Xinjiang separatists biggest challenge to China’s security, stability, says official

PUBLISHED : Friday, 10 March, 2017, 4:41pm
UPDATED : Friday, 10 March, 2017, 4:41pm

Islamist separatists in western China pose the “most prominent” challenge to the country’s security, economy and social stability, the China Daily newspaper quoted a top security official as saying on Friday.

Beijing has long said it faces a determined campaign by a group known as the East Turkestan Independence Movement, or ETIM, in the far western region of Xinjiang where hundreds of people have been killed in the past few years in attacks and unrest between ethnic Uygurs and the majority Han Chinese.

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“[ETIM] is the most prominent challenge to China’s social stability, economic development and national security,” Cheng Guoping, State Commissioner for counterterrorism and security, was quoted as saying.

The comments come about a week after a video purportedly by the Islamic State group surfaced showing Uygurs training in Iraq, vowing to plant their flag in China and saying that blood will “flow in rivers”.

Underscoring the region’s importance in the eyes of China’s ruling Communist Party, President Xi Jinping attended a Xinjiang delegation meeting on Friday on the sidelines of the country’s annual parliamentary session, one of a select group of provincial and regional meetings Xi joins every year.

The state-run Xinhua news agency reported his attendance on its microblog, but did not give further details.

China is worried that Uygurs, a mostly Muslim people from Xinjiang, have gone to Syria and Iraq to fight for militant groups there, having travelled illegally via Southeast Asia and Turkey.

Rights groups say the unrest in Xinjiang is more a reaction to repressive government policies and experts have questioned whether ETIM exists as a cohesive militant group. China denies there is any repression in Xinjiang.

Cheng said China should “closely check in on whether Afghanistan is becoming another paradise for extremist and terrorist groups. Such a major development may pose a serious challenge to the security of our northwestern border”.

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The Central Asia-Caucasus Analyst think-tank said in a report on its website last month that Chinese troops were on Afghan soil conducting joint patrols with their Afghan counterparts. China has dismissed the reports.

Security concerns have surfaced as China pursues its “One Belt, One Road” initiative to open up new land and sea routes for Chinese goods and pours billions of dollars into investment projects around Asia, including central Asia and beyond.

Cheng said maintaining security where there are related projects was “an important task and a demanding challenge”.