Voice of Uyghur: China’s true fears in Afghanistan
China’s true fears in Afghanistan
With the Taliban’s return to power in Afghanistan, China has remarketed its East Turkistan Islamic Movement (ETIM) concerns. Beijing urged the Taliban to make a clean break with the movement and asked the US to blacklist it again.
While some are still debating whether the movement exists, it is not the core of the matter because its existence neither justifies China’s Uighur policy nor sheds light on its concerns after the withdrawal of the US from Afghanistan.
Is China really worried, and if so, is it because of the movement? This question needs to be answered.
When Chinese officials first acknowledged the existence of forced labor camps in East Turkestan (the Xinjiang Uighur Autonomous Region) in October 2018, they celebrated the results of the camps by saying: “There has been no single terrorist violence in Xinjiang for two years.”
Chinese authorities have repeated the statement every time they have had to defend the camps.
Most recently, the Chinese Minister of Foreign Affairs Wang Yi (王毅) said: “No violent terrorist incident has taken place in Xinjiang over the past four years.”
This statement is one more proof that more than 3 million Uighur Muslims are in the camps. Through this statement, China has indirectly acknowledged that all members of the Uighur community who were able to bear arms had been arrested.
No foreign-based separatist organization can act without the help of the people of its homeland. The main task of such organizations is to play a role in a region’s struggle for independence by guiding or organizing its own people in the homeland.
Assuming that the ETIM exists, with whose help would it operate in East Turkestan? Who would lead it? Today, not only Uighur activists, but even the most cautious and China-loyal Uighurs are deprived of the opportunity to communicate with their mothers, fathers or children rather than organizing any activities.
At the most recent gathering of Uighurs in exile, which is held every four years, the goal most people voiced was the rescue of their parents and relatives from the camps, and the restoration of normal contact with them — a demand that is still unanswered.
In such a situation, the Chinese authorities are well aware that even if the movement exists, it would not be able to do anything.
This is the well-known reality in China. Thus, what is China’s concern regarding the situation in Afghanistan?
Undoubtedly, China fears that its own criminal record against Islam, including its ongoing genocide against Uighur Muslims, might be disclosed.
China has openly called Islam a mental illness in its state media.
Timothy Grose, an expert on China, quoted state media as saying: “Being infected by religious extremism and violent terrorist ideology, but not receiving immediate re-education is similar to contracting an illness, but not seeking a cure, or becoming a drug addict but refusing treatment.”
Two of the 75 signs of religious extremism designed by officials are having a beard, which is what Taliban members have, and wearing a hijab, which the Taliban requires of women.
China now wants to eradicate this “mental illness,” which it believes 3 million Uighur Muslims have, through 385 concentration camps, which it refers to as “vocational training centers.”
The Taliban’s first task is to rebuild Afghanistan.
Taliban spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid told an Italian newspaper that the group would rely primarily on financing from China.
He stated that Beijing’s Belt and Road Initiative was held in high regard by the Taliban.
There are “rich copper mines in the country, which, thanks to the Chinese, can be put back into operation and modernized. In addition, China is our pass to markets all over the world,” he said.
For China, no interest is superior to that of Xinjiang, not only from a natural resources perspective, but also from the point of view of strategic interests, as it sees the region as the gateway to the West. Therefore, China will not give any aid without making a promise or taking a step on the Uighur issue.
To maintain cooperation with the Taliban, the Uighur genocide and mass incarceration of Muslims must be hidden.
Therefore, China is doing everything it can to cover up the genocide. It presents the country as the victim of Uighur separatism and US-led Western propaganda, which it says result from jealousy of China’s development.
The shift in the international agenda is also a golden opportunity for China to distract public attention. US hostility must continue to grow and flourish in the Muslim world, especially among Taliban supporters.
For this reason, the Xinhua news agency has complained that the US made a hasty exit from Afghanistan.
“Death, bloodshed and a tremendous humanitarian tragedy are what the US has truly left behind in Afghanistan,” it said.
For someone who fully understands the Uighur situation, the accusation is illogical: Should the US have remained in Afghanistan, saying: “It is a historical part of the US,“ as China has been saying about occupying East Turkestan?
Should the US relocate immigrants from the US to Afghanistan to destroy its demographic and make Afghans a minority in their homeland, as China did in East Turkestan with its Han immigration policy?
Should the US establish concentration camps, as China did when it incarcerated 3 million Uighurs under the guise of eradicating terrorism?
The logical comparison between the US and China presents disadvantages to Beijing maintaining a friendship with the Taliban in the long term.
The new romance between these two powers might not be glorious in the long term. Ignoring oppressed Muslim brothers at the price of economic support from an atheist regime is not consistent with Shariah law, at least theoretically.
Any pragmatic step taken by Muslim leaders should not contravene the core principle of Islam.
That might have been the reason the Taliban on Sept. 4 for the first time publicly referred to Uighurs Muslims and demonstrated its sympathies for its oppressed Muslim brothers and neighbors.
“The Uighurs are Chinese citizens, and all citizens should have equal rights, and so should the Uighurs,” Taliban spokesman Suhail Shaheen said. “I hope that when we visit China, we will focus on this issue and talk about the security and equality of Uighurs.”
Internationally, Beijing is officially intolerant of any support of the Uighur cause, while domestically, Chinese President Xi Jinping’s (習近平) “no mercy” policy led to the Uighur genocide.
It seems that the Taliban has calculated the possible reactions of China, including how sensitive and harsh it would be.
“We certainly hope to continue our economic cooperation with China, which is certainly good for China as well,” Shaheen said. “Our policy is clear, and we hope that no one in Afghanistan will take any action against other countries.”
If his words are read carefully, it is no more than a hope, and for hope to be realized, certain conditions must be met. The implied condition in the statement is a policy change by China toward Uighur Muslims.
Can China push the Taliban to cross the line of faith in exchange for financial support? China knows this would not be easy. The Taliban is not afraid of starvation or marginalization, and it is unworried about military threats, which it has already experienced. The Taliban will not simply accept China’s narrative without calculating logic and faith.
In short, the core interest of China is Xinjiang, and the core interest of the Taliban is faith. Is it possible to avoid a conflict between these two interests? Is it possible for the genocide to continue and remain hidden?
All these possibilities and concerns are the real source of China’s fears regarding Afghanistan and the Taliban regaining power; it has nothing to do with the ETIM.
Kok Bayraq is a Uighur-American.