthropic activities and pyramid-selling-like means, the party is
expanding rapidly and gaining popularity in Central Asia, particularly in
the poverty-stricken Ferghana valley where unemployment rates reach as
high as 80 percent. This is a worrying development considering the cross-
border nature of the problem and the recent resurrection of terrorist
elements in Asia.

On the basis of a reviving threat from East Turkestan terrorist groups
and growing dangers emanating across the “terrorist arc,” China will, in
the foreseeable future, continue to be an active member in the
international anti-terror coalition. However, it needs to be pointed out
that China does not endorse the U.S. actions in the Iraq war. The
Chinese have adopted a regional approach as part of its anti-terror
strategy. This is in contrast with America’s unilateralism in its global

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war on terror as reflected in the invasion of Iraq. Although China’s main
concern is with terrorism in its immediate surroundings, it is becoming
increasingly clear that Chinese participation is indispensable for
international anti-terror efforts; whether in the hinterlands of Eurasia,
South Asian subcontinent, Northeast Asia, Southeast Asia, or even the
Middle East.